Eat This, Tucson

Passionate food and drink creatives bring deliciousness to this special food region

Although some may say it's old news Tucson was recognized as an UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy, others say food and drink in this desert town should always be celebrated along with its food-loving entrepreneurs.

It's amazing to see what passion entrepreneurs like Scott and Rebecca Safford bring to their business. The beloved Tap & Bottle owners recently decided to open Tap & Bottle North as a way to continue to share their passion for beer with more Tucsonans.

Their business has not only introduced people to great local beers, but has created an community destination on Sixth Avenue just north of downtown Tucson. Soon they'll get to extend that community with second location. The Saffords aren't the only ones bringing people together. Welcome Diner co-owner and chef, Michael Babcock said it best, "We want everyone to sit around a table, share plates, talk and laugh."

Welcome Diner

Co-owners Michael Babcock and Sloane McFarland brought Phoenix's most beloved diner to Tucson last October. Welcome Diner started in Phoenix in February 2012. The owners describe it as a community space for people to come together and enjoy good food and good company.

The plan was never to expand outside of Phoenix, but move an old diner into Phoenix. While looking for possible spaces, the owners came across the old Chaffin's Diner and fell in love with the architecture and history.

"The building is what brought us down here," said Babcock. Babcock added he and McFarland have a passion for architecture and food, which made adding a location in Tucson's Chaffin's Diner most ideal. Another element of importance was keeping the retro-feel. The owners understood how important this was not only to themselves, but also to the people of Tucson. Tucson's Welcome Diner features the same counter and same booths as Chaffin's.

Both Welcome Diner locations emphasize scratch and seasonal cooking, but having their second location in an agriculture town, much closer to their purveyors, allowed them to explore that even more. Babcock said he is a firm believer in eating seasonally and locally.

"It's a narrative of the way people should eat," he said, adding the menu is much deeper, seasonal and rotational. It not only has inspiration from Southern food like the Phoenix location, but also takes influence from the Southwest. The menu features Southern-inspired dishes such as their Big Jim, a biscuits, gravy and fried chicken sandwich, and Southwest inspired ones like their Pork Posole Rojo, a mole-based soup topped with shredded cabbage and radishes.

The name Welcome Diner, according to Babcock, "is a reflection of caring about taking care of people."

Despite having the same name, the Phoenix and Tucson locations seem to be doing this in different ways. While the Phoenix location is crammed and chaotic, the Tucson location doesn't give that same vibe. Babcock said this was anticipated since the diners are a community space before anything else.

"It has the opportunity to change," he said, "and fit the narrative of the community that its in."

Guadalajara Original Grill

Guadalajara Original Grill owner, Emma Vera, loved the challenging idea of opening up a second location near Oro Valley. Her first Guadalajara Grill opened in 2002 on Prince Road and is now approaching its fifteenth anniversary. The success Vera has had over the years has only made her more determined to expand Guadalajara Grill into a new area of town.

The Mexican restaurant takes inspiration from the owner's culture and upbringing in Guadalajara, Mexico. Vera grew up surrounded by Mexican food and the food industry and knew she wanted to eventually

own restaurants of her own. She had opened up two Guadalajara Original Grill's with her now ex-husband, but lost one of them in the divorce. Vera was determined to own two.

"One is great, but two is more like a challenge," Vera said.

Oro Valley has always been the ideal location for Vera's second Guadalajara Grill, but she found this area to be expensive due to the lack of old buildings. The location came unexpectedly when she was looking for a second location for her smaller eatery, Calle Tepa, which she co-owns with her son.

She heard the Mexican restaurant, Macayo's, was looking to sell their building on North Oracle Road near West Ina Road.

"I loved the bones of the building," she said. It was also the perfect location as it was still close to Oro Valley and far enough from the original Guadalajara Grill.

There are no menu differences between the new and old locations, but Vera has found that her crowd at the Oracle location is different from the crowd at Prince and she plans on making accommodations for older customers at the Oracle restaurant. Vera is expanding the bar menu to offer IPA beers on tap and is working on a senior menu to offer cheaper, smaller dishes from 3 to 6 p.m.

The difference reassures her that this was the right location. "To be on Ina and Oracle is a dream."

Horseshoe Grill

If the horseshoe fits, turn it into a smokehouse. Kevin Bedient and family took their love for cooking and combined it with their ranch upbringing to create a Western-inspired steakhouse in East Tucson.

Horseshoe Grill opened in February 2016 and just celebrated a successful one-year anniversary. Bedient said opening a steakhouse was a natural fit for him and his family since he and his siblings grew up on a ranch surrounded by horses and good cooking. Combine that with Arizona's abundance of mesquite, and they had the perfect Eastside steakhouse concept.

The restaurant, located on East Broadway Boulevard and North Pantano Road, has a welcoming and cozy feel to it. The family's personality is hung on the walls through family heirlooms such as old cowboy hats and brand irons. Navajo blankets and paintings of local ranches also hang on the walls—truly making it feel like a western inspired home.

"The whole concept was born and bred out of my upbringing," said Bedient. In the center of the restaurant sits a horseshoe shaped bar seating area encompassing an open kitchen. Kevin said they wanted to their guests to be able to see what was being cooked and grilled.

Bedient said the menu was developed by him and his family, but his brother in-law, Executive Chef Andy Romero, is the backbone of the menu. It has a focus on steaks, but also highlights other proteins and locally sourced produce. The family prides themselves on never using frozen steaks or burgers. Their signature rub took almost a year to perfect and is featured on almost all their proteins and in their bloody mary and margarita. The restaurant also has daily and weekly specials that get announced through their newsletter. Every day they have a different $8 burger special and $12 steak special. Their weekends begin with a 'Fresh Fish Feature' to give customers the option of an item the Eastside was lacking in. "We really want to have a quality food standard," said Kevin.

Tap & Bottle

In June of 2013, Rebecca and Scott Safford chose to open Tap & Bottle as a way to express their mutual passion for beer and wine. The idea was to create a space for people to enjoy and learn about regional beer and wine in a relaxed setting. Now that their first location has been going strong for more than four years, the couple is ready to begin their second venture with Tap & Bottle North this summer.

Opening up multiple locations was never in the original plan, Rebecca said. Over time, it just became the natural next step. "You just learn so much with the first one."

Customer opinions also influenced their decision, with many sharing they wished something like T&B were on the Northwest side of town. The Safford's took their time when finding a space, but when they came across a building in Cottonwood Plaza on the northeast corner of Ina and Oracle roads, they knew it was the perfect fit. "Once we saw this one we were both like, 'This is it,'" said Rebecca.

When looking for a new space, she said it was important to see what they were not able to do at the original location. The new space will feature a patio, room for private events, and a few televisions—all things that aren't at the original. The Safford's want the second location to be different from the first, but still offer the same dedication to beer and wine.

T&B North will be 1,000 square feet larger than the first, which is what allows for the accommodation of private event rooms and more taps. It will have 30 more beer taps and two more wine taps than the original.

Rebecca said she wants the selections at both locations to be different from each other, but said there will be some crossover. T&B North will not host food trucks like the original, because the Safford's said they want to support eateries in the surrounding area.

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