Fourth Avenue Options

Micha's is a South Tucson classic, but maybe it's time for an update

The last time I ate at Micha's

restaurant on South Fourth Avenue, it was as part of a foodie bus tour of South Tucson. I don't remember the bus line, but I do remember I was a guest of my friend Karyn and that there were about eight other journalists on the comfy bus. We stopped at Micha's, Costa Brava, El Guero Canelo, a raspado place and one other spot that I can't remember. The food was great and we had a lot of fun. Sadly, I don't think the tour exists anymore; a great idea that wasn't promoted quite enough.

That was years ago and as we walked in Micha's on a mid-week for a late lunch we found the space little changed and an eclectic mix of customers. Most of the tables were full.

Chips, salsa, water and the menus were at the table lickety-split, which is a big plus at lunch time. The beers we ordered followed quickly, as well. As a note, the same thing happened at dinner so obviously this is a common practice.

Micha's is a long-time South Tucson standard and has been run by the Mariscal family since 1976. The space is divided into several cheerfully decorated rooms with bright paintings of villages that could be in Mexico or Italy or Portugal.

The recipes here probably haven't changed much since they opened. That's probably a good thing, but we found the food to be ordinary at best; like the kitchen was going through the motions or lacked the passion that Micha's was founded on.

Red chili has been a real craving for me lately and it appears in various iterations on the huge menu. Our choice? The red chili chimichanga enchilada style ($7.95 plus $2.50) with a side of beans ($2.65). We also ordered a topopo salad with carne seca. ($10.50).

While we waited for our food we munched on the chips and salsa. There was a heavy hand in the kitchen that day as the salsa verged on inedible. One of the servers must've noticed our discomfort and without our asking brought a milder salsa to the table. Servers at more high-end places could take a lesson from this. Not so much about going above and beyond, but paying attention to what's happening on the floor and acting on it.

The chimi was huge with a golden crispy crunch. The sauce was mild enough but lacked that smokiness that makes enchilada sauce so tantalizing. I felt the same way about the red chili; tasty, but not quite there.

Garlic overpowered the creamy goodness of the beans. I love garlic but I'm not sure what happened because this wasn't the case on the second visit. That time, beans came with both our dishes and we finished them off.

Garlic dominated the carne seca in the topopo, as well. But that wasn't my issue with this dish. Topopos are supposed to have a corn tortilla on the bottom, followed by refried beans and then shredded lettuce that has been stuffed into a funnel that is over turned on top of the tortilla and beans resulting in a conically shaped salad. Tomatoes, cheese, meat and other goodies are artfully arranged all around the lettuce. This was nothing more than a tortilla salad (all those ingredients in a fancy taco shell.) Upon a more careful reading of the menu, the salad is described that way, but why call it a topopo?

With a long list of combo plates it can be hard to decide which way to go. We finally ordered the number one (a patty beef taco, a shredded beef enchilada, a cheese enchilada, rice and beans) and the number ten (one chile relleno, rice and beans) ($9.35 each).

We also ordered guacamole ($7.50) which the menu notes can serve three to four people.

The guacamole was quite large. Nicely chilled, it was creamy with flecks of some sort of white cheese, tomatoes and onions (some of which should've been cut smaller.)

None of the other items stood out. The relleno had too much oozy white cheese inside and the three items in the number one were bland. I liked the taco the best while the tamale was John's favorite.

All in all dining here was a bit of a disappointment. I'm glad that there is still a strong following for such a long-time family restaurant. But South Fourth Avenue has so many similar places that I will probably dine elsewhere.

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