Sampler plate

Sonoran Restaurant Week will whet your appetite for local dishes

For Sonoran Restaurant Week, 30 Tucson restaurants are celebrating what makes local food special.

Sonoran Restaurant Week returns this Friday at more than two dozen establishments and features a wide variety of cuisine from the best culinary minds our city has to offer.

This year's event has teamed up with the Tucson City of Gastronomy to feature the organization's certified restaurants such as Boca Tacos y Tequila, Hacienda Del Sol and Reforma Modern Mexican, along with local foodie institutions like El Charro, Feast and Saguaro Corners as they prepare special three-course menus at a nominal price range of $25 to $35. The deals run Oct. 2 through Oct. 11.

As an added bonus, guests have the option to order their three-course meal to-go and enjoy it in the comfort of their own home, said event organizer Laura Reese. About 81 percent of restaurants that participated in last year's inaugural celebration saw an increase in sales, according to Reese. She's expecting a great turnout this time around despite coronavirus concerns keeping some restaurateurs hesitant about allowing dine-in service.

"It's a little smaller this year since there are some restaurants who haven't reopened yet," Reese said. "We have just over 30 restaurants participating but we think it's actually a pretty good turnout, considering the times."

Several local restaurants are using this year's event to welcome guests back to their dining rooms as the effort to reopen dine-in service in county eateries begins this weekend. Tito and Pep chef and owner John Martinez said he is excited to return to a modified dine-in experience during restaurant week. The owner closed his doors on March 16 amid the pandemic and only returned to take-out service in mid-May.

"A restaurant is something that is intended to be communal," Martinez said. "Having been in a restaurant without people in the dining room is an odd feeling."

Martinez plans to solely feature his three-course menu during the 10-day event to help get back into the swing of things, he said.

"It's a great opportunity to partner with Sonoran Restaurant Week and to welcome guests back into our restaurant," Martinez said. "I think it's also a good way to get ourselves back into dine-in service and test the waters."

While Tito and Pep's special menu is still being finalized, Martinez said he plans to feature dishes that complement late summer and early fall flavors, like green corn tamales paired up with grilled Sea of Cortez shrimp. Expect a lot of seafood on the upcoming restaurant week menu, said the owner.

"We love seafood here and I want a change of seasons. I know it's officially fall, but it's still pretty warm in Tucson," Martinez said. "My menu is almost like a wedding—something old, something new—so we'll be bringing back some of my favorites."

Another favorite of restaurant week is back: The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress. The establishment is set to reopen Thursday with the majority of its seating to be located on the patio. Senior marketing and events manager Dalice Shepard said restaurant week is an excellent way to experience Tucson's culinary scene without depleting your bank account.

Shepard also said the offerings on their menu will accommodate carnivores and vegans alike. Their menu will feature mesquite crab cakes or chickpea fritter lettuce wraps, roasted tomatillo and tomato salad with a prickly pear vinaigrette and grilled pork loin in mole sauce or vegan Sonoran sopes.

"We were a part of Sonorant Restaurant Week last year and it was a great way to introduce people that maybe hadn't dined with us at Cup Cafe to come down and try our select menu," Shepard said. "The great part about restaurant week is it's budgeted and you know what you're spending before you get there. It makes a perfect night out."

One of the best reasons to be a part of restaurant week is the amount of promotion these establishments get just for participating, said Shepard. Reese's firm, Storyteller PR, along with local tourism promoters, Visit Tucson, go above and beyond to make the 10-day event a success, according to Shepard.

"There is so much marketing, public relations and push to all of the restaurants that are involved with Sonoran Restaurant Week," Shepard said. "It's just a win for all of these restaurants to have another organization out promoting for them and encouraging people to try places they haven't in the past."

Sonoran Restaurant Week also benefits the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. This year, participating restaurants are donating gift cards that will be used for future fundraising events sponsored by the food bank.

"This event raises awareness to all the good work the community food bank does in our community and encourages everyone to donate to them and support their mission," Reese said. "Given the current circumstances, our challenge this year is to duplicate all the success we had last year by providing a unique experience for the community and continue to support the community food bank."

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