Best Of Tucson®

Señorita Salsa

Maria Mazon

Maria Mazon

SECRET IDENTITY: Maria J. Mazon, executive chef at Boca

SECRET POWER: Can make delicious tacos out of virtually anything

SECRET ORIGIN: Maria Mazon was serving tacos to the astronauts aboard the space shuttle as it sat on the launch pad—and her apron got stuck in the airlock. Unbeknownst to NASA, she was still aboard when the shuttle launched. Because she didn't have a spacesuit on, she was exposed to mysterious cosmic rays as the spacecraft entered orbit. When she returned to Earth, she discovered she could make a delicious taco out of any ingredient. She now uses her cover as a gourmet chef to travel the globe on behalf of the spy organization SALSA, and serves up justice in international hot spots.

THE REAL STORY: Mazon was born in Tucson. She moved back here from Mexico to go to high school when she was 15 years old, and has lived here ever since. She says her biggest regret is that she didn't go to culinary school—however, she's a hard worker with a punk-rock aesthetic that has helped her succeed. It took her 14 months to get Boca off the ground, and she's still working hard to make sure her restaurant sticks around.

"I truly believe that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Mazon says, taking a break outside of the restaurant over a beer and a cigarette. "I'm my worst critic, but that's good. This is an industry dominated by men, so we've got to do it better. I have a 3-year-old son, and my goal when he is 20 is that I have 20 Bocas, and that he tells people about his mother: 'She's not afraid of doing her own thing.'"

Boca suffered from some negative press when the restaurant announced plans to serve lion as part of Boca's Wednesday wild-game nights. Reaction against it was so strong that she nixed the idea, but game nights continue, with offerings like venison, elk and even quail eggs. "If it's already dead, I can make it into a taco," Mazon jokes.

SUPER BESTS: "The Tucson Originals. The restaurant industry in Tucson rocks, and this group is part of the reason why. For me, having a high-energy restaurant industry in this city is the gasoline I need. The sun shines for everybody, but this is a competitive business. I'm certainly not the only Mexican-taco business in Tucson, but, look, I'm 30 years old; I'm a girl; and you have to fight for your restaurant to succeed. That's why I belong to the Tucson Originals. We join our forces to create good food and fight against the chains.

"Albert Hall at Acacia Real Food and Cocktails. He moved, and that proves how good of a chef (he is), because he's rocking it in the foothills. I like him; he's a guy with an amazing reputation, but he does what he feels. His place is beautiful inside, but what always impresses me is how he comes out and remembers the customers' names. That's what Tucson is all about—small businesses, great chefs and kick-ass restaurants.

"You can't do this kind of work if you don't love food, and a good example of this is Kingfisher Bar and Grill. They make the best hamburger in the world and have the best chef. He obviously loves food. I feel Tucson there and have my martini, and listen to music.

"The Tucson sunsets against our mountains are the best, and when it rains ... oh, I love the rain.

"This city means so much to me. I feel like I discovered who I am here. You know that freeway that goes through Tucson? When my parents sent me back to go to high school, I was 15 years old. I remember when I'd see the freeway coming into town, and my throat would get tight. Now, when I look at it, it feels like a relief, especially at night when it's almost dark—la hora gris."

—Mari Herreras