Tucson is famously home to the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, at least according to Visit Tucson, which annually throws a party dedicated to the concept. And while your mileage may differ as to the exact length, it’s undeniably true that any road to the best Mexican food runs through the southside, from the legendary strip of South Fourth Avenue institutions that have been open for a half-century or longer, to innovative newcomers reinventing what Mexican food is all about, sometimes from a taco truck.
The Tucson Weekly Chow Desk spent the last few weeks blowing our diet by checking out some of the finest southside options available. It was our most delicious assignment in some time and we can report that the dining options are as good as ever.
But even as we were rolling up South 12th Avenue or driving down Irvington Road, we saw so many places we didn’t have time to check out before our deadline. So don’t consider this a list of the absolute best, but more a sampling from the rich buffet that’s available these days. We’ll be back for more in the future.
Deliciocho. The little taco patio opened about a year ago. Owner Emilio Soto grew up in a family food biz and decided, after giving up on the idea of working in the dental biz, to return to his roots. We’re glad he did. His menu is both simple and innovative: Tacos and burritos (made with fresh tortillas from the El Triunfo Bakery next door) are paired with dynamite agua frescas and raspados. And then there are the desserts, which include a churro-based ice cream sandwich sprinkled with cereal like Fruity Pebbles or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (Could be he’s plotting on going back into the dental biz after he builds a customer base selling these things?) Soto calls himself a foodie and has a savvy Instagram feed to show off his creations. It’s definitely a family affair here. His mom runs the shop with him, and his grandma makes the delicious birria. Located on Old Nogales Highway just north of Valencia Road, it can be a bit of an excursion but it’s oh so worth the drive. 6308 S. Nogales Highway. (520) 294-2600.
Rollies Mexican Patio. Owner and chef Mateo Otero has won some big accolades since opening this tiny but stylish restaurant with outdoor seating under a patio roof, including winning Tucson Weekly’s Best Chef award. He deserves all the praise. It’s fast casual here with ordering at a window, but the food is extraordinary, especially the birria (which, in a triumph of food fusion, is available in a ramen option a few days a week). Whether you go with the usual tacos, quesadillas or enchiladas or try something more exotic like the birria cheesecrisp burger, you’re going to be delighted when you take your first bite. 4573 S. 12th Ave. (520) 300-6289. rolliestucson.com.
El Salva-Twist. Looking for an international experience in the middle of the desert? El Salva-Twist offers two international cuisines out of a small food truck with outdoor patio seating on Park Avenue between Drexel and Irvington roads. Choose from the El Salvadorian menu or the French menu to take a trip around the world without airfare. El Salva-Twist makes traditional food pop with pupusas from the El Salvador menu or poutine from the French menu. Don’t forget to add a Kolashanpan (a traditional Salvadorian soda) to your meal. 5302 S. Park Ave. (520) 345-8688. elsalvatwist.com.
Mr. K’s Original BBQ. Barbecue might not be the first thing you imagine when thinking about dinner choices in Tucson’s southside, but Mr. K’s is a solid choice. Hundreds of miles from Texas, Mr. K’s offers authentic lick-your-fingers barbecue. Flavorful smoked meats, dynamite sauces, generous servings, excellent prices and a kind staff combine to make this barbecue joint a can’t-miss spot. We recommend the brisket sandwich with a side of Texas beans. 6302 S. Park Ave. (520) 792-9484.
Pat’s Chili Dogs. This westside institution stretches the definition of southside eateries, but no list of legendary local eateries would really be complete without it. If you’re in the mood for a spicy chili dog and a box of fries, is there any other destination than Pat’s? Messy and unhealthy but totally delicious. 1202 W. Niagra St. (520) 624-0891.
Los Olivias Pizza. This pizzeria is also more westside than southside but they make a terrific pie alongside standout sandwiches, salads and Italian dishes such as lasagna and seafood cioppino with pasta capellini. Hey, you can only eat so many tacos before you want a change of pace. 937 W. Congress St. (520) 624-0155. orderlosolivos.com
El Torero. After being shuttered for a few years, El Torero is back, to the delight of many longtime fans. Tucked away just off South Fourth Avenue on 26th Street, El Torero has brought back many of its old favorites—don’t miss La Bandera, a trio of enchiladas in the colors of the Mexican flag—and is experimenting with new dishes, some of which feature fancy cuts like wagyu beef from Forbes Meat Market alongside plant-based options like a vegan tamale pie or a chopped shrooms burro. Plus, you can get those famous Lerua tamales here. Well worth revisiting if you were once a regular. 231 E. 26th St. (520) 622-9534. eltorerotucson.com.
El Triunfo Bakery. There’s nothing like a fresh flour tortilla—and at El Triunfo Bakery, you’ll find some of the freshest tortillas in town, as well as bolillos for your tortas and a wide range of delicious Mexican pastries for your coffee. This is simple and delicious, just like life ought to be. 6350 S. Nogales Highway. (520) 573-1884.
Crossroads Restaurant Drive In. This South Fourth Avenue institution is still serving traditional Sonoran-style burros, tacos, enchiladas and the like, just like it has since 1936. Crossroads is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weeknights and until midnight on Friday and Saturday and features a buffet from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. You don’t stay in business for more than eight decades without doing something right. 2602 S. Fourth Ave. (520) 624-0395. crossroadsfinemexican.com.
Tacos y Hotdogs El Manatial. This food truck packs a whole lot of flavor into one small space. Alongside mouth-watering tacos, they make a Sonoran hot dog that’s among the best in town. If you’re not in the mood for a bacon-wrapped weiner, we recommend checking out their excellent carne asada meals. We’re particularly fond of the carne asada burrito. Park Avenue and 36th Street. (520) 429-4248.
Carnitas la Yoca. You’ll find a wide variety of tacos, including some traditional albeit exotic options such as cabeza (or head) and pork stomach. The birria is a solid contender in the low-key birria battle now underway among local chefs. These tacos may be adventurous for some, but others are reminded of home. 3530 S. Sixth Ave. (520) 907-2662. ordercanitaslayoca.com
Tacos Apson. This beloved joint—which delivers some of Tucson’s finest tacos—is named after the Apson Boys, a ’60s band that led Mexico’s “Northern Invasion,” a movement that featured other musical styles besides rock ’n’ roll and encouraged kids to explore other musical avenues. All of the group members were from the border town of Agua (A) Prieta (P), Sonora (SON), forming the name Apson. Legendary music, legendary tacos. 3501 S. 12th Ave. (520) 670-1248. tacosapson.com.
Mi Nidito. This family owned restaurant remains one of Fourth Avenue’s best-known institutions. “My Little Nest” has been around since 1952 and just gets better with age. Mi Nidito has hosted musical legends, Hollywood stars and even President Bill Clinton, who has an entire platter named after him. (It’s enough to feed your entire family.) Just be patient, as you may have to wait for a table. But it’s always worth it! 1813 S. Fourth Ave. (520) 622-5081. minidito.net
Taqueria De Pico de Gallo. This hole-in-the-wall is a legendary stop for a reason. Besides the hand-made corn tortillas, phenomenal horchata and many sopas to choose from—all under $10 —they serve up the amazing Pico de Gallo fruit cup with a dusting of chile powder. After traveling the country for opportunities in the restaurant biz, PY Steakhouse Sous Chef Rodrick LeDesma says Pico de Gallo was one of the first places he visited upon his return to Tucson. “I was real emotional when I had it,” he remembers. “I was like, oh my God, I miss this. It was so good.” 2618 S. Sixth Ave. (520) 623-8775.
Little Mexico. We loved the atmosphere in this little gem with bright-colored walls festooned with paintings, retablos and beer signs. Plenty of traditional offerings alongside seafood and wonderful service. 698 W. Irvington Road. (520) 573-2924. 2851 W. Valencia Road. (520) 578-8852. littlemexico-tucson.com
El Merendero. This small cafe brings a lot of big flavor to the plate. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, It carries all the usual fare, with tacos, burros, enchiladas and the like, but we really loved the cocido, a beef soup with cabbage, zucchini, carrot and a cob of corn you can lift out right out of the bowl and chew the kernels right off. And don’t miss the toritos—shrimp-stuffed peppers wrapped in bacon and soaked in soy sauce. So good! 5443 S. 12th Ave. (520) 294-1522. elmerenderotucson.com.
Delicias Mexican Grill. This humble eatery, open since 2019, is a dynamite addition to the southside food scene that draws a crowd all day long, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner. On the afternoon we stopped by, Mexican pop music videos on the TV provided a lively soundtrack. The menu is more than a dozen pages, so you can bet you’ll find something you like. Traditional favorites like tacos and burros are served alongside elaborate seafood dishes. The lunch special is generous enough that you’ll take home at least half for dinner. 4581 S. 12th Ave. (520) 203- 8396. deliciasmexicangrill.com