Tiny Joint, Tasty Eats

Perfecto's is the very definition of a mom-and-pop restaurant, Mexican-style

South 12th Avenue is a culinary gold mine.

You'll find Best of Tucson™ winner El Guero Canelo, the place that made the Sonoran hot dog famous. Just down the street is La Estrella Bakery, a longtime family-run business that cranks out pounds and pounds of pan dulce and hundreds of tortillas daily. You'll find some of the best fresh seafood in town at Rodriguez Seafood and its attached La Costa Brava restaurant. And then there's Alejandro's, this year's Best Tortillas winner in the Best of Tucson™.

And we haven't even mentioned the numerous other restaurants, carnicerias, raspado joints and other food places that line the street.

Now along comes Perfecto's, tucked away in a nondescript shopping center south of Irvington Road.

The place is small—there are only 12 tables in a tiny room—but that's part of its charm. A few pictures hang on the golden-hued walls. Service is super-friendly and familial, and the menu offerings favorably compare to those found elsewhere in the area.

So can this mom-and pop newcomer compete with its famous neighbors? If the number of customers is any indication, we'd have to say yes.

On a Sunday, we found the place packed with large family groups who looked as though they'd come straight from church. Kids, grandparents, moms, dads, cousins, friends and an assortment of others pushed tables together to make room for everyone. Somehow, the groups all seemed to know one another, lending a true neighborhood feel to the experience.

Some ordered off the menu: steaming bowls of posole ($2.95 for small, $6.50 for large), red menudo ($2.95 and $5.50) or albóndigas ($2.95 and $5.95), generous portions of guacamole ($3.99) and any number of combo plates (most $7.95 or less). Children dug into humongous bean burritos with french fries ($3.95), just one of several dishes on the kids' menu.

Still others opted for the Sunday buffet ($7.99), which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It seems to be quite popular; it starts with a mixed lettuce salad where you pour dressing from a bottle. This is followed by man-sized tamales elote, savory barbacoa, chiles relleno with oodles of gooey white cheese, crispy mini-chimichangas filled with shredded beef and potatoes, a chicken dish with no name and, of course, refried beans and rice.

The chicken is a thick breast wrapped around thin slices of ham and topped with a Veracruz-style sauce loaded with plenty of tomatoes, chiles and onions. No one really knew what to call it, but that really didn't matter, because it was tasty and different.

Seafood is a specialty here, with wonderful little shrimp tacos ($2.50 each) in a choice of corn or flour tortillas as a prime example. The crispy batter allows the sweetness of the shrimp to shine through; a drizzle of crema and a handful of lettuce round out the tacos.

Breakfast is a big part the picture. The breakfast-burrito special ($2.99) can be filled with your choice of machaca; chorizo; potato and eggs; ham, potato and eggs; and ham and eggs—or good-old refried beans. Any way you go, it's more than satisfying. And even though the special is only served until 10:30 a.m., we have a hunch that if you had a hankering for a breakfast burro at, say, 3 in the afternoon, it wouldn't be a problem.

Another good choice is the huevos rancheros ($5.99). Served in a crispy corn tortilla cup, the dish is visually appealing; your taste buds won't be disappointed, either. The eggs blend nicely with the chunky salsa (beans are served on the side instead of with the eggs), creating a most pleasant start to the day. Fluffy Spanish rice accompanies the dish.

The house salsa has quite a kick, which adds another flavor level to each and every plate.

There are two traditional desserts (flan and arroz con leche) and a house specialty, choco flan. That sweet concoction consists of a huge slice of dark, moist chocolate cake topped with a thick creamy flan, sans the burnt sugar sauce. Topped with a healthy dose of whipped cream, this is a most delightful creation. All desserts are $3.50.

The folks at Perfecto's have a lot to live up to, considering the competition that runs up and down the street. But this tiny David seems to be holding its own against its Goliath neighbors, thanks to hearty, home-style, reasonably priced food and sincere hospitality.

Here's to the little guy!

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