Tucson's 100 Essential Dishes

The Tucson Weekly staff tries to determine what menu items are essential to our culinary culture

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Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese

Caffe Milano

46 W. Congress St.; 628-1601

Granted, this sauce is also available on Milano's lasagna at dinner time, but it's with the egg noodles at lunch that you really get to appreciate the meaty goodness of the sauce; a hint of tomato, a splash of garlic, lots and lots of ground meat ... Ahh, belissimo. The portion is huge for lunch but somehow I always manage to finish every last bite. — RC

Fish Fry

Boondocks Lounge

3306 N. First Ave.; 690-0991

I grew up in the land of Friday fish fries—every little bar with a kitchen held one. Finding a fish fry that compares with these was tough until I found the fish fry here. Hot and sizzling from the fryer the coating crackles on the first bite. The white fish inside is sweet and juicy. The fries are almost unnecessary but, hey, you have to eat them. Like most classic fish fries, this is a dish that is only available on Fridays. — RC

Top Five: Brian Lopez- Indie Rockstar, Mostly Bears

Fish taco plate

Rodriguez Seafood

3541 S. 12th Ave.; 623-1931

This place is a diamond in the rough. Rodriguez is a wholesale retailer whose fish come direct form the Sea of Cortez. The restaurant has a great atmosphere is never overpopulated. Actually I don't even know why I'm telling you about them ... it's just going to ruin my secret seafood spot for me.

Carne asada breakfast

Crossroads Restaurant

2602 S. Fourth Ave.; 624-0395

As a South Tucson staple, Crossroads gives you an authentic and hearty carne asada plate at an economically pleasing rate. Perfect combo for the starving artist. Enjoy your food over the sounds of a half blind, one-man-band jamming to the freshest cumbias, boleros, and Mexican love ballads.

Reuben Sub

Roma Imports

627 S. Vine Ave.; 792-3173

I go to this place WAY too often. The cashiers know me by name. The Reuben is another filling, delicious, yet economic option, amongst many.


Cup Café

311 E. Congress St.; 798-1618

"Roasted jalapeño and cheddar cheese white corn tamales, vegan cowboy beans, steamed green rice, red chili sauce, cotija cheese, escabeche." In other words, these tamales are for people who wear really fancy pants.

classic grinder, large fries (with ranch dressing), watermelon eegee


Various locations

Whatever. Don't judge me.


Union Public House

4340 N. Campbell Ave., No. 103; 329-8575

With a cold glass of beer or a crispy white wine, the pretzels at this gastropub are a great start to a meal. You get two thick pretzels hot out of the oven. They come with two sauces­—a grainy mustard and a smooth, creamy cheese. Both are great; together they rock it big time. — RC

Laotian Chicken & Pounded Green Papaya Salad

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

135 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-7700

I've only recently fallen in love with this wonderful salad. There is balance in every bite. Tropical fruits (mango, lime) add tang. Basil, mint and cilantro bring a certain brightness to the dish. Beans, carrots and peanuts add crunch. There's tomatoes and chicken. There are serrano chiles for heat and nam pla for a hint of savory. Plus, the presentation is gorgeous. — RC

Gal Bi

Kimchi Time

2900 E. Broadway Blvd., No. 186; 305-4900

There's a lot to like at Kimchi Time, but when you have the opportunity to get marinated short ribs on a sizzling plate, accompanied by the delicious side dishes the Korean restaurant offers, you take it. Sort of messy to eat and when your order hits the table, you'll have to dodge hot splattering for a moment, but the tender, fat-enhanced meat is worth the minor bit of trouble.


Pho 88

2744 N. Campbell Ave.; 881-8883

There are quite a few pho-centric joints here in Tucson (something for which we should be collectively thankful), so when we make a stand for one place's broth-driven goodness over another, there will inevitably be some drama. We like Pho 88. You can prefer somewhere else. Let's discuss it over pho later, OK?

Top Five: Frankie Santos- Cheesesteak King

King Louie Salad


3001 E. Skyline Drive; 232-0101

An amazing and refreshing salad with fresh Dungeness crab and a wonderful dressing. All of the ingredients are paired so well.

The Cheese Platter

Pastiche Modern Eatery

3025 N. Campbell Ave.; 325-3333

The cheese offering changes, so each time we order the platter it may have a different taste, while still served with olives and fruit. Love the Parmesan bird's nest the olives are served in ... so tasty!


Kingfisher Bar and Grill

2564 E. Grant Road; 323-7739

The oysters are amazing; what else can be said?

The Jersey Devil

East Coast Super Subs

187 N. Park Ave.; 882-4005

We always order it with Provolone cheese, grilled onions and all the peppers...this sandwich is wonderful.

Chicken and Dumplings

Bistro 44

6761 E. Tanque Verde Road; 298-2233

I love these, just like Mom made!

Traditional Pizza

Dry River Company

800 N. Kolb Road; 298-5555

No, you won't find all that many eastside options on this list (although there certainly are a few), but when Dry River took over a space that had seemingly been haunted by the ghost of past coffee house tenants, at least there's a place to get a solid pizza. The Traditional isn't complicated (sausage, pepperoni, banana peppers), but it's delicious and flavorful.

Clam Chowder

Trident Grill

2033 E. Speedway Blvd.; 795-5755

We're not just saying this in fear of what Trident's owner, Nelson Miller, former Navy SEAL, might do if we skip over the University-adjacent bar on this list, but his establishment's clam chowder is delicious, especially during our brief winter-like season.

Panang Neau

Char's Thai

5039 E. Fifth St.; 795-1715

Your impulse might be to just go with the pad thai (which is tasty, for sure), but step out of the cliché for a minute and order something else from Char's extensive menu. Here's the description of the Panang Neau: "Sauteed beef with red chili, fresh basil, peanut sauce, coconut milk, bell pepper, and hot spicy gravy sauce." Doesn't that sound delicious? It is.

Hot Pot

Impress Hot Pot

2610 N. First Ave.; 882-3059

Here's what's great about the hot pot experience, other than the process just being a lot of fun: you can be as adventurous with the meal as you want. If you want to keep it simple with lamb and beef, you'll have a lot of fun, but you can also step out and get crazy with it, experimenting with jellyfish and wood-ear mushrooms. Regardless of what you drop into the steaming broth, what comes out will be delicious.

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