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Best Casual Dining

Rosa's Mexican Food
1750 E. Ft. Lowell Road

READERS' PICK: The sure sign of a good restaurant is if its customers follow it to hell and gone. Consider Rosa's Mexican Food: It used to be on Speedway, just west of Dirtbag's, before there was a Dirtbag's. A more-or-less central location. Then some years back Rosa's packed up and disappeared down Campbell Avenue, in the back corner of the Blockbuster's plaza. Who could find it? But listen, the other day we tried to get in the door on a Friday, long about noon, and the line extended out on the sidewalk. Don't be discouraged; it's worth the wait. The enchiladas and burros and chimichangas are among the best in town. But the number-one choice of customers is the carne seca--dried beef with spices in it. As for the salsa, forget about how it's made. Rosa prepares it herself and won't even tell her daughters the secret. "None of your business," she says when they ask.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Mi Nidito Café, 1813 S. Fourth Ave.

CLUE IN: El Charro (two locations: 311 N. Court Ave., and 6310 E. Broadway Blvd.) has long been a Tucson landmark, and now claims to be the oldest, continuously family-owned Mexican restaurant in the country. While that claim may be disputable, there's no argument that the place has great salsa: a rich, spicy tomato concoction that's straightforward and assertive. One house specialty is the exquisite carne seca, made from lean strips of Angus beef and marinated with lime, garlic and spices, and then sun-dried on the roof of their downtown location. Shredded and grilled with green chiles, tomatoes and onions, it's not to be missed. You can order it in tacos, chalupas, rellenos, tamales, enchiladas, burros or chimichangas; any way you wrap it, it's enough to make you bless your bovine stars. The casually funky decor, energetic staff, strolling mariachis on the patio, and the great food make eating at El Charro a memorable experience.

Case History

1997 Winner: Mi Nidito Café

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