So you’re thinking of attending the 2015 Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase and now you’re wondering what would be the most Tucson thing you could do while here (that is, other than attend the grand daddy of its shows, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show).
Many people would tell you that you have to sample Tucson’s Mexican food cuisine. While it’s easy to find almost all regions of Mexican cuisine here, the scene is dominated by Sonoran-style food – burritos, chimichangas, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, chile rellenos and the like.
Mexican food is ubiquitous in Tucson, with it being found everywhere from street corner carts or food stands to fast-food and sit-down restaurants. Many Tucson residents, or longtime attendees at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, will tell you that you’re never far from Mexican food. Wherever you go in Tucson for the gem show, you’re sure to be able to find tasty Mexican food nearby.
What sticks out about Tucson restaurants that specialize in Mexican food is the number of them that are long-time, family-run restaurants. This pattern of generational chefs and owners also creates very loyal followings among their patrons. So if you’re here for the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase and you have to ask for the advice of a local about where to go for some good Mexican food, be ready for a little passion about the choices.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the most interesting Mexican food restaurants in the area (in no particular order):
South Fourth Avenue
For many Tucsonans, Mexican food begins and ends on South Fourth Avenue, in that square-mile municipality known as South Tucson. Well-established, family-run restaurants that have been in business for generations is the norm here, rather than the exception. You could start arguments with people as to which South Fourth restaurant has the best salsa, or chile rellenos, carne asada or green chile in town. It’s hard to go wrong at any Mexican food establishment in the South Fourth area.
If you’re in doubt as to what you want, you could go the route of President Bill Clinton, who on an official visit to Tucson in 1999 graced Mi Nidito on South Fourth and chose something now called “The President’s Plate” (he reportedly finished it all).
Among the most popular restaurants on or near South Fourth Avenue:
2602 S. 4th Ave.
1949 S. 4th Ave.
231 E. 26th St.
2908 S. 4th Ave.
1813 S. 4th Ave.
2527 S. 4th Ave.; 5851 N. Oracle Rd.
Elsewhere in Tucson
El Charro Cafe
311 N. Court Ave.; 6910 E. Sunrise Dr.; 7725 N. Oracle Rd.
Established in 1922, it lays claim to being the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. It is certainly one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Tucson, regardless of cuisine.
Famous for having invented the chimichanga, its real fame is built on its carne seca (dried beef marinated in lime and garlic). It’s hard to imagine being disappointed by any dish featuring El Charro’s tantalizing version of carne seca.
The Flores family has branched out from its original downtown location with other El Charro sites and they’ve also opened a more trendy Mexican restaurant, Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, at two sites in Tucson (midtown at Swan and Speedway and near Tucson Mall).
El Guero Canelo
5201 S. 12th Ave.; 2480 N. Oracle Rd.; 5802 E. 22nd St.
You can partly credit the sudden rise in popularity of Sonoran hot dogs for the success of El Guero (now at three locations). Those bacon-wrapped dogs, swathed in beans, onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, mustard and salsa may have originated in Hermosillo, Sonora, but they also claim an American home in Tucson. And El Guero is one of the most popular spots to get them.
Cafe Poca Cosa
110 E. Pennington St.
Flavorful and fun is the best way to describe the cuisine at this downtown staple. The menu from chef/owner Susana Davila changes daily and if you really want to have fun order the Plato Poca Cosa. The chef will choose one beef, one chicken and one vegetarian entrée for you. This restaurant is a Rockology favorite.
Guadalajara Original Grill
1220 E. Prince Rd.
What more could you want from a Mexican restaurant for your dinner than fresh salsa made for you tableside and live mariachi music nightly? Live it up till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
El Minuto Cafe
354 S. Main
It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Tucson (opened in 1939) and has long been a favorite of Tucson Gem and Mineral Show goers. And why not, with classic Sonoran-style food, and right across the street from the Tucson Convention Center Arena?
Blanco Tacos + Tequila
2905 E. Skyline Dr.
Want to go upscale and trendy? Try the Fox Restaurant Concepts eatery at La Encantada in the Catalina Foothills. The views are among the best in Tucson and the food ain’t bad either.
Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe
2455 N. Silverbell Road
Want to go to the restaurant that superstar chef Bobby Flay came all the way to Tucson to challenge to a Food Network Throwdown over Huevos Rancheros? By the way, Bobby won.
Rosa’s Mexican Food
This is a longtime midtown favorite, particularly for people who work at the University of Arizona. Count Rosa’s a Rockology fave, as well.