After an extensive renovation that included replacing the roof and installing new kitchen equipment, El Torero Restaurant in South Tucson quietly reopened for business two weeks ago.
The restaurant, at 231 E. 26th St., is tiptoeing back to life, with reduced hours that the owners hope to increase once their longtime customers realize they have reopened.
And they hope those folks will be joined by newcomers, many of whom rarely ventured into South Tucson.
El Torero will incorporate some of the menu from owners Mike and Brad Hultquist’s sister restaurant Lerua’s, which closed in early February, a casualty of the city of Tucson’s drawn-out Broadway widening project.
“Right now we are just testing the waters,” said Mike Hultquist Jr., who is running the restaurant for his father and uncle. “If we get a good response from the clientele, we will extend the hours.”
El Torero closed in mid-December after Brad Hultquist suffered an aneurysm. Because his brother and nephew were busy closing Lerua’s, the family decided to temporarily shutter El Torero, which their aunt Adelina Borgaro opened in 1957.
Hultquist Jr., a trained chef who ran Lerua’s kitchen the last seven years, is the fourth generation to run the restaurant. He heads an entirely new staff, most of them in their 20s and 30s, as they usher in a new chapter of El Torero that will borrow some influence from Lerua’s. The menu will feature some items from Lerua’s, including the immensely popular green corn tamales, which had long been on the El Torero menu.
Hultquist Jr. said they also plan to tweak some of the menu to include offering more seafood and elevating some dishes to keep up with the times. In its 62 years, El Torero has rarely, if ever, changed its menu.
“We’re not here to take away from the history of the restaurant,” said the 30-year-old Hultquist Jr., who grew up in both Lerua’s and El Torero. But he does want to update the menu to bring it in line with recent innovations in Mexican cuisine.
He also said he hopes that longtime Lerua’s customers visiting El Torero will shed “new light on South Tucson.”
El Torero is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; it’s closed Sundays and Mondays.
30 new restaurants that have opened in 2019:
30 new restaurants and coffee shops that have opened in Tucson in 2019
ATL Wings — 802 N. Fourth Ave.Updated
Ralph and Velveia Bankhead like to think a little heavenly intervention led them to the 1950s-era gas station-turned restaurant on the corner of North Fourth Avenue and East University.
It all started with a business networking meeting at their Phoenix church three years ago. Velveia Bankhead was the keynote speaker, and one of the guests, fellow church member Cianna Kirksey, pitched her and her husband Mike’s ATL Wings restaurant chain.
Not long afterward, the Bankheads visited the restaurant in west Phoenix — there are eight locations in the Valley — and discovered something Ralph Bankhead called life-changing.
“These wings do something to you,” he said, sounding like a preacher about to hit that fever pitch of his sermon. “When people eat our wings, they love our wings.”
With so many locations in the Phoenix area, the Bankheads, who own the restaurant with Angela and Alphonso Tyson, turned their attention to Tucson and that 2,000-square-foot former filling station at 802 N. Fourth Ave. that had been converted into a restaurant in 2017.
Baja Mar — 3541 S. 12th Ave.Updated
In 2019, Baja Mar expanded with an additional location on South Twelfth Avenue.
The seafood restaurant also serves as a market. Plus, kids eat free on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Barro's Pizza — 410 N. Wilmot Rd.Updated
Barro's Pizza opened its second Tucson-area location in January.
The first location opened in 2017 in Marana, at 5884 W. Arizona Pavilions Dr. It was the Phoenix chain's first location south of Casa Grande.
The chain now has more than 40 locations, most in the greater Phoenix area.
The menu includes classic dishes such as pizza, pasta, salads and subs.
Bowld — 13160 E. Colossal Cave Rd.Updated
Bowld was recently welcomed to the Vail area.
The restaurant boasts meal prepping and catering services, in addition to a menu of bowls and "rowls," which are veggies, meat or cheese wrapped in a different kind of meat or tortilla. They're available grilled or breaded and fried.
The menu also includes salads and burgers.
The Boxyard — 238 N. Fourth Ave.Updated
After more than two years of waiting, The Boxyard, a shipping container food hall on Fourth Avenue, officially opened in January.
The bar portion has 15 beers on tap. For food, you can nosh on Sonoran dogs, Vietnamese food and barbecue.
BZ's Pizza — 7856 E. Wrightstown Rd.Updated
But now it's back on the southwest corner of Pantano and Wrightstown. The new spot has 30 draft beers and a menu that includes pasta and seafood entrees like cioppino and lobster ravioli along with the signature thin crust pizzas.
Charro del Rey — 178 E. BroadwayUpdated
The seafood-centric restaurant Charro del Rey was opened by the Flores family — the same family behind the popular El Charro Cafe.
Charro del Rey sits at 178 E. Broadway, next door to the Flores family's 2-year-old Charro Steak, 188 E. Broadway.
Charrovida — 7109 N. Oracle Rd.Updated
The Mediterranean-inspired Charrovida, the newest restaurant from the El Charro family, opened in May.
It is the third new concept that the Flores family has launched in three years.
Charrovida, 7109 N. Oracle Road, is a Mediterranean-Sonoran fusion restaurant that borrows from plant-based and sustainable-foods philosophies, a passion for Flores family matriarch Carlotta Flores. The emphasis is on healthy, but with an El Charro focus on flavor and innovation.
Chef Wang — 356 E. Grant Rd.Updated
The menu at Chef Wang is so large, it takes a four-ring binder to list everything they serve — including many dishes you may not have seen before.
Chef Wang, or Zhuang Yuan Lou if you speak Mandarin, is essentially a Northeastern Chinese restaurant. The spot is a partnership between Baoge Chen and Chef Hongquan Wang, who are from the city of Shenyang in the Dongbei region of China.
The restaurant is inside an old Mariscos Chihuahua on Grant Road, and has a suburban vibe that led This Is Tucson's food writer Andi Berlin's lunch partner to call it "The Cheesecake Factory of Chinese food."
Crema Coffee — 3725 W. Ina Rd.Updated
Crema Coffee opened in Marana in the beginning of April. In addition to coffee, the shop offers pastries in partnership with Sweetster's Bakery, according to their Facebook page.
Desert Dream Ice Creamery — 210 N. Fourth Ave.Updated
Although Isabella's Ice Cream moved out of their Fourth Avenue location in 2018, ice cream hasn't left the street.
Brothers Zech and Noah Bergeron took over Desert Dream Ice Creamery, after closing its former location on Speedway and Campbell Avenue.
Now in Isabella's former location on Fourth, the Bergerons make their own ice cream flavors like Coyote Tracks and Elvis Pretzel with help from the original owner.
Divine Bovine — 1021 N. Wilmot RoadUpdated
The former La Salsa building on North Wilmot Road and East Speedway is now home to a local purveyor of high-quality hamburgers.
Rine was looking for a new opportunity in the food service industry since selling BrushFire's two locations more than a year ago.
“I took a year off because you only get one life and I wanted to spend time with my kids,” Rine said. “But we’ve all got bills to pay. I didn’t sell 25 BrushFires, and I’ve wanted a burger restaurant for a while.”
Rine said Divine Bovine offers 15 different types of burgers, all made with “ridiculously high-end ingredients.”
Each burger patty consists of a blend of “brisket, chuck and short rib that’s really, really naughty,” he said.
Read more here.
Dutch Bros. Coffee — 10105 E. Old Vail Road, 9330 E. Golf Links RoadUpdated
Dutch Bros. Coffee, the Oregon-born, hip and happening coffee shop with the sugar-sweet nice baristas, expanded its reach in Tucson.
Dutch Bros. introduced itself to Tucson with its first location last October at 120 S. Wilmot Road.
El Antojo Poblano — 1114 W. St. Mary's RoadUpdated
El Antojo Poblano refers to the city and state of Pueblo, southeast of Mexico city.
You can find huaraches, cemitas and delicate molote pockets of fried corn masa at El Antojo Poblano — Tucson's new food truck that parks in a vacant lot at St. Mary's near Interstate 10.
El Taquito King — 4602 E. 29th St.Updated
El Taquito King is owned by the masterminds behind the El Sur restaurant on 22nd Street.
The space was formerly El Sur #2, but the owners recently decided to mix things up and create a different menu with tacos, wings, Sonoran dogs and more.
Hop Street Lounge — 7215 E. 22nd St.Updated
Tucson's east side just got another destination for locally produced craft beer and wine.
The new venture offers up to 35 beers on tap, eight wines, coffee, kombucha and more than 600 bottles in coolers.
Eight television sets show the sporting events of the day, and seating in the space includes couches.
“I want people to be super comfortable,” owner Damion Jenkins said. “It is going to have a loungy feel.”
Read more here.
Irene's Holy Donuts — 340 N. 4th Ave.Updated
Irene Heiman was selling real estate in her childhood home of Hawaii and she was doing pretty well, making money while making a name for herself.
But she would go to sleep every night with this gnawing feeling that she wasn’t doing what she was meant to do in this world. Around 2014, the mother of three said she heard a voice that told her to open a doughnut shop.
She spent a year of trial and error, experimenting with glazes, yeasts, fillings and doughs, and was told by some folks honest enough to deliver bad news that her doughnuts were pretty awful.
She admits she was discouraged, but her husband wasn’t. He told her that once she had the proper equipment and space, those doughnuts would be just fine. And when they opened Holy Donuts in the mall of their small hometown of Kailua-Kona in 2015, he was proven right. People loved them.
Irene Heiman was confident people in Tucson would feel the same way.
Read more here.
Just Kabab — 10420 N. La Cañada DriveUpdated
The new Oro Valley restaurant brought the art of the Persian kebab to a casual setting, with counter service and an open kitchen where you can see your meat being grilled.
Start with a classic skewer of ground beef kubideh and go from there. They also plan to serve traditional stews such as ghetme and ghorme sabzi.
Kukai — 267 S. Avenida del ConventoUpdated
Kukai opened quietly in February at the Mercado Annex, making it the second food vendor in the shopping area.
And you may recognize the familiar face of Setsuko Mochizuki inside the shipping container kitchen. Her husband Kazuo Senda is the owner of Samurai on Oracle Road, which has been Tucson's go-to rice bowl joint for more than 30 years.
Kazuo is partnering with his son-in-law Michael McCormack at Kukai, crafting a menu that feels like Samurai meets Instagram. They're making everything from onigiri rice balls and ramen to those takoyaki octopus balls you may have lined up for at Tucson Meet Yourself.
Longhorn Grill & Saloon — 28851 S. Nogales Highway in AmadoUpdated
A long-closed restaurant whose steer skull façade has served as a roadside attraction for generations of travelers heading to and from Mexico recently reopened.
The Longhorn Grill and Saloon opened in late May in Amado.
The property's new owners Greg and Amy Hansen, no relation to Star sports columnist Greg Hansen, purchased the Longhorn in 2018 in hopes of turning it into a destination steak house, catering to tourists, Tucsonans and residents from the surrounding communities of Green Valley, Tubac, Rio Rico, Nogales and Arivaca.
The Longhorn serves everything from high-end steaks and fish plates to burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Read more here.
Maru Japanese Noodle Shop — 1370 N. Silverbell RoadUpdated
More Japanese food has graced Tucson's west side.
Maru Japanese Noodle Shop is a casual counter-service spot from the people behind Yoshimatsu, just with an emphasis on ramen and udon noodles.
In addition to the familiar beef and curry udons, the restaurant also does a spicy tantan udon, sweet tofu kitsune udon and a cream udon with a sauce similar to fettuccine alfredo.
Small snacks, such as takoyaki balls and onigiri, are also offered.
Mission Coffee Imports — 606 N. Fourth Ave.Updated
For the past four years, Brian Jerome Peterson and his partners have peddled their fresh-roasted coffee at area farmers markets.
But those nomad days are behind them.
In late January, Peterson and his partners John Howard and Matthew DeVore opened Mission Coffee Imports in the small street-front space at 606 N. Fourth Ave. that was home for nearly a decade to Revolutionary Grounds Books & Coffee.
Original Cuisine — 1800 E. Fort Lowell RoadUpdated
The Arizona Republic speculated that this may be the best Chinese food in the Phoenix area. Lucky for Tucsonans, a location opened up in the Old Pueblo.
The Sichuan menu caters to adventurous eaters who enjoy dishes such as rabbit with pickled pepper and baby ginger.
Pescaderia y Taqueria Yami — 1926 S. Fourth Ave.Updated
This casual mariscos spot on South Fourth Avenue serves food from the coastal town of Guaymas, Sonora. This means you'll find shrimp cocktails, ceviche, various tostadas with octopus, crab and more.
Pescaderia y Taqueria Yami also has a small market up at the front where you can purchase seafood to-go.
Plaza Eats at Hotel Congress — 311 Congress StreetUpdated
Downtown weekend revelers with late-night hunger pangs have a new dining option, located within the plaza area at Hotel Congress.
The historic hotel, which is celebrating its 100th year in 2019, recently installed a food trailer meant to accommodate evening traffic, including bar hoppers and post-concert crowds, until 2 a.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.
Dubbed Plaza Eats, the trailer offers a mix of favorites from the hotel’s Cup Café — menu items like the Picacho nachos, lettuce wraps and a plant-based Beyond Burger – and classic international street foods.
Purple Penguin Candy Emporium — 3392 E. 22nd St.Updated
Purple Penguin Candy Emporium is a fun new shop that recently opened across the street from Reid Park.
The owner is a retired antique dealer and has filled the space with vintage cash registers, candy cranes and all manner of funky old stuff. They specialize in throwback candies from the 60s to the 90s and had some rare finds like Astro Pops, Chuckles, Charleston Chews and more.
Rush Bowls — 1058 N. Campbell Ave.Updated
Rush Bowls, a Colorado-based smoothie shop, opened in the former Desert Dream Ice Cream on Speedway and Campbell Avenue.
Rush Bowls offers a range of frozen yogurt, granola and acaí bowls and even has something for your dog, according to the website.
Sentinel Peak East — 9155 E. Tanque Verde RoadUpdated
Sentinel Peak Brewing Company headed east with a second location.
The midtown craft brewer took over the Stillhouse Grill and Bar which was rebranded Sentinel Peak East, said Jeremy Hilderbrand, who co-owns the 5-year-old craft brewery with two fellow firefighters.
Sweetscape Desserts at Casino del Sol — 5655 W. Valencia RoadUpdated
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Casino Del Sol is looking (and tasting) a little sweeter with the launch of our newest eatery, SweetScape! This new concept created by Executive Chef Ryan Clark and his team will offer guests sweet treats like gelato, donuts, sundaes and even savory items like breakfast sandwiches! 🍩 Open daily from 7am-11pm and located next to our bingo hall, SweetScape is sure to have a treat for everyone! 🍦 #casinodelsol #sweetscape #sweettooth #tucsonfoodie #desertdesserts #dessertqueen #dessertking
When walking near the bingo hall at Casino del Sol, you'll come across the eclectic menu at Sweetscape Desserts.
The dessert shop was created by Chef Ryan Clark and his culinary team. The menu includes gelato, shakes, floats, sundaes, breakfast sandwiches and more.
But you'll probably be drawn in by the colorful donuts from pastry chef Gina Skelton. Her whimsical flavors include fluffernutter, fruit cereal and maple bacon.
Tortillas by Che West — 2105 S. Sixth Ave.Updated
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Feeling So Blessed Never knew tortillas would be a business. Thankful for so many things. @josegee__ Thank you for being a ride or die type of person! I need that and I am grateful to have you as my business partner! It’s just the beginning and so much to be optimistic about. To have my kids with me while I sell these delicious disks is just icing on the top. It’s only been a week and can’t wait for Saturday to be fully open! Come by tomorrow at 10am to get fresh tortillas and pan dulce. Thank again to everyone helping get my dreams out. 2105 S 6th Ave Tucson, AZ 85713 #cheflife #flaminghotcheetos #chef #chewest #tortillasbychewest #garlicchipotle #tucson #southsixthbodega #tucsonmiamor #everybodyeats #tortilla #infusedtortillas #artisan
You may have seen Jose Zavala's colorful corn tortillas at American Eat Co., but now the local chef is opening his own storefront.
Tortillas by Che West has a variety of non-GMO handmade corn tortillas in creative flavors like garlic green onion, Hot Cheetos, El Pato and more.
He's also selling a variety of flour tortillas and pan dulce from La Estrella Bakery.