Welcome to Tucson! We do things a little differently down here. For example, when a Tucsonan says "Let's get On the Border," they're probably suggesting a trip to Mexico, and not a mediocre strip-mall chain with Ultimate Fajitas®.
This may be a little bit unclear if you're new to town. But don't worry, you'll get the hang of it. For now, why not try eating your way through this handy list of iconic Tucson foods (and drinks)? You don't have to take notes, this should be easy to remember ...
¡Mira! It's a giant fried burrito covered in red sauce. That's not always the case though. You can eat this Tucson staple dry, but please, use a fork. Several local restaurants claim to be the inventors of this hefty Tucson treat; most notably El Charro Mexican food. But we love going to Rosa's at 1750 East Fort Lowell for the ambiance. Sorry, that's just what "we" did since "we" were a kid. You can probably get this anywhere and it'll taste practically the same, like a deep fried burrito ...
They may have these in other cities, but you know the tortilla ain't gonna be as good. Get the real deal at the late-night haven Taco Shop 1350 E. Broadway, where they toast them up for you. (It makes a difference.) Also if you're into breakfast burritos, try the beauties at Anita Street Market, 849 N. Anita Ave. If you have some more time, check out my list of 24 different breakfast burritos to eat in Tucson. I rank them, and weigh them all for your enjoyment.
Real tacos with carne asada
I've had tacos in California where you're from. They were okay. But you know the tacos here are gonna be better, mostly because of the fresh flour tortillas that are so prevalent in our little desert town. If you really want a taste of the Sonoran desert, you've gotta do the carne asada from the mesquite grill. You have never tasted a taco like this before, trust me. Here's a list of places to go. Or just go to Tacos Apson, 3501 S. 12th Ave. Hard to do better than that.
Sonoran hot dog
If you only eat these once a year, let it be now. You're just not gonna get them anywhere else, even if they call it a Danger Dog or whatever. They may wrap it in bacon, but if it doesn't have beans, tomatoes, onions, mayo, cheese, etc., it's just NO GOOD! You can hit up BK Tacos or El Güero Canelo for the famous version. But our favorite is Los Chipilones (formerly Ruiz hot dogs) on the northwest corner of South Sixth Avenue and 22nd Street. They toast the bun, which really brings it together.
Prickly pear margarita
They have margaritas in other cities, but they may come from a slushie machine. And I bet they don't have prickly pear, a hallmark of Arizona resorts and gourmet Mexican joints like Reforma, 4310 N. Campbell Ave. It adds a sweet little punch, and it's less syrupy than strawberry. Check out our margarita guide here.
Do I really have to write anything here? You know what it is. Go get some!
Shaved ice + syrupy fruit + ice cream = Tucson in a nutshell. You can find raspados joints all over the south and west sides. Browse the menu and you'll also see savory snacks like duros and loaded bags of corn chips that go by the name tostiloco. Check out our guide to raspados here, and then hit up Oasis Fruit Cones at 1002 W. St. Mary’s Road for an introduction.
[Editor's note: This story originally ran last May as 6 things to eat (and drink) before you get the heck outta Tucson, but do burritos ever get old?]