I used to write this article about new restaurants every month, but the last one I did feels like several centuries ago:
"Wowie! It's been a month," I said back in early March. "I'm currently recuperating from a slew of nonstop February openings in Tucson: cheese tea, three beer and wine bars, two Italian restaurants, and of course... the unicorn doughnut place that's popular across San Diego ... It's a fun time to be here folks, appreciate it while you can."
Wowie is right! I'm not sure why this last line seems so foreboding, but that's hindsight for ya. It has been a month again, but not quite in the same way as before. This month we saw the governor close down most of Arizona's bars, while a new wave of COVID cases claimed several dine-in restaurants, temporarily and permanently. But you know what, we're still truckin'! And like the dooh-dah man, Tucsonans are giving this town everything they have.
I don't want to tell anyone to go out to eat right now if they don't feel comfortable. But I do want to celebrate the people who are keeping our food scene fresh even when the going gets really tough. If you have the means or the time to get some takeout from them, that would be really cool. Also, Taiwanese food is really interesting and I want everyone to learn about it. Mostly because I need someone to talk to ... Help!
August Rhodes bakery
After the pandemic hit, the the team behind Prep & Pastry decided to convert their sandwich spot August Rhodes Market into a full-scale bread bakery, selling a variety of freshly-baked loaves to other Tucson restaurants as well as the public. The bakery is still in soft opening stages, but head baker Nathan Teufel is pumping out a variety of sourdoughs, Japanese milk bread, baguettes and even bialys. I've had a loaf of their fantastic sourdough in my fridge for the past couple days, and have been toasting it in the oven and then smearing it with some soft Brie cheese. It makes eating at home feel luxurious. Read more.
Hours: Thursday-Sunday from 9 a.m. until they sell out, or 2 p.m.
Cucusa's Caribbean food truck
This new food truck by Tucsonan Dayami “Dee” Exposito serves Puerto Rican and Cuban specialties like pastelillos (Puerto Rican empanadas), rellenos de papa, mofongo and more. Dee was born in Cuba but grew up in Puerto Rico, where her dad still owns a food truck. Cooking had always been her dream, but she put it on hold until her children grew up. Now her two daughters Lucy and Andrea are helping her with the truck. Cucusas is all over the place: You'll see it up in the Foothills at Catalina Brewing Company and as far south as Green Valley. Check their Facebook for the latest location. Read more.
I'm not going to assume what you do and do not know. But if you're like me, you probably didn't know much about Taiwanese food until now. (Unless of course, you're a boba fan.) This mountainous island country off the southeastern coast of China is known for its sweet drinks, its spicy hot pot and its stunning array of street foods. Unfortunately eHotPot isn't able to do the whole hot pot thing right now — it's just doing takeout and delivery — but that's okay with me because I've been strategically eating my way through their entire menu of noodle dishes and bento boxes. And then of course, watching hours of YouTube videos about Taiwan. Get the pork chop!
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. (closed July 4-7)
Habaneros Steak and Wings
This popular Tubac Mexican restaurant opened a second location in June at the Tanque Verde Road spot that most recently held China Bamboo. (It's a damn shame, because I loved their biang biang noodles.) Habaneros is doing dine-in and takeout, and I swung by there last week to try one of their "power bowl" lunch specials advertised on the Facebook page. The takeout version isn't exactly a bowl, but more like a plate of food with rice, beans, choice of meat, sauteed peppers and such. It looks like their menu gets a little fancy at dinner, with non-Mexican entrees like shrimp scampi, osso bucco and lamb shank. Read more.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
MotoSonora Brewing Co.
After months of hype, this car-themed brewery has finally opened to the public. And even though Governor Doug Ducey has closed Arizona bars, MotoSonora is allowed to keep its taproom open because it operates under a manufacturers license. Head brewer Joel Hatlin has worked at breweries in Seattle and Chicago, and has lots of tasty looking beers on the menu including a Fog Lights Seattle IPA with "notes of grapefruit" and a "delicate bitterness." Even if you're not comfortable hanging out there, you can still get a crowler to-go. Read.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 3-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Raspados el Paraiso
If you're on the east side, Raspados el Paraiso is where it's at. The lime green building is one of the best places to get a Mexican shaved ice in town, and they also make better-than-average tostilocos. When the pandemic happened, they were able to save their business by adding a drive-thru, which allowed them to keep all their employees. Now they're adding a second location on Golf Links in a former building that used to be the Plant Kingdom nursery and coffee shop. It's also painted lime green, and has a larger patio than the original location. Read more.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
When they closed the Tohono O'odham Swapmeet back in March, one of its most talented food vendors struck out on his own to open his first brick and mortar restaurant. El Rustico serves grilled meats like carne asada, tripas and roast cabrito (goat), a specialty of Coahuila, Mexico where chef Juan Almanza is from. He also does a mean parillada or variety meat platter, which is the best option if you're doing takeout because you can reheat the meats at home. But he also recently started doing those cheesy quesabirria tacos you've probably seen on Instagram, pictured up top. You wanna eat those as quickly as you can though. Whoa ... Read more.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
This Indian restaurant opened in Marana mid-April, in the suburban shopping area Arizona Pavilions Marketplace. Spice Garden's dining room has an upscale vibe with a similar color scheme to Saffron in Oro Valley. I just did takeout, twice actually because it was so good, and chose from a number of curry bowls that are available to-go. It's mostly the basics here, like an outstanding chicken tikka masala, garlic naan bread and the sumptuous spinach dish saag paneer. Spice Garden is also the only place in town to serve South Indian food like dosas, the spongy Indian crepes eaten with coconut chutney. Worth checking out! Read more.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m.; closed Monday
Toss Fried Chicken and Ramen
Winner winner chicken dinner. Or chicken lunch, however you wanna reward yourself today. It's been a rough year and you deserve a delicious spicy chicken sandwich prepared with Japanese ingredients alongside one of the best bowls of ramen in Tucson. I know that sounds silly, but it actually works. Toss is owned by the same family who runs Izumi sushi on Speedway, so they know Japanese food. And the chef Jake Lin is somewhat of a chicken savant as well. He sure knows how to keep that breast juicy, and the outside super crunchy and spicy on your lips. Yum, I wish I could eat one right now. Read more.
Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On the horizon:
• A sign advertising a new business, Kiwami Ramen, has gone up on an old Jack in the Box at 4610 E. Speedway. From the pictures on their website, it looks like they're gonna make the inside look really cool.
• Rio Nuevo pledged $500,000 to help relocate the historic Lerua's Mexican restaurant to a 6,000-square foot location down the road at 2243 and 2245 E. Broadway, writes Cathalena E. Burch in the Star.
• The owners of Bumsted's recently purchased the restaurant and karaoke lounge at the Best Western hotel, and are reopening their sandwich shop under a new name: Bumsted's at Wonderwall. Read more in this article by Gerald M. Gay.
— With reporting by Gerald M. Gay and Cathalena E. Burch