Snap, crackle, popping boba ... That's what Tucson's all about this month. Or maybe that's just stuck in my mind because I've never seen a drink like this before. Not only are there three layers of craziness, but the bottom has little balls that burst in your mouth and release sour strawberry juice.
But you know, there are always things like that to open your eyes and make you realize you've been living in a little bubble. Another example: Somewhere in the world, somebody thought, "I should make a drive-thru ramen shop!" And then they did. And even stranger, that person was in Tucson. And that ramen shop is on Speedway where a Jack in the Box used to be.
So I definitely recommend you expand your mind with The Korean Rose and Kiwami Ramen. But then maybe later in the day, you can take a cruise down Fourth Avenue and see all the new stuff that's just popped up. The street feels (almost) alive again. Now that Ermanos is back open, and there are three new restaurants. One of them serves flaming saganaki, and has a dude who says "Opa." It's the best.
But you know what else is cool? Talking to you folks, even though we can't really hang out right now. I just wanted to say thank you for reading, and I hope you make it to the bottom where talk about all the new things coming up. Mexican brunch and a new coffee shop downtown ...
It was quite a bummer when Athens on 4th Ave. closed over the summer. But a new Greek restaurant is here to carry the torch, or in this case a plate of flaming saganaki. (How could I not make that joke?) The people behind Opa's Best on Broadway and Swan moved into the red brick building that held Athens for nearly 30 years. It's a hard act to follow, but I was very pleased after my late patio lunch yesterday, when a coworker and I shared a creamy mound of moussaka and one of the best burgers I've had in Tucson. I know that's kind of random that they serve burgers, but it works! Get the Greek burger with Feta cheese and roasted red peppers. Read more.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. curfew hours subject to change
Literally next door to Opa's Best, there's another new restaurant. And this one is pretty trippy because it's in the old home of the Chocolate Iguana, and it looks nothing like the Chocolate Iguana. (As you can see.) The team at L Station totally revamped the old A Frame building, turning it into an airy tapas bar that's more patio than anything. The kitchen is headed up by Adrian Castillo, formerly of Lodge on the Desert, who's doing a mix of Spanish small bites like garlic mushrooms and blistered shishito peppers, as well as some flatbreads and salads. The cocktail menu is rather substantial, with gems like the red pepper margarita with Corazon Blanco Tequila and roasted red pepper puree.
Hours: Monday-Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with brunch menu from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. curfew hours subject to change
The soul of Fourth Avenue, the counterculture coffee shop Epic Cafe was almost a goner. The business was permanently closed and put on the market earlier this year, when it was saved by new owner George Shaar. He gave the place a once-over and renamed it Cafe Maggie, after the giant tropical plant that's taken residence over the last 20 years. The space mostly looks the same, except for the women's bathroom, which no longer looks like a scene from "Trainspotting" and now looks like a regular bathroom. (RIP) But they have a new breakfast menu and are doing some nice looking muffins and things.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Monday, curfew hours subject to change
If I had to pick one thing I'm excited about this month I would say the drive-thru ramen spot that serves tsukemen dipping noodles. I've been to Kiwami three times in the past couple weeks and I'm already thinking about the fourth. The ramen here is truly well made, with a large variety of different broths and noodle shapes, both curly and straight. I think hands down, the best ramen they have right now is the signature Kiwami Aka with the spicy broth. So make sure to get that one, and maybe that salmon carpaccio appetizer. Skip the poke bowls, they don't compare. Read more.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. curfew hours subject to change
The Korean Rose and Taegukgi Korean BBQ House
Speedway is like Korean barbecue central now (K.B.C.), because there are seriously four different places within a few miles. Taegukgi is an import from San Diego, and is also the FIRST ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT Korean barbecue joint in Tucson. This trend was big in Phoenix a couple years back, and is finally getting its moment here. Unfortunately the barbecue spot is only doing indoor dining for a few more weeks, so I haven't yet tried it. But I did hit up the tea and boba spot in the front a couple times now. Their drinks are really creative, as you can see by the popping boba creation pictured at the top of this article. Read more.
Hours: The Korean Rose is open Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Taegukgi is open noon to 9 p.m. daily. curfew hours subject to change
The Blacktop Grill
Baby Seneca, my nephew, really enjoyed these loaded hot dogs with half a dozen toppings on top. Just kidding, he eats milk. But The Blacktop Grill is a fun spot to get some takeout up in Marana where he hangs out. A former food cart, the restaurant is owned by hot dog artiste Gabe Ceniceros, whose crazy combinations include The Elotero with fire roasted corn, lime and Cotija cheese on top. The menu is a greatest hits of all the best stuff from his cart, and includes some sandwiches and quesadillas in addition to his all-beef hot dogs. The loaded fries are also choice. Read more.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. subject to change
On the horizon:
— The acclaimed tapas restaurant Contigo is opening a farmhouse Italian concept in the former home of Old Pueblo Grille, writes Cathalena E. Burch in the Star. The restaurant, Locale, is set to open Friday, Dec. 4.
— The Historic Courthouse at 115 N. Church Ave. is getting a coffee shop, after The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a two-year lease agreement for a company called Five-To-Oh Coffee, L.L.C. Pima County announced the addition on its Facebook page this week.
— A new Mexican brunch place called La Chingada is opening this month in the former home of Alejandro's Cafe at 31 N. Scott Ave. The restaurant is owned by the same people behind The Neighborhood bar at 3940 E. 29th St.
— Tucson's tallest building One South Church will eventually get a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, as well as a boutique hotel on floors five through nine. Phoenix investors 1SC Hotel QOZB LLC have big plans for the space, writes The Star.