El Charro Café has kicked off its yearlong centennial celebration of the restaurant and its matriarch and founder Monica Flin with the quiet opening of The Monica.
The sprawling homage to Flin takes up 4,500 square feet on the first floor of the glistening Hexagon building at City Park, 40 E. Congress St., connected to a 2,500-square-foot patio with faux-grass and picnic tables.
The Monica is the cornerstone of the 100th anniversary of the original El Charro, which Flin opened just a few blocks from the new venture in 1922. The flagship restaurant moved a few years later to its current home on North Court Avenue downtown.
Ray Flores, president of Si Charro — El Charro’s parent company — described The Monica as a hybrid restaurant and market that offers packaged spirits and beer alongside grab-and-go meals and snacks, artisan breads baked by three-time James Beard nominee Don Guerra, and full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that range from quick-fix sandwiches, salads and soups to full-plate entrees that go from the simple — a grilled cheese and soup combo — to the sublime — short rib rústico dressed in a rosemary ancho au jus.
“My goal was to try to get everything done on our menu for between $10 and $20 and no more,” Flores said.
Guerra’s Polin oven anchors the open kitchen, where Executive Chef Danny Perez oversees cooks preparing vanilla bean pancakes and over-easy eggs, alongside so-called Responsible Burgers, The Monica’s reinvention of the popular plant-based Impossible burger. The Responsible is made with 70% hamburger and 30% mushrooms, sandwiched in Guerra’s toasted focaccia bread.
This is Guerra’s second partnership with the Flores family; he also is part of Barrio Charro at 3699 N. Campbell Ave., which opened at the height of the pandemic in September 2020. In addition to the breads, Guerra, who owns Barrio Bread and Barrio Grains, also is making Roman-style pizza featured on The Monica’s stripped down pantry menu that is geared toward customers on a tight schedule.
Flores said he also is collaborating with a handful of Tucson makers including Tucson Tea and Tucson Toffee, whose products are featured in the market side of the restaurant, and will invite local makers, vendors and community groups to participate in “Tucson Tuesdays” on the second Tuesday of the month, kicking off March 8. Flores envisions “Tucson Tuesdays” as a way to spotlight local businesses and community groups, much like Second Saturdays Downtown did for years before organizers were forced to press pause on the event due to the pandemic and have yet to return.
The Monica also will team up with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program. On Wednesday, March 9, Moses Thompson who leads the UA program will bring a group of kids to The Monica to begin planting a garden at the restaurant.
“(It’s) one of the coolest things we have going for youth in Tucson,” Flores said of the UA program.
The Monica is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays with brunch served until 3 p.m.; from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; and from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, when the bar remains open until midnight.
Flores said he is in talks with local chefs about future collaborations that could include pop-up restaurants during the monthly Tucson Tuesdays.