You ever wonder where Tucson restaurateurs and chefs go to eat on their days off?
We did, too, so we asked a few of them to share their go-to dining destinations and what they order.
Crazy about sushi
The chefs: Gabriela Delgadillo and her partner, Jesus Oleta, took their years of experience working in Tucson sushi restaurants and married it with their Mexican culinary heritage in their Mexican-Japanese fusion food truck Samurai Sombrero.
The idea works, Delgadillo said.
“We put our flavor into the food. You can come here and find Japanese sushi flavors like yellow tail, rainbow rolls, spicy tuna, but we also have our special menu,” Delgadillo said. “We put a lot of flavor to it because it’s a combination of our Tucson and Mexican influences and sushi.”
Those flavors, bold and pronounced and often kicked with some heat, come in simple flourishes like a sprig of fresh cilantro or slices of jalapeño. Or more complex inventions like their house sauce, with its distinct Sonoran accents that will make your rethink the quintessential spicy mayo dipping sauce you get at many sushi restaurants.
Delgadillo and Oleta launched the food truck in early December, building upon their extended tenures at local sushi restaurants.
The extensive menu served from the truck parked from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays at The Pit at 7889 E. 22nd St., features 15 varieties of sushi rolls including a trio of vegan rolls — avocado, cucumber and sweet potato. You can get the classics — spicy tuna or California rolls — alongside the inventive house Sombrero, made with tempura shrimp, cream cheese, jalapeño, cilantro and avocado topped with sesame seeds and that chef’s special sauce; and the lobster popcorn roll — a classic California roll topped with deep-fried chunks of tempura-dressed lobster that is then baked and finished with a spicy mayo and eel sauce.
Samurai Sombrero also serves classic appetizers (egg rolls and crab puffs alongside grilled chicken skewers and pan-fried dumplings called gyoza) and seven entrée plates, from spicy shrimp or spicy chicken to orange chicken and lo mein.
“People come in and they get the food and they love it,” said Delgadillo.
Where they go to eat: Even though they are surrounded by sushi five days a week, Delgadillo and Oleta, the parents of a 10-month-old son, are big fans of SushiHana Tucson, a father-daughter food truck that can be found from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 4550 S. Sixth Ave., just up the road from the Tucson Rodeo Grounds at South Sixth and East Irvington Road on the south side.
Flor Cristerna said she and her father, Luis, launched the truck five months ago after dreaming up the idea during the pandemic.
That’s when Luis, a longtime Tucson sushi chef, saw his work hours dwindle to nearly nothing. With time on his hands and his daughter as his motivation, Luis and Flor started making sushi to sell on their own. The response was so enthusiastic that they decided to launch SushiHana, offering a classic sushi menu of rolls and nigiri.
Delgadillo said she is particularly fond of SushiHana’s Hot Cheetos roll topped with the spicy snack food.
“It sounds weird but it’s really good,” Delgadillo said “You get that crunch and that spicy and it kind of comes together. It’s like a chile powder.”
Flor Cristerna said the Hot Cheetos roll is one of the truck’s most popular rolls.
The restaurateur: Serial Grillers owner and menu mastermind Travis Miller is the first to admit it: When he isn’t feasting on the Italian sandwich at his and brother William’s Transplant Detroit Style Pizza restaurant on East Speedway, he’s hunkered over a double Graze burger with pepper jack cheese, a side of house fries and a blueberry soda from Graze Premium Burgers.
“I’m like a quick services guy,” he explained, which is why he likes to slip into Graze, a counter-service restaurant like Miller’s Serial Grillers pizza, sandwich and burger shops that he and his brother launched as a food truck 11 years ago. “I’m 100% stuff that’s similar but different.”
Serial Grillers, which names its cheesesteak sandwiches and burgers after Hollywood serial killers, has grown to four locations since opening the original at 5975 E. Speedway: 1970 W. River Road, 7585 S. Houghton Road and 5660 W. Cortaro Farms Road in Marana. The brothers also have a Mexican restaurant, Toro Loco Tacos & Burros at 5737 E. Speedway, and Craft, A Modern Drinkery at 4603 E. Speedway.
Where he eats: Graze Premium Burgers was born in 2014 as an offshoot to owners Jeff Katz and Paolo DeFilippis’ Choice Greens design-your-own salad restaurant, which they launched in 2005. The pair also own Truland Burgers & Greens at 7332 N. Oracle Road.
Deep-fried Asian bliss
The chef: You can find pan-seared foie gros, escargot and mussels Newburg on Kenneth Foy’s menu at Dante’s Fire.
But when the chef-owner and reigning Tucson Iron Chef goes out to eat, you can find him nibbling on something decidedly less fancy: deep-fried spring rolls at the Miss Saigon location at 1072 N. Campbell Ave., near the University of Arizona.
“I order there three to five times a month,” said Foy, whose restaurant at 2526 E. Grant Road will celebrate its 10th anniversary in April. “They are the only people who have fried spring rolls in rice paper. And that reminds me a lot of my years in D.C. where the Vietnamese community was massive.”
Foy grew up in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the D.C. metro area, where he trained as a chef and worked in a number of D.C. area restaurants before moving to Tucson in 2003.
He admitted that he doesn’t eat out a whole bunch; his restaurant, which also specializes in craft cocktails and eclectic New American cuisine that takes its culinary cues from white-tablecloth fine dining set in a casual environment, is open until 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and until 10 p.m. the rest of the week, giving him little down time.
Where he eats: There’s a simple joy when Foy bites into the crunchy spring roll, one that Miss Saigon owner Steve Ma can appreciate.
“You don’t find that a lot in town because most people use the Chinese (won-ton) wrappers,” said Ma, whose family opened their original Miss Saigon in 2001 at 1072 N. Campbell Ave.
Ma said he soaks the rice paper in lukewarm water, then fills it with seasoned ground pork, scallions, bean thread and woody mushrooms. Then he deep fries them and serves them with rice noodles, cilantro and a lettuce cup, with a housemade fish sauce for dipping.
“It’s kind of crunch and kind of cold with the lettuce cup,” he explained. “It kind of flows together.”
At one point, the family had five locations before shuttering its two Marana restaurants. Ma last week said he’s still flirting with the idea of reopening the restaurant at 4650 W. Ina Road that he closed in 2017 when a years-long road project on Ina and Interstate 10 kicked off.
From a Little One to a big bite
The chef: Among the glittering new hip-and-happening restaurants populating the downtown entertainment district are a few old-timers like El Charro Cafe whose reputations precede them and histories bridge the gap of then and now.
Among those few legacy restaurants is The Little One at 151 N. Stone Ave., the original home of Suzanna Davila’s immensely popular Café Poca Cosa. When Davila, who opened the restaurant with her father in 1985, moved to bigger digs, her sisters Sandra Davila and Marcela Davila-Barley kept the original space, redubbing it The Little One to avoid confusion with Poca Cosa.
Suzanna shut down Poca Cosa, which had moved back downtown to 110 E. Pennington St. in 2005, months into the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2020, but The Little One remained. When Sandra retired a couple of years ago, Marcela decided to keep the restaurant and her sister’s legacy going.
She works at the restaurant from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays almost without fail. This month, she extended the hours to Saturdays, and she will likely take those shifts, as well.
That’s why she enjoys her monthly breakfast outings with friends to the northwest side Teaspoon restaurant.
Where she eats: The breakfast and brunch restaurant at 7053 N. Oracle Road is home to the intriguing bubble waffle, which is a waffle with little bubble bumps. But Davila-Barley and her friends are more enamored with the 6-year-old family-owned cafe’s strawberries and cream croissant, found on the shared plates section of the menu.
“They have a fabulous croissant with cream and fruit. It is this delightful sandwich type thing with crème fraîchee and seasonal berries,” Davila-Barley gushed, sounding as if just the mention of the dish took her to her happy place. “It’s not very healthy, I’m sure, but it’s delightful. It’s super yummy and it’s gigantic; it takes up a whole plate.”
Teaspoon is open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; it opens at 7 am. Sundays.