Birria rojo tacos with melted cheese and spiced beef broth are all the rage at Rollie's Mexican Patio.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2022 and updated in 2023.

As a food writer, the question I get asked above any other is: where should we eat?

I can never give a straightforward answer. My response is always: It depends. What do you feel like eating? I’m not about to send someone craving a fried chicken sandwich to get my favorite Sichuan beef dish at Noodleholics. While I do have my fail-safe options, I like customizing my suggestions to what will make my friends most happy on a given day.

While I love every single place on this list, there are eight restaurants that are absolute must-tries. Six are my favorite go-tos, marked with a yellow heart (💛), and the other five are bucket-list icons that no one should leave Tucson without having tried, marked with a cactus (🌵).

Disclaimer: This list is a living document. While I’m confident that all of these places are good, if I’m missing your favorite place, please send me an email with your favorite thing to eat there and why:

Indian | Chinese | Vietnamese | Japanese | Korean | Thai | Burgers | Pizza | Italian | Mediterranean | Tacos | BurritosQuesadillas | Enchiladas | Tamales | Antojitos | Sonoran Dogs | Seafood/Mariscos | Baked Goods and Sweets | Date Night | Vegan | Brunch | Munchies | Fried chicken | Mac and cheeseEthiopian | Caribbean | BBQ | Markets | Icons


Indian Twist makes fabulous curries: navratan korma (top), chicken tikka (right), and garlic naan fresh off the tandoori (left).

💛 Indian Twist

Location: 4660 E. Camp Lowell Dr.

Indian Twist is not only my favorite Indian restaurant, but one of my favorite restaurants in Tucson. As someone who orders vegetarian at Indian restaurants, I’ve never been as impressed by veg options as I am at Indian Twist (it might have to do with their vegetarian chefs).

The first time I ate there, their navratan korma left the strongest impression on me of almost any meal I’ve had in Tucson. Each vegetable was cooked in its own time to the ideal texture, held together by a miraculously creamy, nuanced cashew sauce. The spice level, which I ordered medium-plus or 7/10, hit the nail on the head. The garlic naan was fresh and singed with char in all the right places, still crispy on the outside and soft on the inside despite some travel time. Each bite brought its own pleasure.

While picking up, the service was impeccable, just attentive enough and shining with earnestness. The open kitchen allows you to see the back-of-house staff at work, throwing naan against the tandoor oven and pulling sauces from pots with long ladles. The interior is upscale enough to complement birthdays and anniversaries, but casual enough to sit on the patio with a beer and some samosas. It’s a perfect restaurant.

Honorable mentions: Reader Karen Kahn loves the chicken tikka masala at Sher-e-Punjab. Saffron Indian Bistro and its sister restaurant Kebabeque Indian Grill are also great. Ellice still needs to try: Gandhi Cuisine of India.


Sichuan spicy beef noodles feature housemade wheat noodles in a numbingly sour broth at Noodleholics. 


Locations: 3502 E. Grant Road; 7850 N. Oracle Road

When in doubt, go to Noodleholics. Its housemade noodles are a consistent crowd-pleaser. While everything on their menu is good, when you find the thing that you like best, it’s hard to branch out. Their Guilin regional specialties shine, like the rice noodle dishes at the center of their menu. But my favorite, personally, is the Sichuan beef noodle, which offers tender meat in a heady, numbing broth. The Oro Valley location has vegan options!

Chef Wang

Location: 356 E. Grant Road

Chef Wang has a big menu. It’s a Chinese restaurant in the style of the cold Dongbei region, which favors hearty tapas to be shared by the table. Dongbei specialties include jiaozi (饺子), a delicate boiled dumpling. The cabbage and pork jiaozi at Chef Wang are not-to-be-missed — I always regret not ordering them.

A hallmark ingredient of the region is sauerkraut, which is especially worth trying in their rich stews. If you want a more familiar gateway item, the guo bao pork (锅包肉), fried sweet and sour pork, is another signature dish of the region.

While you can order from the “Popular Dishes in America” or Sichuan portions of the menu, you’re missing the best stuff.

81 Hong Kong Cafe

Location: 625 E. Wetmore Road

I was told to order 81 Hong Kong Cafe’s chicken bites and basil eggplant by Isabella Joffroy (@yelptucson), and that was one of my favorite meals of 2022. The basil eggplant has a beautiful, custardy texture and generous flavor. The fried chicken bites are the best popcorn chicken in Tucson. I reheated the leftovers for lunch for days and didn’t get tired of them once.

Honorable mentions: Sushi Lounge, Go Dim Sum for dim sum. Ellice still needs to try: eHotPot.


Try the combination dac biet at Pho Can Tho.

Phở Cần Thơ by 1

Location: 2746 N. Campbell Ave.

There’s a loose superstition that all the best Vietnamese restaurants have numbers in their name. For instance, downtown’s Eleven Cafē has the best Vietnamese coffee in Tucson.

Phở Cần Thơ by 1 is similarly case in point. Their bánh mìs are my predecessor Andi Berlin’s favorite in Tucson, and I reckon mine as well.

Vegans rejoice, you can find plant-based pho here! While other honorable mentions offer stellar meat options, the quality of Phở Cần Thơ’s vegetarian and vegan selections separate it from the pack.

Honorable mentions: Pho Ngan, Banhdicted, Miss Saigon. Ellice still needs to try: Com Tam Thuan Kieu and Nhu Lan.


Owner/sushi chef, Noboru Nakajima, gently builds a plate of different sushi at Yamato, 857 E. Grant Road.

💛 Sushi: Yamato Japanese Restaurant

Location: 857 E. Grant Road

Yamato is on the short list of my favorite restaurants in Tucson. The sushi chef Noboru Nakajima is old-school, taught in Japan. The restaurant’s been around since 1988. Once you try sushi here, you’re going to be holding the rest of Tucson to its standard.

That being said, it also has a formidable grill menu. I’m waiting for their distributor to get hamachi kama back in stock — yellowfin collar is one of the most precious, tender cuts of meat out there and I don’t want to try it anywhere else before I have had it here.

Raijin's spicy tonkotsu ramen has thin slices of chashu pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, pickled ginger and more. 

Ramen: Raijin Ramen

Location: 2955 E. Speedway

Raijin’s rich broth makes their ramen addictive. In case you opt for to-go, their takeout travels better than most, because they separate the stuff they don’t want to get soggy.

Honorable mentions: Toss Fried Chicken and Ramen, Yoshimatsu. Ellice still needs to try: IkkyuSamurai and Sushi on Oracle.


Korean corn dogs at HeeMee Coffee + Bakery can be coated with potatoes or crunchy ramen noodles!

General: HeeMee Coffee + Bakery

Location: 20 E. Congress St.

HeeMee is my editor Gloria’s favorite restaurant in Tucson (she can't help but order their spicy beef bulgogi). Their chicken katsu sandwich is practically a carnal pleasure. They also have specialty coffee drinks you can’t find anywhere else, like the Viennese einspänner (made with whipped cream) and a sweet dalgona honeycomb latte.

KBBQ: Ellice still needs to try Korea House Restaurant.

Pro tip: You can get fresh tteokbokki at Kimpo Market to cook on your own!


Khao Soi chicken is a popular dish from Northern Thailand, with crispy egg noodles bathed in a rich coconut curry with chicken and pickled vegetables.

Tuk Tuk Thai

Locations: 2990 N. Campbell Ave.; 12125 N. Oracle Road; 6878 E. Sunrise Dr.

Portland, Oregon’s loss is our gain. This stylish restaurant, Tuk Tuk Thai, shines with regional cuisine like the Khao Soi chicken curry.


CowPig's CowMelt sandwich ($13) is topped with juicy grilled onions and green chiles.

CowPig’s CowMelt

Chase us down! It’s the merited catchphrase of food truck CowPig, especially for their CowMelt, juicy and packed with both roasted green chiles and grilled onion.

Graze Burgers + Truland Burgers & Greens

Locations: Graze and Truland are local sibling chains with locations across town.

Not only are their burgers great, their house-made condiments keep me coming back. Their curry ketchup is a dead ringer for what gets dressed on Berlin’s iconic currywurst. Their fry sauce is guzzle-able. I always take more than I should.

Ellice still needs to try: Divine Bovine.


One of Family Joint’s most popular pizzas is made with tomatillo sauce and Celina Bencomo’s signature carnitas ($14). Get it with lime-cilantro crema on the side. 

Neapolitan-style: Family Joint Pizzeria

This mesquite-fired Neapolitan pizza oven on wheels is a showstopper. While Family Joint's margherita pizza is still great, you’re doing it right if you order their tomatillo carnitas or elote pies (ask for more cilantro-lime crema, it’s worth paying extra).

NY-style: Empire Pizza & Pub

Location: 137 E. Congress St.

Empire is my favorite late-night eatery. Their slice of cheese ($3.25) is true to New York style: equal parts utilitarian and delicious, with a generous portion of cheese. Their downtown patio transforms with Congress Street: from a spot to grab a quick work lunch to a safe harbor to end the night.

Sicilian-style: Squared Up Pizza

Location: Park Place Mall, 5870 E. Broadway

As a red sauce devotee, I do not declare this lightly: Squared Up’s ricotta and honey white pie is exquisite. It’s rich and gently sweet, like a European dessert. While it’s located in the Park Place Mall, it functions like a traditional pizzeria — feel free to call in orders!

Tucson-style: Los Olivos

Location: 937 W. Congress St.

Los Olivos does not imitate any other style of pie. It’s unique to here. Each of the medley of roasted vegetables on its vegetarian pie is cooked and roasted to its own perfection. The sauce pulls the diverse flavors together seamlessly.

Honorable mentions: Anello. I’ve lived in New York City, and I’ve had a LOT of good pizza in Tucson. Chances are, if it’s a local place, it’s good.


Roma Imports’ frozen homemade to-go section boasts eight different lasagnas.

Roma Imports

Location: 627 S. Vine Ave.

Don’t go to Roma without a list you plan to stick to: it’s easy to blow your food budget for the week here. This place is a cult classic for a reason. Their Italian sandwiches are made with the freshest ingredients and special imports hard to find elsewhere. I swear by their premade meals (their gorgonzola sauce is dangerous). Budget shoppers: buy your olive oil in bulk here for a fraction of the cost at grocery stores.

Honorable mentions: Locale Neighborhood Italian Restaurant, Ceres and Noodies all make fresh pasta in-house.


Hiba Saab, left, and her mother, Laila, work in close quarters filling orders as the owners of Homemade Freshly Mediterranean.

Homemade Freshly Mediterranean

Mediterranean is my favorite kind of food, and I hadn’t found a place in Tucson that blew me away until I came across the Homemade Freshly Mediterranean food truck.

Homemade Freshly Mediterranean’s Lebanese sandwiches are some of the most densely flavored you can find in Tucson. Garlic girls will love their garlic chicken sandwich — each must be made with at least a few cloves.

Honorable mentions: Zayna’s and Nur Import Market.


Popular ribeye tacos at Tacos El Cuate de Obregon located on the northeast corner of 12th and Irvington on Dec. 12, 2021.

Tacos El Cuate de Obregon

Location: 4817 S. 12th Ave.

Tacos El Cuate de Obregon is an experience as much as it’s a delicious meal. Their informal patio, packed with families in a weekend-good mood after church on a Sunday, is practically hallowed ground. Their ribeye taco is just another blessing.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

Location: 2618 S. Sixth Ave.

While Sonora is known for its flour tortillas, Taqueria Pico de Gallo’s menu is Baja Californian. They’re best known for their fluffy, fresh-made corn tortillas and mouthwatering fried fish and shrimp. And their pico de gallo, of course — not the salsa, but fruit cups cut fresh every day.

While there are countless honorable mentions, one rises above the rest: El Taco Rustico. Ellice still needs to try: Karamelo King. Side note: Tacos Apson is in our "icons" section.


These breakfast burritos are so good, they make some people cry. Out of joy of course ...

🌵 Anita Street Market

Location: 849 N. Anita Ave.

Anita Street Market’s flour tortillas are translucently thin, flavorful and stretchy — the platonic ideal of the iconic Sonoran food. In a burrito, their huge tortillas do not outshine their homemade fillings, but instead amplify their deliciousness. It’s a great place to try the traditional Sonoran red chile beef, but their breakfast burritos are just as compelling.

🌵 Barista del Barrio

Location: 1002 N. Grande Ave.

Barista del Barrio is a meeting place for all of Tucson (and many in-the-know visitors). While waiting in the infamously long line outside their Grande Avenue storefront, you'll see UA students shoulder-to-shoulder with abuelas and preteens from Barrio Hollywood, hipsters sitting next to snowbirds who just hiked Tumamoc and, more often than not, a food writer waiting patiently for her weekly little treat.

Their chorizo breakfast burritos are a top 3 favorite food of mine, especially when I have the presence of mind to ask for green chile and extra salsa. 

Honorable mentions: I also really love the hand burritos at Tortilleria Don Juan.


With handmade tortillas and fresh ingredients, chef Marcos Barragan wants to perfect this savory staple of Mexican food, all while bringing a sensibility of not being afraid to try new things.

The Quesadillas

Location: 2418 N. Craycroft Road

While people don’t typically think of the area near Tucson Medical Center as a hotspot for Mexican food (try La Doce for that), The Quesadillas makes a compelling argument with their succulent carne asada.


In this photo from 2014, posters of Diego Rivera’s art line the walls of St. Mary’s Mexican Food, which has the best flour tortillas in the known universe. Oops! We mean Tucson.

💛 St. Mary’s Mexican Food

Location: 1030 W. St. Mary’s Road

St. Mary’s is the first place I take friends visiting from out of town to introduce them to Tucson. Standing in line in their lobby, waiting patiently to order anything that uses their standout tortillas and, always, a horchata, is a rite of passage.

💛 Rollies Mexican Patio

Location: 4573 S. 12th Ave.

Everything at Rollies is delicious (including its eponymous rolled tacos, dipped in queso… yum), but their flat enchiladas, doused in their award-winning birria, are life-changing. Their quesabirria tacos, called birria rojo cheesies, are also not to be missed.


Under all that delicious sauce, Buendia’s poblano pepper ($10.99 at breakfast from 8-11 a.m., $15.99 for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is stuffed with a fresh green corn tamale.

Buendia Breakfast and Lunch

Location: 2530 N. First Ave.

The best tamales I’ve had in a restaurant in Tucson are stuffed in a poblano at Buendia. The owners source the tamales from a local artisan and are the closest to Matilde Santa Cruz’s you can get over the counter.

Honorable mentions: The iconic Lerua’s tamales are still made at El Torero.


Although other snow cone spots were around at the time, Julie Carrizosa says Oasis Fruit Cones was among the first to bring the raspado to Tucson.

Oasis Fruit Raspados

Location: 4126 S. 12th Ave.

Oasis is the oldest raspaderia in Tucson and a true icon.

Mangos Refresqueria y Cafe

Location: 4990 S. Campbell Ave.

Mangos is heaven for munchies. Blow your diet with their nachos, then keep digging with their raspados.

Sonoran Dogs

Hot dog sonorense chipilón ($4.99) at Taquería Aquí Con El Nene, 4415 N. Flowing Wells Road.

🌵 Aqui con El Nene

Locations: 4415 N. Flowing Wells Road, 65 W. Valencia Road

Everyone who steps foot in Tucson has to try a Sonoran dog. While BK and El Guero Canelo brought the dogo to America, Aqui con El Nene is my favorite, bar none. Their hot dog chipilon, which adds melted cheese to the toasted bun, stands out amid a crowded field.

Honorable mentions: Other Tucsonans swear by El Sinaloense and Ruiz.


Oysters on the half shell are served at Kingfisher Bar & Grill, along with fresh shucked Fanny Bay and Kusshi oysters from the Pacific Northwest and garnishes.


Location: 2564 E. Grant Road

This could also be found in top billing under the “date night” tab. But Kingfisher is more than its stellar atmosphere: their clams are a cult classic for a reason; their cocktail menu is equal parts devilish and satisfying.

Cocteleria La Palma

Location: 1137 S. Sixth Ave.

This is my friend Jackie Tran's favorite restaurant in Tucson, and for good reason: their aguachile will immediately transport you to the beach, regardless how hot it is in Tucson. More info here!

Ellice still needs to try: Mariscos Chihuahua (on Grande).

Baked Goods and Sweets

While La Estrella's donuts are outstanding, they also offer many more pastries at each of their three locations.

🌵 Donuts: La Estrella Bakery

Locations: 5266 S. 12th Ave., 901 N. Grande Ave., 120 S. Avenida del Convento

La Estrella’s donuts are one-of-a-kind, the perfect balance between cake and yeast donuts. I swear by their glazed, combined with a Cochata from Seis Kitchen at the Mercado San Agustin to cure any bad mood.

Cookies: Decibel Coffee Works

Location: MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento

Not only is Decibel one of the only places in town where you can regularly find Blondie's Ice Cream, they also have the most succulent, buttery chocolate chip cookies. It's my current favorite little treat to get me through a tough day.

Patisserie: Le Buzz

Locations: 9121 E. Tanque Verde Road, 2930 N. Swan Road

I have a running list of my favorite pastries in Tucson. While I love Ren Coffeehouse’s almond croissants, AJ's lemon danishes, and Exo Roast Co.’s thumbprint membrillo shortbread cookies, I love everything at Le Buzz, even and especially the things that I don’t expect to, like Nutella tarts.

Cakes: Village Bake House

Location: 7882 N. Oracle Road

Village Bake House got its cake recipes from the legendary Ilsa Bechert, whose konditorei graced Tucson for decades. They’re carrying the torch of her legacy with their popular Oro Valley cafe and bakery, well-loved for its brunch and patio.

Tortillerías: Everyone has their favorite.

When you’re flying out of Tucson airport, you’ll see people with flour tortillas in their carry-ons. TSA officers will ask you where you got them from, and a lively debate might spring up between neighbors in line.

For the longest time, St. Mary’s tortillas were the ones I’d bring when visiting family who have moved away from Tucson. Recently, though, my mind changed. Tortillas Bryan brought a lot of the flavor and stretchiness I loved from St. Mary’s, but accomplished it in a much thinner form.

Sito’s Fresh Market imports their outstanding tortilla selection from Douglas and across the border. Here’s a list so you can find your own.

Bubbe’s Fine Bagels brings east-coast style bagels to the east side of Tucson.

Bagels: Bubbe’s Fine Bagels

Locations: 1101 N. Wilmot Road, 1865 E. River Road

Bubbe’s answered Tucson’s prayers for east-coast-caliber bagels. They might be the only game in town, but they’re a great game.

Chocolate: Monsoon Chocolate

Locations: their factory is at 234 E. 22nd St. and their cafe is at 3630 E. Fort Lowell Road

Monsoon Chocolate is more than just the gorgeous bonbons you can get for your loved ones, nestled like jewels in a box. Their factory occasionally offers tours showing their process of making often single-origin chocolate. Their cafe has branched out to offer baked goods, ice cream (including flavors like blue corn atole), frozen chocolate and more. It's a paradise for chocolate lovers of all ages.

Gelato: Frost

Locations: 7301 E. Tanque Verde Road, 2905 E. Skyline Dr., 7131 N. Oracle Road

While Tucsonans will endlessly debate whether Hub Ice Cream or The Screamery makes superior ice cream, I’ve elected to sidestep the fray and go with Frost as my favorite creamy frozen treat. Their coconut flavor is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and I always wish I ordered it when I deviate from the program. While they have franchises from here to the United Arab Emirates, they got their start here and remain a locally-owned Tucson company.

Honorable mentions: Blondie's and Licks Catalina.

Date Night

Saguaro Corners on East Old Spanish Trail sits down the street from Saguaro National Park East.

💛 Saguaro Corners

Location: 3750 S. Old Spanish Trail

I’m not saying that a great location means food will be bad. But when views are as scenic as they are at Saguaro Corners, you don’t need the food to be good to survive. Its lush desert setting, on the far-east side, and a porch with 270 degrees of floor-to-ceiling windows are such a draw that I was originally hesitant. Why invest in a great menu when the space alone makes the place special? But for reasons unknown, they did.

The menu might read as a hodgepodge of comfort food — deep-fried cheese curds and tacos? Cowboy potstickers next to pan-seared salmon fit for a fine dining restaurant? The through line is a commitment to freshness, and doing what you have well. The vegetable sides rotate with whatever is in season — in winter, when I last visited, it was asparagus. I don’t think you can order incorrectly here.

Tito & Pep

Location: 4122 E. Speedway

Tito & Pep, a James-Beard-Award-nominated spot, is a love letter to midtown Tucson and the Sonoran flavors that make this place home.

The Parish

Location: 6453 N. Oracle Road

You’ll love The Parish for the same reasons you love New Orleans, the city that inspires the restaurant: atmosphere, food and drink. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Owls Club

Location: 236 S. Scott Ave.

While I mostly kept bars and coffee shops off this list, I guarantee you, on any given night, there is a Bumble date happening at The Owls Club. Likely multiple. Their seasonal cocktail list and spacious patio (with fire pits) makes it a showy, yet low-stakes, place to see if the chemistry is there.

Honorable mentions: Renee’s, The Coronet. Ellice still needs to try: Wild Garlic Grill and Tavolino.


Almond Bear Claws are one of the vegan pastries made by Hannah Houlden of Houlden’s Rise Above.

Houlden’s Rise Above

Locations: Cafes across Tucson and a brick and mortar to come at 5031 E. Fifth St.

Hannah Houlden’s “little vegan spite bakery” started as a cottage operation out of her home. She now delivers her vegan baked goods — flaky chocolate croissants, pop-tarts with flair, turnovers with flavors from olive, dill and lemon to red pepper za’atar — to 10 local cafes, and has a brick and mortar in the works.

Taco Stop

Location: 10290 E. Speedway

Their jackfruit birria is so good, vegans and carnivores alike will make the trek to food truck Taco Stop to satisfy their craving.

Honorable mentions: NopalindaMidtown Vegan Deli, El Torero’s vegan menu, and the vegan box at Renee’s. Cal’s Bake Shop has teamed up with Nopalinda and made many of his confections vegan as well. 

For more inspo, follow local vegan foodies @deathfreefoodie and @tucson_vegan on Instagram!


The chocolate bomb is chocolate cake with a scoop of chocolate mousse, robed in ganache, rolled in shaved chocolate and topped with drizzled chocolate.

Cafe a la C’art

Location: 150 N. Main Ave.

Patio, patio, patio. It’s a confection of mosaic, attached to a building whose historical atmosphere and proximity to the Tucson Museum of Art make even a cappuccino feel like a special occasion. More info here!

Tohono Chul Bistro

Location: 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte

I don’t know what I love more, the bistro’s setting in a verdant botanical garden or their prickly pear margaritas.

💛 Baja Cafe

Locations: 7002 E. Broadway2970 N. Campbell Ave.3930 W. Ina Road

When we asked readers for their brunch recommendations, nearly everyone who suggested Baja Cafe mentioned something different on their menu. Everything is good, but they'll give you a free, signature Snickerdoodle pancake if it's your first time.

Ellice still needs to try: Cup Cafe.


The Jackrabbit Lounge's take on a Blue Hawaiian. The Jackrabbit's food and drink menus recall tiki bars like Trader Vic’s.

The Jackrabbit Lounge

Location: 2000 N. Oracle Road

While you might come to The Jackrabbit Lounge for their ‘grammable neon, you’ll be happily surprised by their outstanding bar food menu.

Arizona Beer House

Location: 150 S. Kolb Road

While Arizona Beer House itself doesn’t offer food, their lineup of food trucks is consistently great.

Fried chicken

Pictured are sweet chili chicken tenders from Oh My Chicken at Park Place Mall.

Oh My Chicken

Location: Park Place Mall, 5870 E. Broadway

This Korean-style fried chicken spot might be in the mall, but it's more than a mall vendor: the #ThisIsTucson team drive to Park Place just to eat this perfectly crunchy chicken. The dips elevate the great crunch to a full experience (I like their sweet chili, made with gochujang, but they're all good).


Location: American Eat Co., 1439 S. Fourth Ave.

From the owners behind the popular CowPig food truck, Coop serves chicken tendies (both spicy and not), crispy fries, sandwiches and mac and cheese — all of which can be dressed up with or dipped into their glorious CowPig sauce.

Mac and Cheese

Beyond Bread opened a location on Concourse A at Tucson International Airport in 2017.

Beyond Bread

Locations: 3026 N. Campbell Ave.6260 E. Speedway421 W. Ina Road; Tucson International Airport, 7250 S. Tucson Blvd.

Beyond Bread is like the cafeteria of Tucson. It's casual and reliable. There's plenty of seating, and it's always busy. Its branding is so professional that it doesn't seem local, but they feature lots of local brews on their beer tap and have coffee by Decibel Coffee Works. I didn't fully appreciate Beyond Bread, though, until I tried their mac and cheese. Creamy with toasted cheese crunchy edges, their mac is so rich that I usually am satisfied with the kid's size.


The doro wat chicken dish is served with freshly-made injera at Zemam's, Too.


Location: 119 E. Speedway

Guy Fieri came to Zemam’s for "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives" because their doro wat chicken is an all-star dish for the city of Tucson. I agree! The richly-spiced curry is singular in town (though Cafe Desta has truly charming atmosphere).

Honorable mention: Cafe Desta.


Find the plantain treat tostones at DC Jumbie, a food truck that you can find on base and across Tucson.

DC Jumbie

This food truck offers the best Cubano in town, along with other Caribbean classics that are hard to find in Tucson. Tostones? They got 'em (and serve them with an addictive lime crema). Imported soft drinks like Tropi-Cola champagne cola, Jupina pineapple soda and Coco Rico coconut soda? Find 'em here. 


Combo plate No. 3 at Smokey Mo barbecue comes with mesquite-smoked ribs, two barbecued meats and a side. You can upgrade with beans, coleslaw and potato salad. 

Smokey Mo

Location: 2650 N. First Ave.

Francisco Sanchez (@tucson.munchies) predicted that Smokey Mo is going to have their spotlight moment soon. “It deserves some shine,” he said. I agree!

Ellice still needs to try: Ken’s Hardwood Barbecue.


Time Market's fried chicken sandwich comes with a housemade brioche roll, coleslaw, tomatoes and pickles. 

General: Time Market

Location: 444 E. University Blvd.

Time Market feels both homegrown and aspirational. As a teen, I thought: I want to be a regular here when I grow up. They offer a bunch of upscale stuff that is so fun to ogle, a prodigious selection of red wine, an espresso bar, and some of the best bread and pizza in town. You’ll see teens hanging out after Tucson High lets out, big city expats on dates and parents with kids. It’s a little luxury, for everyone.

Liquor store: The RumRunner

Location: 3131 E. First St.

The RumRunner has everything you want and will order you cases of what they don’t have. The owners and staff will answer any questions with grace, making this place super comfortable for everyone from beginners to experts.

Super Pescaderia y Carniceria El Ranchito, on South Sixth Avenue, fries whole tilapia in addition to their raw meat and fish, chicharrones and ice cream.

Carnicería: Super Carnicería y Pescadería El Ranchito

Location: 6070 S. Sixth Ave.

If you want tamales, go to El Aguajito (early, before they sell out). If you want hand burritos, pick them up at Tortilleria Don Juan. If you want marinated meats, cooked fresh for you on a grill, you can find them at fabulous carnicerías across town, most often on weekends.

But if you want an unforgettable experience, go to El Ranchito down on the far south side and order their pescado frito, a whole tilapia fried to order. You can’t get fresher, more tender meat than this anywhere.

Honorable mentions: Five Points Market & Restaurant.


Don Guerra, of Barrio Bread, won the James Beard award for best baker in 2022.

Barrio Bread

Location: 18 S. Eastbourne Ave.

Tucson has a few James Beard Award winners: Janos Wilder, El Güero Canelo, and, last year, Don Guerra. His outstanding artisan bread and commitment to Sonoran heritage grains make Barrio Bread a true bucket list item for longtime residents and visitors alike.

A meaty smorgasbord at Tacos Apson in Tucson consists of cheesy caramelos (top left) and various tacos de carne asada, or grilled beef.  

🌵 Tacos Apson

Location: 3501 S. 12th Ave.

Tacos Apson is Tucson’s taco. Their mesquite-grilled carne asada, on flour tortillas, is a love letter to Sonora. But you don’t have to stop there: I love the taco Lorenza, which glues the carne together with cheese. Their Taco Chino — just beans — is proof that the best food can be incredibly simple.

El Charro

Locations: 311 N. Court Ave.;7725 N. Oracle Road6910 E. Sunrise Dr.

Monica Flin founded El Charro in 1922, and it rose to fame in the part of downtown razed for redevelopment in the 1960s. Her legacy lives on to this day, and in a variety of restaurants from the Si Charro family.

Hotel Congress

Location: 311 E. Congress St.

Hotel Congress is the anchor of our downtown. It’s living wild west history, where John Dillinger was caught and Dillinger Days are celebrated to this day. Hotel Congress is a venue, a brunch destination and a nightclub. Oh, and a hotel.

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