Wild Garlic Grill is the Steely Dan of Tucson restaurants—familiar, unpretentious, and completely enjoyable. The restaurant, on First Avenue just north of Grant, is housed in a funky, low-ceilinged, 1950s-style building and has bar seating, a dining area, and a patio. The atmosphere is at once casual and nice enough for an occasion. The food is thoughtful and well balanced. The tablecloths and uniformed waiters clash with the low ocotillo ceilings and diners wearing cargo shorts, but it all works together to create a very Tucson take on French-inspired California cuisine.
To get a sense of the food, one need look no further than Chef Steven Schultz’s background. A Tucson native, Schultz received his degree from Ècole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris. His time in France, paired with his love of the California wine country (including Gilroy, whose garlic is the restaurant’s inspiration), has clearly shaped the dishes at Wild Garlic Grill. Those familiar with Schultz’ previous restaurant, Red Sky, will recognize his style. Crowd pleasers abound, and while you’re not going to find much uncharted territory, you will almost certainly find something that delights.
We ordered the Roasted Beet Salad ($8.50) along with a delightful Pinot Noir from Et Fille, a winery in the Willamette Valley. The wine list at Wild Garlic is unchallenging but solid. Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate, but other styles can be found, and there were a number of choices in various price ranges. It would be hard not to find something you liked on the list.
The same goes for entrées.
Main courses include San Francisco Pier Stew, New York Strip Steak, Roasted Garlic Chicken, hamburger, grilled salmon, and linguini Bolognese. There is something for everyone, even vegetarians, who can order an entrée salad of grilled Portobello mushrooms.
The spice-rubbed BBQ St. Louis Ribs ($15) were served with garlic mashed potatoes, braised field greens, and, in theory, red chili onion rings. The ribs were slightly sweet and falling off the bone—just like you’d hope.
Wild Garlic Grill has a number of specials priced a little higher than regular menu items. Our server, who had likely spent the better part of her busy night listing and then repeating specials, patiently did the same for our table. It was hard to catch the full list, but there was something about filet mignon with bleu cheese, pistachio-crusted lamb, and sea bass ($23), which was an ample portion of fish over lemon-dill risotto, topped with a relish of corn, avocado, and tomato an accompanied by a small salad and vegetables in beurre blanc.
The dishes shone with the confidence of a chef who had been making the same type of food for decades. Schultz knows his strengths. He knows what ingredients will work together, and how to complement various proteins. He knows what makes people happy. Nothing here will upend expectations, but neither will it disappoint.
Wild Garlic, from the indecisively casual atmosphere to the approachable food to the candid service, provides the perfect backdrop to nearly any dining experience. In the same way that Steely Dan creates an atmosphere of comfortable, nostalgia-infused fun, Wild Garlic Grill offers quality, unfussy food and an atmosphere nice enough for a special occasion without worry—Uncle Frank can get his burger, Aunt Jane can get her lamb, the cousins can have French fries, Mom can get her salmon, and you can have whatever you like, all at a price that, given the quality, is very reasonable.
Wild Garlic Grill
2530 N 1st Ave
Tucson, AZ 85719