I eat out a lot. I mean a lot. I wish I were one of those admirable people who cooks from interesting recipes and prepares exciting meals. But I am not. Instead I go to restaurants. It is expensive, but I have a comfortable income and live modestly. My wife and I bought our house for $15,000 42 years ago. I drive a 15-year-old car. I walk a lot and bike occasionally. I have no expensive hobbies and I don’t buy much stuff. So eating out is my vice. I enjoy it and it makes my life richer in unexpected ways.
I eat out in restaurants downtown. I live near downtown and have worked there every day since 1973. As an architect and planner, I am a big supporter of downtown’s growing economy. By choosing to bring my personal business and disposable income downtown, that support becomes literal. But eating downtown is more than just about the excellent quality and variety of food to enjoy. I have been doing it for so long and so consistently that my experience has moved from commercial to social. I eat at the restaurants of my friends; my food is brought to me by my friends; the regulars sitting near me are my friends.
The Shaars at El Minuto feel like family to me. When my children, Ben and Lucia, visit home from Brooklyn, we go directly from the airport to El Minuto for an emergency dose of caldo de queso. At Penca, the costillas and the mancha manteles mole (literally “tablecloth stainer”) are my favorites, unless Christa’s tone and expression tell me that the special is better. Jo Schneider at La Cocina treats me like a big brother and won’t bring me diet soda or artificial sweeteners because she says they are bad for me. Jasper and Brian at 5 Points Market, bringing an Eggleston sandwich, remind me of the friends of my children. The Oserans sit with me at Maynards or The Cup and catch me up on the latest downtown development gossip. My firm designed the rehabilitation of the historic Train Depot, so I love eating a Cubano sandwich knowing that the Maynard’s floor hovers over the historic ramp to the subway under the tracks.
Carlotta, Ray, and Marcos Flores at El Charro are my friends and neighbors—my architectural office is right next door on Court Avenue. I am allowed to eat their carne seca now. In 1973, when I worked in the same historic adobe, my late friend/mentor/employer, the architect Judith Chafee, was having a neighbor feud with the Flores family and forbade her employees from eating there. Before she passed away in 1998, Poster Frost Mirto purchased the building from her, but luckily the food prohibition was not in the deed.
Travis at 47 Scott asks me questions about downtown; Vicente and Marita chat with me at the bar at Casa Vicente while I indulge in the hot papas bravas; I’ve known the Rollings family since 1974 and the Cushing Street Bar hasn’t changed one bit since then, although I wish Betsy would bring back the Quesadilla No. 2. Suzana Davila treats me like the old friend I am whenever I walk into Café Poca Cosa to see what magic mole might be on the blackboard menu that day.
If I crave a peanut butter and fig sandwich, I wander into Sparkroot to say “Hi” to Ari and Kerry. When I eat a house BLT at Time Market, with Peter and Bree Wilke bustling nearby, I feel like I’m eating with relatives. I was friends with Sally and Gregor before they opened the wonderful Coronet. I feel most at home there when my wife, Mary, and I order Evren’s Walnut-Feta Pâté with our friend Evren (after whom the dish is named) sitting right at our table and her husband, Paul, playing harp or accordion with Kyklo on the patio.
So eating out in downtown Tucson has immeasurably enriched my life with great food and people. I am thankful that many of my closest and most interesting friends are people whom I know because of where I eat. Because my eating out exposes me to a much broader social network of people than my narrow work world, I get to know a very diverse, eclectic, and amazing set of people of various ages, backgrounds, and interests. I truly value that. ✜
Corky Poster is an architect and planner with Poster Frost Mirto and has 42 years of practice in Tucson. His work specializes in urban design, historic preservation, affordable housing, and community architecture. He is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.