My job takes me all over the city so I get the opportunity to check out a variety of restaurants. One of my favorite places is Crossroads Restaurant Drive In. The friendly staff is quick to bring chips and salsa to the table and take an order. My favorite time to visit is in the middle of the summer for an icy Coke and a plate of chicken enchiladas. The chicken is full of flavor, the enchilada sauce is tangy and salty, and it comes with delicious refried beans and rice. Whether it’s a business meeting, a friendly lunch, or some needed solitude, I seek out Crossroads any chance I get.
Crossroads Restaurant Drive In. 2602 S Fourth Ave. CrossroadsFineMexican.com
There are many great things about our Tucson community and one of them is food. Since its arrival, Penca has been a favorite location for my girlfriend and me. This restaurant has been place to celebrate and to share meals with friends. The cocktails are fun and inventive—their Bourbon and Tepache is my staple drink. The food is always delicious, and it’s great to have vegetarian options when so many restaurants are turning towards meat-heavy comfort food. Penca’s location is great as it is walking distance from home and so close to downtown event spaces and art galleries. Whether the evening starts or ends here, it is a beautiful space to enjoy a wonderful meal.
Penca. 50 E. Broadway Blvd. PencaRestaurante.com
I love where I eat because I love where I live! Tucson is an amazing city with some of the best people (and food) on the planet. While there are plenty of incredible restaurants that we enjoy, my husband and I actually eat the majority of our meals at home. We have always loved cooking together—it allows us to eat healthy, save money, and spend intentional time with each other. It took a few months for us to build skills in the kitchen, but we made it a habit, and now we enjoy tasty, home-cooked meals almost every day. Moreover, we try to use as many local, organic ingredients as possible. We purchase Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from local farms. Participating in CSA really pushes our creativity because we get a different harvest each week—it’s a great way to try new foods and support Arizona’s farmers. Ultimately, one of our favorite aspects of cooking at home is sharing meals with our incredible community of family and friends. It is a joy to cook for others, and we love it when our nearest and dearest are brave enough to try our latest recipe. So, while cooking at home requires time, patience, and a lot of trial and error, it’s made our life abundantly more delicious.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
I’ve lived in Tucson a few times. The first move “up north” from my hometown of Nogales was to attend the University of Arizona. Caruso’s Italian Restaurant was one of the first restaurants that my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I discovered together during college. We have always loved Italian food, but grew up in a town without an Italian restaurant. Not only was it close to campus, but it also served the most outstanding vegetarian lasagna, house salad (that dressing!), and garlic toast we had ever eaten. The pasta sauce in the lasagna has the perfect blend of sweetness from the tomatoes and herb mixture that complements the rest of the ingredients packed between the sheets of pasta and cheese. I love the chunks of vegetables stacked between each layer, and it’s all topped with more sauce and cheese that’s bubbling when served. Fresh out of the oven, onto the table, and into my hungry belly! To this day, I savor every single bite of Caruso’s vegetarian lasagna. It’s consistently delicious and tastes as amazing as it did the first time I tried it during college. Now that I’m here to stay in Tucson, it’s a dish I look forward to eating with my husband and my kids.
Caruso’s. 434 N. Fourth Ave. CarusosItalian.com
Why do I love to eat at Time Market? Some of it has to do with the fact that I have a history of many meals in this place: first as a UA student, then working near the University, and now living nearby, too. It’s long been the go-to place for a slice of pizza at lunch or late night coffee and dessert. They serve such quality food, with a perfect mix of familiar flavors and innovative combinations, and I think I could almost live on their Pain au Levain.
Beyond the tasty food, it’s a great place for people watching, with lots of big windows along the sidewalk and a cozy patio for gathering with friends. It seems every time I’m there I see someone I know, but there’s also a constant flow of new faces, too. I also love that it’s long been an anchor in the neighborhood, with local ownership who invest in and contribute back to Tucson. So I guess I love eating at Time Market because it is everything a neighborhood market/café/bar should be.
Time Market. 444 E. University Blvd. TimeMarket.xyz/timemarket
Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t even notice I’ve entered a new city as I drive down South Fourth Avenue. Maybe it’s the family owned businesses with hand-painted signs, and City of South Tucson mosaic murals that lead me to Mi Nidito.
While I wait, I look to see if there are any new celebrity photos on the visitor “wall of fame.” My photo still remains, to commemorate my time as Wilma the Wildcat at the University of Arizona (try to find it). The brightly colored decor hasn’t changed in the 30 plus years my family and I have been eating there, and meseros and meseras are almost like family.
The food is consistently delicious and served piping hot! The chile relleno plate is beyond heavenly; the chimichanga de chile verde, enchilada style (with a side of sour cream) is always delicious and big enough to share (but why would you want to?). The flautas topped with guacamole are amazing; the bowl of albondigas and their savory “homemade soup” are especially comforting on a cold winter day (or any day it’s below 70).
Growing up in Tucson, I took for granted having delicious and authentic Mexican food in my backyard. That is, until I moved away to the east coast. Twelve and a half years later, I’m back home and the very first place I celebrate my “homecoming” is at Mi Nidito.
Mi Nidito. 1813 S. Fourth Ave. MiNidito.net
I find my favorite cold winter night comfort food at Kimchi Time. Their dolsot bibimbap is a delicious dish served in a heavy hot stone bowl. The savory meat and vegetables come served over rice, with a raw egg on top. You push the egg to the side and heat of the bowl cooks it. The rice on the bottom is a special treat because the hot bowl makes it all golden brown and crispy. The whole thing stays hot for as long as you want to linger over the meal; sometimes I just want to curl up around it on the table and snuggle it. It’s unimaginable now, but there are a lot of wonderful cool summer items on the menu too. And the restaurant is so friendly! The owner and his family have created such a welcoming atmosphere: you feel like you’re in their home, and they make everyone feel like they’re visiting family friends.
Kimchi Time. 2900 E. Broadway Blvd. Suite 186
We walked into the warmly lit restaurant. In the back is an open kitchen where pizzas and noodles are being hand-crafted and slid into a brick oven. To our right is the classy, simple, busy bar—a perfect mash-up of vintage and modern elements, stocked with a full complement of fresh squeezed juices and house made syrups. Our hostess directed us to our immediate left, where a long, rectangular table was already full of our friends.
We were there eating together to celebrate 10 years of being a “group of friends.” Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink was the perfect place for this occasion. The table was quickly filled with craft beers, wines, meatballs, Brussels sprouts, and bruschetta-type toast appetizers. As stories, laughter, and conversation progressed, the table was quickly filled with salads, pizzas, and pastas. It was a perfect night—the product and perpetuation of relational fruit. Although this group could have a great time regardless of venue, our restaurant choice was certainly a catalyst. The flavors and combinations were amazing. The space was warm and stylish, making us feel the perfect balance between comfort and occasion. I love eating in places that are unique to their communities and have a passion for making the very best version of what they make. I get this sense at Reilly and I enjoy it. When you visit their website one of the first things you see is a mission statement. I don’t know if this is common for restaurants, but why wouldn’t it be? It reads, “We believe everything in life should be done passionately … We respect tradition, yet encourage evolution.” Their outdoor beer garden and downstairs basement bar provide additional options to gather, eat, and drink. I definitely recommend multiple visits to experience all three.
Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink. 101 E Pennington St. ReillyPizza.com
In Tucson, there are tacos, tortas, and then Takamatsu…for birria coreana! If you’ve been to Jalisco in central Mexico, you’ve probably heard of the spicy stew made with roasted peppers and goat. Well, this is Arizona, and Takamatsu is a Japanese/Korean restaurant … so what’s “birria coreana?” Its real name is “yeom-soh-tahng.” It’s intensely red and flavored with lots of fragrant wild sesame leaves and seeds … and goat. My mother is Korean, but growing up, I never had this dish. Finally, one night, I decided to order it, and our waiter—who was Mexican—asked me, in Spanish, if I’d ever had “birria de chivo,” the Mexican goat stew. “Sí, en Guadalajara!” He replied: “Well, then, you’ll like this!”
Be careful, though, when it’s served to you: it arrives, bubbling, in a stone bowl that’s been pre-heated in the oven…My wife and I have come here with a friend, an instructor at the University of Arizona and originally from Ghana: she said that tasting the stew was like eating back in West Africa. It’s a taste of elsewhere that somehow transcends cultures and takes people back to their varied homes, as another friend, from Guanajuato, would agree…
The tacos and chimichangas in Tucson are plentiful and good, but if you’re wanting to branch out, southern Arizona has more tastes than you might think!
Takamatsu. 5532 E. Speedway Blvd. TakaTucson.net