Category: Local Flavor

Fins to the Left … Fins to the Right

Despite being located in the desert, the Old Pueblo sports exemplary seafood in restaurants all over town.  Here is a tasty sampling of dishes at some popular spots.

Written by Kimberly Schmitz | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill offers boldly flavored wood-fired steak and seafood in a warm, modestly refined space at La Encantada.  For an appetizer or an excellent accompaniment to a signature martini, dip a chip in the luscious lobster spinach queso, featuring ample lobster, baby spinach, tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese.  As a starter to share or a meal, seafood lovers will enjoy the seared tuna superfoods salad, with seared sushi-grade red tuna over spinach, organic ancient grains, cucumbers, avocado, grilled corn, edamame and radish, tossed with avocado green goddess dressing.  Another good choice is the wood-grilled salmon salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, San Saba Farms

spiced pecans and cilantro-lime vinaigrette.  Bounty of the sea fans also will surely enjoy Firebirds’

signature wood grilled salmon basted in Key lime butter, and fresh vegetables, or the delectable sesame-encrusted salmon served with ginger mustard aioli, and fried spinach.  Diners interested in more turf than surf may enhance any cut of beef on the menu with a half-pound lobster tail or wood-fired shrimp.  Chef Mario Soto presents a new feature menu every few months.  Be sure to ask about the hottest new items.  2985 E. Skyline Drive,577-0747 www.tucson.firebirdsrestaurants.com

This shabby chic hotspot offers up its regional specialties with unexpected twists — and the fish offerings are no exception.

Wood-grilled salmon basted with Key lim butter, from Firebirds Wood Fired Grill.

The Parish’s grilled ruby red trout.


The Parish

Being the only Southern fusion gastropub game in town doesn’t mean The Parish’s coowners Steve Dunn, Bryce Zeakler, and Chef Travis Peters rest on their laurels.  This shabby chic hotspot offers up its regional specialties with unexpected twists — and the fish offerings are no exception.  Whether you’re looking for a simple nosh with a drink or to kick off a full Southern comfort meal in style, the Crawfish Hushpuppies — “sweet and spicy orbs of deepfried perfection”— won’t disappoint.  Guests looking to ride the crustacean train to the last stop will find the Burgundy angel hair pasta with lobster broth-bathed shrimp and crawfish, in saffron red pepper cream sauce an excellent choice.  Also not to be missed is the best seller shrimp and grits made heavenly with Creole barbecue cream sauce, white cheddar grit cake, and served with a side of greens.  Diners seeking a fresh water swimmer will thoroughly enjoy the pecan smoked ruby red trout served with roasted garlic, red onion marmalade, candied pecans and Creole mustard.  Guests may choose to wash down these delicacies with a selection from more than 40 craft beers, an assortment of unique seasonal cocktails or house-infused vodka, rum, tequila, gin or bourbon.

6453 N. Oracle Road, 797-1233www.theparishtucson.com

 

Dante’s Fire

Executive Chef and Owner Ken Foy delivers a no-holds-barred menu born of his East Coast classical training and a passion for regional flavors and ingredients.  His working philosophy of “food made from food” barely offers a glimpse into the gastronomic delights served until the wee hours at Dante’s Fire.

Dip your toes in the Fire’s waters with oysters Rockefeller.  The tasty little mollusks take their final swim in a thick, soupy reduction of Pernod, rendered bacon and heavy cream with spinach and asiago cheese and are topped with candied bacon.  Channel your inner Dante and try tequila-cured salmon gravlax paired with sliced olives, avocado, grapefruit, and Parmesan foam.  The salmon — vacuum sealed with lime, cilantro and tequila — is a modern, Tucson-twist on a Norwegian specialty, also known as “salmon from the grave” because it is traditionally buried to cure.  Diners interested in something sourced closer to home should try the ruby red trout — a sustainable, farm-raised Apache trout replica, pan seared, broiled and properly dressed in pesto and topped with crab meat and asparagus tomato succotash.  Choose a locally crafted beer or find the perfectly paired cocktail for any of these creations on the Pride, Lust, Heresy or Fraud cocktail lists.

2526 E. Grant Road, 382-9255 www.dantesfireaz.com

Wild Garlic Grill

For diners interested in taking an open sea culinary cruise with garlic as the co-captain, Wild Garlic Grill is a solid port stop.  Tucson native Chef Steven Schultz and his wife Maudi Gourdin treat guests like family at the recently relocated Foothills restaurant.  Chef creates a menu with California French accent cuisine, conceived after years of training under French, German, Austrian, and Swiss executive chefs.  For starters, it will be tough to choose between the grilled garlic shrimp with warm Brie, grilled vegetables and roasted corn salsa, in a beurre blanc sauce and the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels in white wine garlic tomato beurre blanc.  Choices don’t get easier for the entrée course, with treasures like herb-basted Alaskan cod fillet, oven-poached in white wine, with garlic, tomato fondue, basil beurre blanc; and San Francisco pier stew with white fish, shrimp, mussels and roasted peppers in a garlic, tomato basil, chardonnay broth.  There also are a slew of daily specials with dizzyingly complex flavor profiles and delectable fresh ingredients.  To accompany any choice, Chef Schultz personally selected over 90 sparkling, white, and red boutique wines from family owned vineyards as mainstays on the wine list.  Plaza Colonial, 2870 E. Skyline Drive, Suite 120, 206-0017 www.wildgarlicgrill.com

JPS Seafood Market and Restaurant

This southside hybrid has a dine-in/take-out menu that includes everything from soups, to tacos, to combo platters.  But if you’re a seafood- seeking foodie preferring to stay in, JPS has just what the home chef ordered.  A family owned and operated importer and distributor of fresh and frozen seafood, JPS specializes in bringing fresh product from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez harbors including Kino Bay, Guaymas, and Puerto Peñasco.  Pick up prepared family sized portions of breaded fish, breaded shrimp, chiles Marlin, with salad and corn tortillas to feed the home or office crew.  Or patrons may don the proverbial chef’s hat and choose a perfect cut of fresh or fresh-frozen trigger fish, cochito, shark, flounder, stingray, swai fish, tilapia, salmon, and shrimp to prepare themselves.  Any selection is sure to please even the most finicky fish fan at the table.  5550 S. 12th Ave., #100, 270-3600 www.jpsseafood.com

Bean There, Drank That

What roast do you love the most? No matter how you like your cup of Joe, these five roasters/coffee shops have the brew for you.

By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen | Photo Assistant Nolan Veneklasen

Savaya Coffee Market

Although the focus on finely crafted coffees may be more recent, the method behind Savaya’s roasting goes back to owner Burc Maruflu’s grandmother and her roast-to-taste method developed in 1930s Istanbul. When he came to Tucson, he brought with him the deep history of his coffee-crafting family, which now offers Tucsonans six locations. “We use state-of-the-art Swiss roasting technology to make sure my grandmother’s style is performed with perfect precision,” Maruflu shares.

So where do their beans come from? Thanks to the farms and estates they have developed direct relationships with, Savaya’s all-organic beans come from growing regions around the world. The majority are sourced from what’s known as The Coffee Belt: territory between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and includes 29 countries. “We go to the farms and taste the coffee on the tree before going through an intense process of evaluating its quality and making a decision about which coffee to source,” Maruflu explains.

When ordering a cup of coffee at any Savaya location, keep in mind that they offer single-origin coffees. “We don’t use blends,” Maruflu shares. “We want you to taste each coffee’s distinct, original character.” If you’re interested in learning more, check out Savaya’s blog. They regularly invite the public to come in, taste and better understand how professionals evaluate and score coffee.

*Pro sip: According to Maruflu, Savaya’s staff prefer to enjoy their coffee via French press.

5350 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 747-3200; 2905 E. Skyline Dr. #287, (520) 638-5511; 11177 N. Oracle Rd., (520) 447-5713; 12120 N. Dove Mountain Blvd., (520) 744-6362; 2959 N. Swan Rd., (520) 203-8099; 6540 E. Tanque Verde Rd., (520) 392-8650; savayacoffee.com

Presta Coffee Roasters

Nitro Cold Brew, Latte, Lemon Italian soda, Cappuccino

What originally began as a well-placed coffee cart in a local hospital, caffeinating those who needed it the most, now happily chugs along as one of Tucson’s coffee-roasting locales. Owner Curtis Zimmerman expanded his scope and entered the roasting game in 2014, moving to a more permanent location within Mercado San Agustín, and now a second location midtown.

“Our sourcing takes us around the world to meet our farmers, giving us the ability to build relationships and bring in some truly unique coffees,” says Braden Hammond, operations manager. Their coffees come from all over, but they’re particularly fond of those from Central America. “Many heirloom varietals coming out of Africa make us tingle as well,” Hammond notes. “We do our best to keep a good mix of represented origins.”

Presta offers rotating single-origin coffees based on the season, with only one blend. “The 120 PSI is our primary espresso blend, generally an Ethiopia natural mixed with a Central American washed,” Hammond enthuses. “The result is a fruit-juicy front and a well-rounded finish of chocolate.” Their roasting style is comparable to the Nordic roasting trends, which result in very light roasts with prominent delicate and floral flavor profiles.

*Pro sip: Hammond shares that the staff at Presta prefer to enjoy true coffee
flavor via espresso.

Mercado San Augustín, 100 S. Avenida del Convento, (520) 333-7146; 2502 N. 1st Ave. #100, (520) 333-7146;  prestacoffee.com

Cartel Coffee Lab

With several locations in Tucson and Phoenix, as well as a subscription service for super fans, Cartel Coffee Lab has proven its successful formula several times over. Cartel’s Director of Brand, Paul Haworth, explains that what elevates them is their focus on single-farm coffees. “We don’t blend, and so we keep everything traceable and single-origin.”

In fact, they travel with a boutique sourcing partner and both are equally committed to paying well above the cost of production for all coffees. “Our goal is to travel to and directly source all our coffees. Currently, about 75 percent are directly sourced,” Haworth points out. Although there are flavor generalizations for particular regions, he explains that certain examples disrupt the stereotypes. “Every coffee is its own unique expression of a team of individuals at the farm level,” he says. “The emphasis on the bean in terms of variety, terroir, and processing has brought the most meaningful origin differentiators to the table.

“Our favorite regions, in no particular order, are Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We’ve traveled to these countries to build relationships and source coffees.” Additionally, Cartel brings in coffees from Rwanda, Costa Rica, and Mexico.

*Pro sip: Haworth points out that a high-quality grinder is the most critical piece of equipment. Also, ensure filtered water, a good coffee-to-water ratio, and lots of experimentation to find and replicate your preferences.

2516 N. Campbell Ave.; 210 E. Broadway Blvd.; cartelcoffeelab.com

Tucson Coffee Roasters

This local coffee spot sources and, as their name suggests, roasts their own beans. First step is establishing that connection with a known and trusted source, as Owner Ian Victors explains: “We source our beans from all over the world. Having good relationships with coffee families and importers assures that we get the very best beans.”

Knowing exactly the best way to roast those beans is key. “We have a unique style of roasting so our beans are very clean and balanced,” Victors shares.  But unlike some other local roasters, Tucson Coffee Roasters doesn’t shy away from blends popular with their regulars. “We roast single-origin coffees, but we also offer a few blends. For example, our customers really look forward to our Holiday Blend, and the seasonal Monsoon Blend, which is bold and earthy with hints of dried fruit and spices.”

Fans of that coffee-forward flavor will feel at home perusing the menu at both Tucson Coffee Roasters locations, which place the spotlight more on espresso than sugary concoctions. “We pride ourselves on our espresso, so serving up straight espresso is always exciting for us,” Victors says.

*Pro sip: Victors also states that the French press is an ideal way to enjoy the perfect cup, giving you the true flavor of the bean.

3225 N. Swan Rd., (520) 403-1240; 250 S. Craycroft Rd., (520) 403-2472; tcroasters.com

Exo Roast Co.

Food: Tacos Nopal Drinks (left to Right) Chiltepin Cold Brew, Cortad,Prickly Pear Shrub, Cappuccino.

What began as a small operation among friends has evolved into a wholesale roaster and specialty coffee shop, not to mention a farm-to-table restaurant and mezcal bar. “We started roasting 10 years ago as a collaboration — a way for old friends to connect over a shared passion,” says Amy Smith, one of Exo’s co-owners. They remain dedicated to that original interest, and now procure coffee from all major growing regions in Latin America, Indonesia, and Africa.

They focus on buying coffee from regions and organizations where small landholders get a fair price for their coffee, and surrounding communities directly benefit from the coffee economy. “We have direct trade relationships in Colima and Oaxaca in Mexico, and travel there a few times a year to work on those relationships,” Smith explains.

In their retail space, expect solely single-origin coffee. At their local wholesale customers, such as Prep & Pastry or the Food Conspiracy Co-op, you’ll find blends for consistency and ease. “Though we have no real issue with blends,” Smith adds, “we prefer to extract single-origin coffee in house, as we enjoy the variety and nuance of terrior from each origin.”

*Pro sip: Espresso is the best way to taste the dialed-in characteristics of any given origin of coffee, according to Smith. “An East African coffee is going to have a wildly different taste than a Southern Colombian coffee. We like to play with those characteristics and they come out best in espresso.”

403 N. 6th Ave., (520) 777-4709, exocoffee.com 

Sudden Comfort

Few things convey an immediate sense of contentment and well-being like eating a meal that evokes memories of home and hearth. Here are some local restaurants that specialize in all manner of comfort food.

By Sarah Burton Photography by Thomas Veneklasen

5 Points Market & Restaurant

The rangeland raised Criollo Beef Meatloaf at 5 Points Market & Restaurant.

For more than four years, owners of 5 Points Market & Restaurant Jasper Ludwig and Brian Haskins have offered an innovative breakfast and lunch menu. Aptly named, this brunch spot is located in a repurposed building at the historic Five Points intersection leading into downtown, surrounded by Armory Park, Barrio Viejo and Barrio Santa Rosa. The menu focuses on well-balanced offerings, sourced from as nearby as possible.

“We wanted to open a restaurant that sourced primarily from local farms, ranches, and artisans to create our food from scratch.”

In fact, 5 Points started out because the owners felt so passionately not only about food, but local food systems, and working with regional farmers and agriculture. “We wanted to open a restaurant that sourced primarily from local farms, ranches, and artisans to create our food from scratch,” explains Ludwig. “We also wanted to create an environment where creativity is honored and folks are paid a living wage to work in this industry.” On the menu this plays out deliciously in dishes like the huevos rancheros made with La Noria corn tortillas, pinto beans grown right here, house-made ranchero sauce, fresh pico de gallo, avocado, and cilantro-serrano pesto.

Other popular dishes include their smoked salmon benedict, a smoked beet sandwich, and the arugula salad. But if you’re looking to dive into comfort, look no further than the meatloaf. “Our meatloaf was the creation of our chef, Ken Julian,” Ludwig points out. “It’s made with local, free-range and grass-fed Criollo beef from 47 Ranch (Sky Island Brand), served atop house-made organic brioche, and topped with house-made poblano-tomato jam and a fennel, smoked beet, and Castelvetrano olive slaw.”

756 S. Stone Ave., 623-3888, 5pointstucson.com

HiFalutin Rapid Fire Western Grill

HiFalutin’s Roasted Half Chicken.

For a bit of comfort with an extra dose of the Old West, HiFalutin serves up everything from beef stroganoff and pot roast to meatloaf and steaks. Since opening in 2002, this sister eatery to the Baggins sandwich shops has made a name for itself with generous portions and an easy-going atmosphere, down to the cowboy hats worn by staff.

“Our most popular dishes are the meatloaf, pot roast, steaks, glazed baby back pork ribs, cedar plank salmon, as well as the tacos.”

While you’re trying to decide between a traditional rib eye steak or the Cattleboss Pot Roast — slow cooked for hours until tender — try not to get too distracted by the heavenly blue corn muffins and butter placed before you. “Our most popular dishes are the meatloaf, pot roast, steaks, glazed baby back pork ribs, cedar plank salmon, as well as the tacos,” says Owner Moe Aria.

With the word grill in the restaurant’s name, it makes sense that the must-try dishes are largely those cooked over the grill. But you also can choose from salads (like Cassidy’s Mexican BBQ Chicken salad or the Pulled Chicken Cobb), sandwiches, burgers, and even several hearty pasta dishes.

6780 N. Oracle Rd., 297-0518, hifalutintucson.com

Sullivan’s Eatery & Creamery

If nostalgia equals comfort in your book, a trip to this traditional ice cream parlor and restaurant should be added to your to-do list. With toy trains running on a track overhead, thick marble slab counters, thick burgers, and ice cream presented in heavy glass dishes, Sullivan’s Eatery & Creamery is sure to take you down memory lane.

This location opened originally in 1977 as one of the many Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlors in the U.S., but owners Jerry and Kathy Sullivan decided to go their own way and changed the name in 2013. What hasn’t changed is their take on the traditional ice cream shop, with a menu boasting burgers and patty melts made with fresh beef ground daily from local Dickman’s Meats, old-time sourdough grilles and sandwiches, as well as plenty of piled-high salads.

Of course, dessert is part of the full experience here, so choose carefully from the decadent options. Try one of the parfait-style sundaes, with layered scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, topped with a wafer and — of course — a cherry. Or maybe a banana split, strawberry shortcake, or a warm brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream. Needless to say, if you skip dessert here, you’re not thinking straight.

6444 N. Oracle Rd., 297-9974,
sullivanseateryandcreamery.com

Omar’s Hi-Way Chef

The famous Deep Dish Hot Apple Pie at Omar’s Hi-Way Chef.

There’s a reason this truck stop restaurant has been featured on the Food Network (where it was awarded the title of Number 2 Truck Stop in the country), and received equally high praise from both local and national publications. The reason is simple: Since opening in 1954, they’ve stayed true to straightforward, quality food.

“This is the kind of place where if you leave hungry, it must be because you didn‘t order!”

“Our menu is one of the most extensive around,” says Manager Omar Ramirez. “Breakfast is a comfort food for many people, and our over-portioned breakfasts are available all day.” Choose from the I-10 Belly Buster for the super hungry, spicy Chorizo con Huevos, the popular Omar’s Favorite (cheese enchiladas, shredded beef, three eggs any style), huge pancakes, strawberry waffles, or biscuits with creamy gravy. After 22 years running the establishment, Ramirez points out: “This is the kind of place where if you leave hungry, it must be because you didn‘t order!”

The lunch and dinner menus boast several kinds of foods, including traditional favorites from Mexico (tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas), the American heartland (Cincinnati chili mac, chicken noodle soup, pork chops), and even Italy (spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmesan, fettuccini Alfredo). Sweet tip: Make sure you leave room for the restaurant’s signature Deep Dish Hot Apple Pie, mounded with soft-serve ice cream.

Omar’s Hi-Way Chef, 5451 E. Benson Hwy.,
574-0961, omarshiwaychef.com

The Fix

Can comfort food lift your spirits? The answer is a resounding yes, if you ask the owner of a restaurant dedicated (almost) solely to macaroni and cheese. Michael Lanz and his wife Sandy took over The Fix in 2013, less than a year after it first opened. Since then, they’ve continued to observe the tried-and-true connection of cheesy goodness to happiness.

“Mac ’n cheese is an American comfort food that stands the test of time,” Lanz says. The restaurant’s sizable menu is split into classic cheddar macs and creamy Alfredo macs, all dressed up with flavor combinations like lobster and Swiss cheese, cream cheese and jalapeño, bacon and chicken, as well as pulled pork with hash browns. A few of their most popular versions are Chicken Bacon Ranch, Buffalo Chicken, Caprese, ABC (Alfredo, broccoli, chicken) and, of course, the closest thing to your childhood favorite, the All American.

Besides mac ’n cheese, The Fix’s menu also has whole sections dedicated to salads, burgers and sandwiches, everything from a Cuban-style grilled cheese with ham, mozzarella, pickles, and pulled pork; to steak salad with avocado and bleu cheese dressing. And if you’re still not feeling “fixed,” perhaps a piece of the homemade fudge or Rice Krispie treat will do the trick!

943 E. University Blvd., 305-4493,
thefixaz.com

Robert’s Restaurant

If you’re looking for comfort food, you can’t go wrong at this long-standing breakfast and lunch spot. In fact, this year Robert’s Restaurant celebrated its 40th anniversary — that’s four decades of serving up meals made from scratch. “Our entire menu is what we’d call comfort food,” muses Owner Boyd Bartke, son of original owners Robert and Donna Bartke.

“We make our own pies, breads, cinnamon rolls, and also butcher our meats,” Bartke points out. “We’re not an ‘out of a box/freezer’ restaurant.” He shared that some of their most popular dishes are a bit traditional and not-so-traditional, such as the country-fried steak and biscuits topped with chorizo gravy. For breakfast, look for corned beef hash, omelets, French toast and pancakes; then, during lunch, the likes of open-faced roast beef sandwiches, patty melts, burgers, and grilled trout.

But the top sellers are the giant cinnamon rolls. These enormous confections are a must-have, no matter what else you’ve ordered — you’ll just need to make some room. They’re cut in half and toasted on the griddle before making their way to your table and served with a side of extra frosting, putting them even more over the edge. Toasty tip: Even if you’re not a huge fan of toast alongside breakfast, you’ll want to make an exception. Thick-cut, pillowy slices of bread, baked onsite, are topped with melted butter. Not to be skipped!

3301 E. Grant Rd., 795-1436,
robertstucson.com

Baja Café

Everyone’s got a notion of what qualifies as a comforting meal, but one thing that can’t be overlooked is the intense tie of comfort food to the very first meal of the day. And the owners of Baja Café specifically got into the breakfast game in 2014 with the desire to add a bit more spice to this particular meal. “We really love the flavors of the Southwest and New Mexico, Sante Fe in particular, all kinds of chiles,” says Owner Kim Scanlan.

Baja Café is known for both its Benedicts (more than a dozen to choose from) and pancakes, featuring small details that make a huge difference. On the savory side, “All of our meats are slow roasted and smoked, including the brisket, corned beef, chicken, and pork,” Scanlan explains. “Our sauces are made from scratch, including our New Mexican red chile sauce, smoked Gouda cheese sauce, and tomatillo.” Get a load of these flavors in one customer favorite in particular, the Anomaly, which consists of a mac ’n cheese waffle topped with smoked brisket machaca.

If a sweeter breakfast is more to your liking, look no further than the snickerdoodle pancake or maybe a pecan roll pancake loaded with candied pecans. Or get fancy and try one of their special Belgian-style Liege waffles, using pearl sugar brought in from Belgium, which caramelizes during the cooking process for a crunchy, golden coating. “It’s kind of a cross between a New Orleans beignet and a waffle — it’s pretty amazing,” Scanlan shares.

7002 E. Broadway Blvd., 495-4772; 2970 N. Campbell Ave., 344-7369; 3930 W. Ina, 989-9156, bajacafetucson.com

Saguaro Corners

Adjacent to Saguaro National Park East, Saguaro Corners has been serving comfort food since 1956. Just look for the vintage neon sign out amid the desert landscape. As anyone who grew up in Tucson can tell you, this is the place with the windows, through which diners can soak up gorgeous views of the surrounding desert, Rincon Mountains, and all manner of wildlife. Or if alfresco is more your style, set your sights on the patio or indoor/outdoor bar.

Besides being drawn by the view and ambience, both locals and visitors flock
to Saguaro Corners’ comfort-food-focused menu. Here you’ll find old favorites like mac ’n cheese, fish and chips, prime rib dip, several burgers (the John Wayne is a must), shrimp and grits, and meatloaf right alongside less traditional American dishes.

Saguaro Corners makes a strong case for finding comfort in new favorites, such as their mini-Sonoran dogs, the quinoa kale salad with jalapeño vinaigrette, ahi poke tacos on a crunchy wonton taco shell, or spicy mac ’n cheese with smoked Gouda and Sriracha. Live music several times a week, and a rotating lineup of 22 craft beers on tap, are two of the other big draws for this old-time favorite.

3750 S. Old Spanish Trail, 886-2020, saguarocorners.net 

Dining Near U

We’ve all been there: trying to weigh all the options and decide where to stop for a bite to eat before a performance in the UA area. With so many interesting lectures, performances, and sporting events popping up on or around the University of Arizona campus, we’ve narrowed down a few go-to spots you can count on to deliver a timely and delicious meal.

By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen

Miss Saigon 

Just across Campell Avenue from campus, in an unassuming strip mall, sits one of the most recognized Vietnamese restaurants in town. It has branched out with additional locations, but as any longtime patron will tell you, the original near UA just has that extra bit of magic.

Pho Tai Chin Bo Vien (Rice Noodle Soup)

Whether you’re a fan of pho (rice noodle soup with beef broth) and its seemingly curative properties, or opt for other specialties, like vermicelli topped with grilled shrimp, fresh greens, and crushed peanuts, the service here is quick and laser precise.  So quick, in fact, you’ll have plenty of time for that order of fresh spring rolls and a boba drink or Thai iced tea.

Of course, if you’re unfamiliar with Vietnamese food and want to ease into your Miss Saigon experience, you always can order from more familiar dishes on the menu like chicken lo mein, Thai-style spicy tum yum hot pot, or fried rice. But once you see those plates for pho piled high with fresh bean sprouts, basil, and jalapeños, chances are your interest will be piqued.

1072 N. Campbell Ave., (520) 320-9511, misssaigontucson.com

The B Line 

Pan-seared Salmon filet on a salad bowl at B-Line Café

The B Line offers a slightly more peaceful but equally tasty option for a meal before you head to the campus. Located on Fourth Avenue on the Modern Streetcar Line, this casual spot is further removed from the bustle.

The menu includes salads, sandwiches, burritos (artfully stuffed with the likes of Mahi Mahi, grilled chicken, sautéed vegetables, carne asada, or beans), tacos, and quesadillas. Pasta dishes include
farfalle tossed with house-made pesto and toasted pine nuts, and pasta alla vodka, with house-made cream sauce and fresh arugula.

Make sure you leave room and time in your visit for a homemade dessert crafted by pastry chef Terri LaChance. Tip: Although everything in the pastry display is delectable, and all-things-chocolate may beckon, the fresh-baked pies (from scratch, like grandma used to make) should not be missed.

621 N. 4th Ave., (520) 882-7575, thebline.xyz

No Anchovies   

Another long-standing fixture in the Main Gate Square area, No Anchovies has not only upheld its reputation for creative pizzas and hearty salads, but has grown its business substantially. Once upon a time, this was your must-try locale for a quick slice before class or after a UA game. Long ago, the structure was simply a home built on the outskirts of the campus. The front patio looks out over the busy sidewalks of University Boulevard and makes for great people watching.

But after major remodeling and expansion to 10,000 square feet, No Anchovies now boasts two upstairs balconies, a plethora of unique indoor seating areas both upstairs and down, 60 big-screen TVs, a pool table and two full bars. “If you’re on your way to campus for an event, here you’ll usually find somewhere to sit and pick from the specialty pizzas by-the-slice, sandwiches, salads, or wings,” says General Manager Matt Jones. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is the kitchen’s dedication to quality in serving their fiercely loyal college crowd. “We offer a large selection of fast and fresh options, not just your basic cheese and pepperoni,” Jones points out. “Everything here is made from scratch, from the wing sauce and dressings to the bread we use for sandwiches.”

And don’t forget to check out the 24 beers on tap, many of them local selections.

870 E. University Blvd., (520) 623-3333, noanchoviesaz.com

Trident Grill 

The fish and chips from Trident Grill.

A short drive from the UA campus, you’ll find the original location of Trident Grill. There is a little bit of everything, so you can spare your group or date from having to narrow down their options.

Burgers are, of course, what many locals loyally order up at this or any other Trident location. The most popular is the Wildcat burger, stacked with onion rings, bacon, and a special Chef from Hell barbecue sauce. All burgers are made with 100 percent grass-fed beef.

Besides burgers, the menu includes an astonishing range, including hot wings, fried pickles, macaroni and cheese, a shrimp po-boy, chicken salad sandwich, New York strip, fish tacos, gumbo, a paleo bowl, an artisan meat and cheese plate, and oysters on the half shell.

2033 E. Speedway Blvd., (520) 795-5755, tridentgrill.com

Frog & Firkin   

Right in the hub of activity that is Main Gate Square, Frog & Firkin is an optimal spot to meet up near the UA campus. Although many eateries have cropped up along University Boulevard over the last few years, this particular spot has maintained its popularity for decades. “We’re one of the few places left still providing a relaxed, full-service experience,” points out owner Garrett Raetzman.

After owning Frog & Firkin with his wife Jody for the last 18 years, he’s surely seen the area change and grow. “There’s something to be said for comfort and
consistency, so we pride ourselves in building rapport with customers,” he shares. “The Frog has always been a staple for college students, but I think we appeal to a larger demographic.”

This menu offers stacked salads, loaded sandwiches, half-pound burgers and pizza. They’ve expanded the options over the years to include entrées like steaks and the popular cedar plank salmon, providing something for everyone. With 30 beers on draft, and 150 different bottled and canned beers, they’re able to suit a more sophisticated palate as well as those just discovering beer options.

874 E. University Blvd., (520) 623-7507, www.frogandfirkin.com

Illegal Pete’s   

A relative newcomer to University Boulevard, Illegal Pete’s started in Colorado in 1995 before branching out to Tucson in 2015. Their brand of fast Mexican-style food includes burritos and tacos, as well as quesadillas and nachos — with several vegetarian and gluten-free options.

“Some of the most popular items on our menu are the bowls, because you can load them up with so much; the smothered burritos (covered with veggie or pork green chile); and of course our queso and guacamole,” says General Manager April Ramirez. “Everything on the menu is made from scratch with high-quality ingredients,” she adds.

This laid-back spot is prime to meet up for a quick meal with friends before a show or game, especially since you can even order your food to go. But, as Ramirez points out, you may want to
make time to enjoy one of the house
margaritas. “We have happy hour and reverse happy hour and, as an added bonus, our patios and balconies are located directly next to the stage for Bear Down Friday pep rallies!”

876 E. University Blvd., (520) 352-1340, illegalpetes.com/Tucson tl

About Us

Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to showcasing the people, places, local flavors, and attractions that make our city unique.

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Phone: 520-721-2929 x 102
Address: 7000 E Tanque Verde Rd # 11,
Tucson, AZ 85715

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