Category: Local Flavor

Let’s Roll!

Sarah Burton

With ingredients such as fresh seafood, avocado, mountain yam and cucumber, sushi chefs can create a true work of art. We profile six local eateries where you can admire the culinary craft, and indulge your appetite for Japanese cuisine.

Sushi Cortaro on River

After opening Sushi Cortaro to great success nine years ago, the owners decided to launch a second location in 2017, this one at River and Stone. Fans of the original will be relieved to know the menu is the same at both locations — including the all-you-can-eat option during lunch and dinner — so you can get your fill of rainbow rolls, red snapper nigiri or spicy scallops.

The fresh flavors are no accident, as Ken Lin, manager of the River location, points out: “We carry top-shelf fish, which is what we always hear from our customers,” he says. “They always come in and say how fresh everything is here.”

But if raw fish isn’t your favorite, they also carry plenty of cooked rolls. In fact, according to Lin, their most popular menu items are the deep-fried rolls. Their menu also is filled with other traditional Japanese fare, such as ramen or udon noodles, tempura or teppan dinners, donburi (rice bowls), and katsu (crispy fried cutlet of chicken or pork).

(River and Stone) 75 W. River Road, Ste. 181, 888-1886; (Cortaro) 8225 N. Courtney Page Way, #141, 572-8668; sushicortaro.com

Kukai

On Tucson’s westside, just next door to the Mercado San Agustín, sits the newer MSA Annex, a cluster of modified shipping containers designed by Tucson architect Paul Weiner. Among the boutiques, coffee roaster and eateries is Kukai, a Japanese kitchen where you step up to the window to order, and dine at a scenic spot in the courtyard.

Owner Michael McCormack explains the concept: “After being in Japan with my wife’s family, I realized some of the greatest foods there were made for the working force, sold on busy little streets,” he says. “Traditionally, onigiri was a meal made to carry, and it still is in Japan. I wanted to bring some of the magic of the Japanese food scene to the downtown area while also carrying on the tradition of my business partner Kazuo Senda, a long-time restaurateur here.”

Start with their most popular dishes, Hakata ramen (pork, noodles, ginger and green onion) or the Mt. Fuji Don (rice bowl with spicy tuna, cucumber and avocado). “We’re on a mission to focus on Japanese onigiri, which nobody else in town has done before,” McCormack shares. “We don’t consider ourselves strictly a sushi restaurant, but more a purveyor of delicious and fun Japanese street food.” 267 S. Avenida Del Convento, Ste. 11, 367-5982, eatkukai.com

Sushi Cho

This well-loved spot has been serving up sushi since the early ’90s, with the current owners taking over in 2003, handily maintaining a loyal base of regulars. “We have customers who have been coming here for more than 15 years, and some of our wait staff has even been here that long, as well,” Manager Sarah Du notes. “We know the customers by name and have watched them grow up, go through college, and been there when they celebrate their birthdays, proposals and family gatherings.”

Du points to their always-friendly service for the customer loyalty they enjoy, as well as the quality of fresh fish offered: “Our sushi is comparable to San Francisco, Hawaii and New York,” she exclaims. The restaurant offers other dishes beyond sushi, such as tempura, baked mackerel, tonkatsu and teriyaki, but with more than 40 rolls to choose from, their most popular menu item is the Cho Combo.

Aptly named, the Cho Combo lets you customize your meal, with your choice of a full-sized roll, four pieces of nigiri, miso soup and salad. Other must-tries are green mussels baked on the half shell, barbecued squid and, of course, ice cream (either the green tea or sweet red bean) for dessert. 1830 E. Broadway Blvd., 628-8800

Izumi

When Izumi opened in 2018, their all-you-can-eat menu quickly made an impression on Tucson sushi lovers. Most first-time diners are surprised to find several kinds of ramen, raw oysters on the half shell and crab legs, according to Manager Andy Lin.

“We have a huge selection, more than 80 items available for all-you-can-eat or just ordering from the menu,” Lin explains. “You can order everything from nigiri to teriyaki, to miso salmon to Chilean sea bass.” Look for donburi rice bowls, bento boxes and poke bowls during lunch, several entrées, a full sushi menu, and some playful specialty cocktails (think plum wine spritzer or Japan old fashioned) and desserts — fried banana spring rolls anyone?

Lin shares that although there are so many options, two specific rolls seem to lead the pack in popularity. The signature Izumi roll (two lobster tails in soy paper topped with spicy crab, eel sauce and spicy mayo) is tied for “first place” with the dynamite roll (tempura California roll topped with a dynamite mixture of octopus, crab, shrimp and scallops with spicy mayo). 3655 E. Speedway Blvd., 327-2778, izumioftucson.com

Sushi Zona

For several years now, Sushi Zona (formerly Sushi Yukari) has held its own among Foothills restaurants, thanks to a robust menu of traditional Japanese dishes. Sushi offerings run the gamut of the nigiri — from fatty salmon toro to snow crab, to sea urchin to clam — and all your favorite rolls, like the spider or yellowtail roll.

Of course, no sushi spot would go without signature rolls, and here is no different. Sushi Zona gets creative with the volcano roll (salmon, white fish, crab stick and volcano sauce), king cobra (eel atop a California roll), and the black pepper tuna roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, Japanese pickles, topped with black pepper tuna).

For those who prefer a warm dish, you can find many other things to order, like ramen, udon or soba noodle soups, grilled fish, curry, rice bowls, teriyaki, and sukiyaki served in a nabemono (Japanese hot pot). 5655 E. River Road, #151, 232-1393, sushizona.com

 

Yamato Japanese Restaurant

This Japanese restaurant has been serving authentic sushi to Tucson for roughly 30 years — very quietly. In fact, many locals may have driven by for decades without realizing the wealth of traditional Japanese fare waiting just inside the doors of this spot nestled in a strip mall.

Here you find classic sushi artfully done. Traditionalists will be pleased with the array of nigiri, sashimi, handrolls and rolls, as well as many other non-sushi options. There are several versions of donburi (rice bowls) available, or if noodles are more your thing, choose from several udon or soba soups with additions like sliced beef, fish cakes, seaweed, chicken or tempura.

Whatever your preference, this location doesn’t stray from a straightforward, fresh and simple sushi style. Based on the number of years they’ve held their own in Tucson’s culinary landscape, they clearly have it down to a science. 857 E. Grant Road, 624-3377.

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Dine with Your Canine!

In a place like Tucson, with more sunny days than not, and patios aplenty, there are many dining out options that let your pooch tag along. Plan your meals carefully, and there’s no reason Muffin the mini schnauzer can’t enjoy a leisurely brunch with the fam, or Mr. Wiggles the Welsh terrier shouldn’t accompany you to satisfy that taco craving. We’ve collared six restaurants that are beloved by humans and canines alike.

PREP & PASTRY

Both locations of this popular breakfast and lunch spot, with its artful twist on the classics, are well worth the wait you’ll sometimes find on busy days. People drop by every day for the Monte Cristo on brioche French toast, or the Roasted Veggie Benedict, with wilted kale and avocado. But the centrally located original also happens to have a lovely patio that welcomes dogs, offering both their own bowl of water and shady spot to share with their owners.

“We all have dogs and are dog lovers, so we’re happy to give that opportunity to people out and about with their pets,” says Brian Morris, partner and general manager of the Campbell location. In fact, Morris and his dogs Moose (English mastiff) and Gila (Dane mix) provided modeling services for this article.

“We actually would have loved to have a patio at both locations, but unfortunately the layout of our eastside location just didn’t allow room for one,” Morris explains. But if you’re looking for a dinner spot where you can take your dogs, look no further than their sister restaurant, Commoner & Co. “If you’re out for dinner and don’t feel like dropping the dogs off at home, you’re welcome at Commoner,” he says of their Foothills eatery, which has two patios to choose from.

3073 N. Campbell Ave., 326-7737, prepandpastry.com; Commoner & Co., 6960 E. Sunrise Dr. #110, 257-1177, commonertucson.com

THE CORONET

On a bustling corner of Fourth Avenue, just before the downtown underpass, sits one of the most picturesque patios in the area. Here, the rustic European country fare is well matched with the former Hotel Coronado’s 1928 architecture. As if you needed another reason to request outdoor seating, The Coronet is clearly pet friendly.

 

“We love dogs,” owner Sally Kane exclaims. “Our patio is an excellent location for all your furry friends. We are fully shaded and can even provide a serape to lay on if need be.” If Patches should get parched, don’t hesitate to ask for a water bowl. There are two available, one a Thai embossed silver bowl, because fur babies need a bit of glam, too.

Whether you’re enjoying brunch (breakfast galette anyone?) or a small-plate-style supper from the seasonally inspired menu, don’t be surprised if the staff come over to get their pet fix. “It may not happen every time,” Kane adds, “but there’s a good chance a piece of bacon or other goody will find its way out to you!”

402 E. 9th St., 222-9889, cafecoronet.com

GHINI’S FRENCH CAFÉ

A top spot for brunch for most of the 20 years they’ve been open, Ghini’s serves up French-inspired dishes such as Eggs Provençale, crepes, and both Croque Madame and Monsieur. As Owner and Executive Chef Coralie “Chef Ghini” Satta points out, “Ghini’s is Tucson’s first official pet-friendly restaurant. We have been welcoming our four-legged friends since 1992.”

Pets who join their families here can expect a bowl of water, organic dog biscuits — and maybe even a hug. “I was born in France, where it’s very normal to have our dogs with us in restaurants, even indoors,” Satta shares. “Alas, that isn’t allowed in the U.S.”

Make sure to check out the patio for breakfast, lunch, brunch or the special Friday and Saturday night Bistro Dinner menu. As Satta and her staff like to say, they welcome all dogs and well-behaved humans. “Not everyone appreciates that,” Satta says, “but we think it’s funny and a little bit true.”

1803 E. Prince Rd., 326-9095, ghiniscafe.com

SEIS KITCHEN

Because there’s no such thing as too much alfresco dining, both locations of Seis Kitchen offer beautiful patios, but it’s the original location in the Mercado San Agustín where the real magic of the ambience happens. Within the courtyard of the Mercado, near the base of “A” Mountain, Seis Kitchen’s first locale has only patio seating, and pets are 100 percent welcome.

After ordering at the window, and finding a spot in the unique brick-paved courtyard, you and your fluffy partner in culinary adventure can sit back and enjoy the busy scene, which includes live music depending on the day and time. “We love that our guests can bring their fur babies to hang with us,” says Owner Erika Munoz. “We have a super-relaxed, family friendly atmosphere — and pets are part of the family, so we should be able to spend as much time with them as possible!”

Seis (Spanish for six) represents six distinct culinary regions in Mexico, which means you can savor everything from street tacos and tortas to Mexico City-style quesadillas and seafood specials. And both locations offer snacks, as well as water bowls. There’s even a doggie water fountain at the Mercado.

130 S. Avenida del Convento, #130, 622-2002 (Mercado San Agustín); 1765 E. River Rd., #131, 612-7630 (Joesler Village), seiskitchen.com

ECLECTIC CAFÉ

On Tucson’s northeast side, Eclectic Café is a go-to choice for a place to dine alongside four-legged members of the family. Of course their menu is known for offering a little bit of everything, including pasta, traditional Mexican fare, burgers and meal-sized salads. But locals know this also happens to be a pet-friendly haven.

“When people bring in their dogs, we ask if they’d like a bowl of water and we also have dog treats,” shares Owner Regina Ortega- McCarty. “I try to buy the good organic ones, so we’re giving you more than your average dog biscuit.” In fact, as she points out, the patio can be such a hot spot that even though they don’t accept reservations, they recommend calling ahead if you’re bringing in your pooch to see if there’s a wait for the patio. Pups should be leashed and well behaved, for the safety of servers and other canine visitors alike.

“We have many regular pets who come in two to three times a week,” Ortega-McCarty explains. “We have Spike, a female long-hair Chihuahua who comes and enjoys pasta and hot dogs; and Leroy, whose owners tell us that when they get to the corner he starts whining in excitement once he realizes where they’re headed.” In fact, with so many furry-friend diners, she and her husband are planning to add a special photo board to spotlight them all.

7053 E. Tanque Verde Rd., 885-2842, eclecticcafetucson.com

THE CUP CAFÉ

Inside the historic Hotel Congress, Cup Café has long been a gathering point for downtown. Just as long, the patio of this eatery has been a well-known place to relax alongside your pet. “Our patio is one of the best spots to bring your dog in downtown Tucson,” says Marketing Director Dalice Shepard. “Delicious food, great drinks, people watching — all while hanging with your favorite pup — it doesn’t get much better!”

Cup Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so no matter whether you’re ready to sample those cast iron-baked eggs you’ve heard so much about, or dig into either a plant-based burger or the traditional version — you and Fido are welcome to come as a team.

While you’re enjoying the patio, you and your canine will get excellent service. “We provide bowls of water for our furry friends, and we have doggie treats at the front desk, too,” Shepard shares. So, no need to leave Miss Pinky the poodle home while you sip your coffee (or local IPA depending on the time of your visit) and soak up the hip and historic surroundings.

311 E. Congress St., 798-1618, hotelcongress.com/dining

 

The Tasty 10!

This is the second year of “10 to try.” Although it’s hard to narrow down our staff’s favorites, we think you’ll find in these selections something that will make your own “best of ” list.

FROM THE STAFF OF TUCSON LIFESTYLE

Saffron Indian Bistro

MUST TRY: CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

Although it’s the national dish of England, Tucsonans are crazy about Chicken Tikka Masala! According to server/bartender Aaron Wilson, this dish is the one most often requested at Saffron Indian Bistro, usually ordered with a side of garlic naan with which to sop up the delicious creamy, tomato-y sauce. The succulent chicken breast pieces are first marinated in yogurt blended with a number of traditional Indian spices such as cumin and coriander. The chicken then is added to a slow-simmered fresh tomato sauce with a hint of cream and zesty Indian herbs and spices. Basmati rice sprinkled with cumin seeds accompanies the saucy deliciousness.

Saffron offers most familiar Indian dishes, which are available in different levels of spiciness. Wilson notes that customers who like it hot can request additional spice levels, ranging from “spicy American,” “extra spicy,” and “Indian spicy” to a level so high the staff refers to it as “pet hospital”! Another notable factoid about Saffron: Owner Mintu Sareen offered furloughed Federal workers (with valid ID) free lunch buffets during the government shut-down — more than 700 were served!

7607 N. Oracle Rd., Suite 101, Oro Valley, 742-9100; tucsonindianrestaurant.com

Agustín Kitchen

MUST TRY: MEZZE PLATTER

If we learned nothing else from kindergarten, it’s that “sharing is caring,” and you can show your dining companion that you care very much by selecting the mezze platter at Agustín Kitchen. This Mediterranean-inspired dish offers plenty for two to share, and so many delicious and different tastes that it may be hard to decide what you like best.

Executive Chef Alex O’Neill explains how the dish evolved. “It started on a summer menu. We were trying to figure out something that was a little more economical, and more adventurous than the traditional chef board. Sally Kane, our operating manager, mentioned mezzes, and it piqued my interest with how dynamic they are. There are a plethora of ingredients that you can pull from to make a mezze platter, and it instantly became a staple on our menu. It’s one of those items that I think we would be met with torches and pick axes if we ever took it off!”

With ingredients that include beet-pickled eggs, hummus, flatbread, olives, sheep’s milk feta, falafel, and muhammara, it’s easy to taste why it’s so popular.

But it’s only one option on a menu that takes advantage of both locally sourced ingredients and O’Neill’s culinary wizardry. The restaurant not only has good relationships with many farmers and food producers in the region, the Mercado itself holds a farmers market every Thursday, and sometimes O’Neill will pick up something that seems especially inspiring.

“When I make the menu, there’s an unspoken tie that binds everything together,” says O’Neill. “Any time we put a dish on the menu, it has to speak to what the restaurant is and who our clientele are.”

That means the brunch, lunch and dinner menus can have everything from entrées with a Southwest flair (huevos rancheros), to Asian influences (tandoori pork loin), to classic French dishes (coq au vin), all created with a distinctive Agustín approach.

With bar dining that has a fun communal vibe, patio seating (with live music on the weekends), and a dining room that is elegant without being stuffy, there’s a spot for any dining mood.

100 S. Avenida del Convento #150, 398-5382; https://agustinkitchen.com.

Culinary Dropout

MUST TRY: BEER BATTERED FISH & CHIPS

Fish & Chips is a traditional dish that works well in casual eateries, so it’s no surprise to find it on the menu at Culinary Dropout. While developing the concept for the eatery, founder Sam Fox and Clint Woods, Fox Restaurant Concepts’ vice president of Culinary, created the dish to reflect classic comfort dishes for a gastro-pub style setting. Made with California Rockfish and beer-battered (using Stella Artois), the fish fillets are deep-fried to be crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. They are served with coleslaw, tartar sauce and fries.

Three days before opening the inaugural Culinary Dropout, Fox and Woods were still working on the menu, with a lot of ideas but no firm direction. “Nothing was working out,” Woods states. “So we starved ourselves for a day, and that’s how we came up with the ideas, like, ‘What are you hungry for right now?’ A little hung over, a little starved from the day before … that’s how the menu came about.”

The menu features many such pub food items that are enhanced in creative ways. The results are as varied as the eatery itself, with its many different dining areas, each with a different vibe.

2543 E. Grant Rd., 203-0934; culinarydropout.com/locations/tucson-az

El Sur Restaurant

MUST TRY: CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP

Visiting the 22nd Street location of El Sur Restaurant is like dropping into your grandmother’s house for dinner … if your grandmother is a fabulous cook from Sonora, Mexico. The aromas are enticing, the staff is welcoming, and the menu includes so many options that you’ll want to return for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The chicken tortilla soup is a really good example of the care that goes into preparing each order. Isela Mejia, who owns the restaurant with her husband Luis, explains that they boil the chicken themselves, make their own broth, sauté tomatoes, onions and green chiles, and put it all together just before it goes out to your table. “We make everything when you order it, so the tortilla strips, the avocadoes, the goat cheese, nothing is cut and done until you order,” says Isela.

The recipes are those of Isela’s mom, who was from Sonora, as well as from El Sur’s cook, who likewise hails from that state. Whether you order the soup, shredded beef flautas, or cheese enchiladas, a server will come to your table and offer you steaming, freshly grilled onions and peppers to go with your meal. And fans of rice and beans will be pleased to know that they are prepared fresh several times throughout the day to keep up with the demand.

The 22nd Street location offers both interior and patio dining. The 29th Street store was recently remodeled, and is set up like a taco shop. “You order up at the front,” notes Isela, “and we have a salsa bar, a chip bar, and we make our corn tortillas for our street tacos by hand.”

The legions of fans of the 22nd Street location, who know how crowded the cozy dining room can get at peak lunch and dinner times, will be relieved to hear that plans are in the works to expand beyond the present boundaries. 5602 E. 22nd Street, 748-1032; 4602 E. 29th Street, 747-3313; www.elsurrestaurant.com

Beyond Bread

MUST TRY: CHOCOLATE BOMB

For many Tucsonans, Beyond Bread has become synonymous with delicious dessert items in addition to their amazing baked-on-the-premises breads. One treat that ranks as a Tucson Lifestyle favorite is the Chocolate Bomb. These orbs of chocolatey goodness come in three flavors: peanut butter, amaretto and the “chocolate lovers” version. It’s easy to find which is which, as the peanut butter has a hole in the chocolate shell to show off its peanutty inside; the amaretto has an almond attached to the shell; and the chocolate lovers features a white chocolate drizzle. Assistant Manager David Drazkowski, of BB’s Speedway location, notes that “The peanut butter seems to be the most popular, and it usually sells out first.”

Before indulging in your chocolate bomb, make sure to peruse Beyond Bread’s extensive menu. With its creative takes on sandwiches and salads, there is literally something for everyone in your party. The menu points out which options are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free, and also warns those with dental issues (via an adorable toothshaped icon) about crusty breads.

Monterey Village at Wilmot, 6260 E. Speedway Blvd., 747-7477; beyondbread.com

Bob’s Steak & Chop House

MUST TRY: PRIME FILET MIGNON

When you’ve got a fantastic product, there’s really no need to “gild the lily.” This is certainly true of the Prime Filet Mignon at Bob’s Steak & Chop House, which is available in 9-, 12- and 16-ounce portions. According to Bob’s General Manager Peter Prassas, their prime beef is chosen from the top two percent in the country, and is perfectly trimmed and expertly grilled. “With beef this great, there is no need for marinades — just salt and pepper, cooked and seared to perfection,” says Prassas. “The filet really is the best of the best — you’d be hard pressed to find a more tender piece of beef. Some guests prefer the ribeye, which is more marbleized. Each entrée — whether it is beef, vegetarian or seafood — is accompanied by our signature giant carrot, which is coated in a cinnamon glaze.” The carrot is a throwback to Bob’s grandmother, who used the vegetable to separate food items on his plate!

Bob’s Steak & Chop House’s dining room is charmingly old school, with hardwood floors, leather chairs, wooden beams and iron chandeliers. The main dining room seats 60, 30 on the patio, which looks onto the Catalina Course of the Omni Tucson National Resort. A private dining room is available for parties up to 50 guests, and boasts golf course views. The eatery is renowned for its hefty portions, big pours on drinks, and its attentive and knowledgeable staff. Omni Tucson National Resort, 2727 West Club Drive, 877-2377; bobs-steakandchop.com/Tucson

Dao’s Tai Pan Restaurant

MUST TRY: VEGETARIAN SPRING ROLLS

Long before most Americans learned what pho was (and subsequently fell in love with it), Cac Dao, owner of Dao’s Tai Pan Restaurant, was doing his best to introduce the cuisine of his native Vietnam to Tucson. A professor in UA’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Mechanics, he discovered some 20 years ago that he had to go to Phoenix for authentic Vietnamese food. He and his wife bought what was originally a Chinese restaurant, and went about slowly educating consumers. “The American public didn’t know that much about how to enjoy pho, banh mi and other dishes,” says Dao, “so we started a cooking class. We taught them how to make the spring rolls, and then they could eat what they made.”

The spring rolls are a little marvel: perfect for an appetizer, or even by themselves for lunch. Dao’s has the conventional variety, goi cuon tom thit, but also their own vegetarian version, goi cuon chay dau hu chien, with noodles, green onion, tofu and mint. “There’s no such thing as vegetarian spring rolls with tofu in Vietnam,” explains the owner. “We created it because of the needs of the customers. Traditionally spring rolls come with pork and shrimp. Someone said, ‘Why don’t you put tofu in and eliminate pork and shrimp?’ People have loved it. I debated whether to use fresh or fried tofu, and it depends on the customer. If they want fresh, we will do that.”

Likewise, Dao’s has both the type of pho one would find in Vietnam, as well as some rice noodle soups that are uncommon, such as pho rau dau hu with tofu and vegetables, or pho gar au, with chicken and vegetables. The chicken and vegetable soup was created for a regular customer, and has proved to be so popular that Dao says it’s their “signature dish.”

The exciting innovations don’t stop with the appetizers and entrées, however. Dao has added his personal tastes and experience to the beverage selection. “When I was in Vietnam, I was a student, and I liked to enjoy fruit smoothies,” he says. “I actually helped my brother run a store selling them. Four or five years after we opened here in Tucson, we added these drinks with tapioca, which are originally from Taiwan. I came up with the recipes myself from my experience, and named them things like Tropical Storm, and Sensation of Vietnam.” For those who need a smooth and satisfying blast of caffeine, the restaurant also has sweetened iced coffee and Thai iced tea.

446 N. Wilmot Road, 722-0055; 4206 N. 1st Avenue, 888-2200

Shogun Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

MUST TRY: CATERPILLAR ROLL

Although the Caterpillar Roll may look like its namesake insect, it does not contain any (thank God!). This “Americanized” sushi roll is unlikely to be found in Japan, but is super-popular in Tucson. It contains cooked fresh water eel (unagi) and cucumber, wrapped in a seaweed sheet (nori), and rice. The cucumber offers a hint of crispness. The exterior is layered with avocado, then drizzled with a thick, sweetened soy sauce that perfectly augments the eel’s slightly smoky flavor. According to Shogun’s Front-end Manager Chris San Jose, the Caterpillar Roll is half-price as a special on Wednesdays (each day features a different roll as the special). He notes that the restaurant primarily is known for its sushi and sashimi, and especially for its fresh, generous cuts of fish.

Shogun also serves traditional Japanese offerings such as teriyaki, sukiyaki, tempura fish and vegetables, Bento boxes filled with tasty items, and colorful “boats” laden with a variety of cooked items or sushi/sashimi assortments.

5036 N. Oracle Rd., 888-6646; shoguntucson.com

47 Scott and Scott & Co.

MUST TRY: GRILLED CHEESE STACK

Like the downtown scene itself, the menu at 47 Scott is always evolving. Manager Teodoro Lillard comments that, “It’s a menu with offerings for every individual. It constantly changes with the seasons, with creativity, and the availability of products.”

Although it’s not a huge menu, it’s finely curated so that whatever you’re in the mood for, you’re likely to find something that suits your tastes. Asked for her favorite item, Lillard names the scallops, which are served with a celery root risotto. She also singles out the handmade pasta options: a squash/wild mushroom/sage gnocchi for vegetarians, and a carbonara that includes house-made pancetta, prosciutto chips, and a 63-degree-cooked egg. “When you break the egg,” she explains, “you make your own sauce.”

But many long-time fans of this happening dinner spot choose the grilled cheese stack as their favorite item. Made on sourdough bread with a three-cheese blend, and served with a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce, this delectable dish is definitely not the uninventive sandwich you remember from your childhood. And don’t be surprised if, by the time you read this magazine, there also is a new grilled cheese on the menu (although the traditional version will still be available).

Lillard says that one of the things the business is currently working on is creating a little better definition between 47 Scott, and Scott & Co., the bar that’s located in an adjoining room. “The bar is first come first served, more casual,” she says. “It’s more about socializing and interacting.”

Whichever area you choose, however, Lillard observes that the place is known for, “Friendly and approachable service, great and creative food, and a sense of community.” 47 N. Scott Avenue, 624-4747; www.47scott.com

5 Points Market & Restaurant

MUST TRY: THE PANCAKE

Adjacent to Cesar Chavez Park on South Stone is a little gem of a restaurant that brings a new sparkle to breakfast and lunch. The small but comfy space, staffed by folks who really seem to love their jobs, utilizes local food purveyors to offer a menu that co-owner Jasper Ludwig says is “small but diverse.”

Items include everything from a smoked salmon Benedict, to a breakfast salad (with butternut squash, argula and eggs), to a smoked beet sandwich. But those of us who fondly recall weekend mornings spent drizzling real maple syrup over a scrumptious, nearly dessert-like breakfast treat will gravitate to “The Pancake.” 

“It’s pretty basic as far as pancake recipes go, but it’s a good recipe,” says Ludwig. “I guess there’s something nostalgic about a really classic pancake. I think it’s a combination of quality organic ingredients, clarified butter that we brush on while it’s cooking, and putting cinnamon on the plate.”

Buying local is so important to the owners that they even give a shout out to many of their vendors on one wall of the restaurant. And they’ve taken the local connection a step further: “We’ve gone as far as creating our own farm, which we’re in our second season of growing now. That’s allowing us to play with even more rare, interesting heirloom seed varietals,” comments Ludwig.

Though 5 Points, which has interior dining, as well as a small, front patio, is only open for breakfast and lunch, and all the offerings are brunch-style foods, there’s such a span of choices that you can return again and again to sample new things. That goes for the beverage choices, too, which include all varieties of coffee drinks, about 10 hot or iced teas, and fresh juices.

756 S. Stone Avenue, 623-3888; www.5pointstucson.com

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 

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