Table For Two
The Chef's Board (left) and Lemongrass
Skewered Scallops (right) at Wildflower
Trattoria Pina's Pope's Pillow dessert
The Sultan Shish Kebab at Shish Kebab House
Sushi Garden's Zombie Roll
By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen
Seeking suggestions for your next special night out? Whether you’re escaping from the kids for date night, or are looking for the prime setting for a romantic meal, we’ve rounded up several local options. These run the gamut from elegant spots to celebrate those extra-special occasions to more casual eateries.
Wildflower American Cuisine
7037 N. Oracle Road, (520) 219-4230
Just two words describe why Wildflower has been considered one of Tucson’s best locales for a romantic evening out since it opened: simple elegance. Both the food and the ambience support this, with modern twists on traditional American dishes like the popular braised beef short rib served with smoked cheddar grits, or bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with horseradish potatoes.
But if you’re out on the town with your sweetheart, the chef has other plans for you. “You can’t top dinner on our patio, beneath the twinkle lights,” says Chef Kevin Handt. He recommends starting with the chef’s board and a glass of their very own Fox Block 11 Pinot Noir. When it comes to ordering, he reminds you that, “Sharing is caring! Split an entrée and save room for dessert — you can’t skip dessert on date night.”
Although there are plenty of tempting items, you can’t go wrong with the aptly named Bars of Sin — praline chocolate cookie with cappuccino mousse and vanilla bean gelato.
Trattoria Pina Cucina Italiana
5541 N. Swan Road
Since opening in 1993, this family-owned eatery has been serving traditional Italian fare. Thanks to the foothills location, beautiful views of the Catalinas can be enjoyed — especially if you secure certain seats during sunset. “I’ve noticed couples tend to come in and request the tables next to the windows, or one of the cute little corner spots we have,” explains Owner Pina Colosimo.
Although the menu boasts many popular dishes you might expect — such as homemade gnocchi and chicken Parmesan — the house specialties give you the chance to branch out. Grilled polenta topped with spicy Italian sausage, or Bianco e Nero — grilled scallops and shrimp in a brandy cream sauce served with black-and-white pasta — are just two of the options. “Our dishes are quite ample,” Colosimo observes. “It’s perfect for two people to come in and share an entrée and an appetizer, so you can leave room for dessert.”
You can thank Colosimo’s father Cosmo, who owned DaVinci’s on Fort Lowell for almost 30 years, for the tempting desserts. Every day he comes in to whip up indulgences like tiramisu and Limoncello cake, but the real stand-out is the Pope’s Pillow: flaky layers of puff pastry with fresh cream and strawberries.
3844 E. Fort Lowell Road
In this part of the country, a true French restaurant can be hard to come by. Which is why Le Rendez-Vous has enjoyed quite the reputation since it opened in 1980. Owner Gordon Berger is keeping the tradition alive after taking over the business from his father, but has reinvented the restaurant to now offer both the formal dining experience, and a more casual bistro atmosphere.
“What draws people here to celebrate a special occasion is that old-style, multiple-course, slower way of dining out,” Berger explains. “Complete with dishes that you just don’t see that often prepared tableside or flambéed.” The bistro side of the restaurant offers patrons small plate versions of Le Rendez-Vous’ menu, from the mini beef Wellington to frog legs or mussels.
And what could be more decadent and French than snails? “One of our most popular hors d’oeuvres is the escargot in garlic butter and white wine,” Berger says. So linger over your meal, soak up the soft lighting, and don’t forget to share something sweet to wrap up your evening, like the Grand Marnier soufflé or maybe Crêpes Suzette made tableside.
Bob’s Steak and Chop House
2727 W. Club Drive, (520) 877-2377
For some, a great steak dinner will never be dethroned as the go-to extravagant dining option. Bob’s Steak and Chop House, located in the Omni Tucson National Resort, fills that bill and then some with breathtaking views and spot-on service. “Guests love Bob’s for that special evening out because it combines the classic elegance of a traditional steakhouse with exceptional service,” explains Jeffrey White, director of operations.
In fact, Bob’s staff takes pride in treating everyone in their restaurant like a VIP. Attentive service, paired with a great table either in the elegant dining room or alfresco on the patio overlooking the golf course, is a recipe for success here. The menu has all the ingredients of a steak and chop house: Maryland-style crab cakes, wedge salads, lobster tails — and, of course, nearly any cut of prime beef you like.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with favorites like bread pudding, key lime pie, or vanilla bean crème brûlée. But for something to make the evening even sweeter, “You just have to try our wedge of chocolate cake with rich fudge frosting,” White recommends.
Shish Kebab House
5855 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 428-1492
Tucked away in an unassuming shopping center, Shish Kebab House is a longstanding Middle Eastern-food-lovers’ treasure. A heady aroma of spices, garlic, and slow-cooked meat hits you upon entering, which should be the first sign you’re in for a virtual vacation. Order a Turkish or Lebanese beer while looking over the menu, and you’re off!
Largely inspired by Jordanian cuisine, the menu offers the kind of fare even a Middle Eastern food novice might recognize, such as gyros, Greek salads, hummus and falafel. For those more adventurous, there are options such as kabasa, a traditional Bedouin dish with the meat of your choice along with rice, onions and tomato sauce; or mensaf — chicken, beef or lamb cooked with fermented dry yogurt and grilled pine nuts. There also are a number of tasty vegetarian dishes.
What makes this spot ideal for date night? “We give guests a lot of space so they have time to talk, and take their time,” explains Owner Reina. The murals, décor and music set the scene for a memorable experience, and on Fridays and Saturdays you can expect live entertainment, in the form of a belly dancer — complete with a sword!
3048 E. Broadway Blvd.
(520) 326-4700, www.sushigarden.com
Sushi Garden offers both sushi and traditional Japanese food, so if your significant other is a diehard sashimi fan and you’re not quite there yet, you’ll find something for both of you. Located in historic Broadway Village in the heart of Tucson, the atmosphere is bright and lively, with seats in the modern dining room, front-and-center at the sushi bar, or out on a large covered patio.
Once you’re settled in, consider one of the menu’s fun and imaginative cocktails like the Hello Kitty martini, Fuzzy Ninja, or a Sake It To Me Rita. Perfect to share on your date night: a bottle of sparkling sake, or a ceramic carafe of traditional warm sake.
For sushi lovers, the menu offers sashimi, nigiri, and creative rolls like the Firecracker (a spicy California roll wrapped with tuna and topped with fried crawfish, bell peppers and eel sauce) and the Temptation (lobster tail in creamy sauce, wrapped in cucumber, sans rice). Non-sushi options include the spicy tuna tater tots, beef dumplings, teriyaki, ramen, udon, fried rice or tempura.
El Charro Café
6910 E. Sunrise, (520) 514-1922
The first El Charro was established way back in 1922, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Tucsonan who is unfamiliar with what has long been a local institution. The Ventana location, situated in the foothills of Tucson’s northeast side, offers the same authentic menu as the downtown location and is full of traditional Mexican dishes — but with a stunning view, making it an ideal date spot.
If weather permits, choose from two patios with beautiful views of the Catalinas. Indoors you’ll find a festive and rich ambience, complete with vibrantly painted walls, wood and leather furniture, brightly colored draperies, and oversized Mexican artwork in heavy carved wood frames.
Date night begs that you indulge first in a vibrant prickly pear margarita along with tableside guacamole to start. Then when you’re ready, longstanding menu favorites include the famous carne seca platter (a half pound of shredded angus beef dried in the sun), classic chile rellenos, or the chimichanga — which according to legend El Charro’s founder is credited with having invented by happy accident.
201 N. Court Ave., (520) 622-0351, lacocinatucson.com
In a town with such glorious weather most of the year, the ongoing search for the perfect alfresco dining experience is understandable. But for an authentic Downtown experience, devoted diners will steer you to La Cocina in the midst of Old Town Artisans. You could say they have a patio, but really — besides the quirky and cozy bar — the entire place is outdoors. La Cocina sits, a kind of oasis, in the courtyard space of several fun local shops, complete with white twinkle lights strung overhead, crawling vines, a large koi pond, lush plants, and shade awnings stretched over the few areas not covered by the oversized shady tree at the center.
“A lot of people come here on first dates,” points out Owner Jo Schneider. “Part of what makes it especially appealing for a romantic evening is that it’s interactive; there’s a lot going on, and being outdoors makes everyone relax a bit more.” It also doesn’t hurt that you can expect live music on the courtyard’s stage Wednesdays through Saturdays. The menu offers a bit of something for everyone: burgers, sandwiches, loaded salads and Southwestern staples such as chimichangas, tacos and chile rellenos.
With its French doors flung open to the courtyard to maximize the fresh air, the Cantina bar is a nice coda to date night, offering several Arizona craft beers on tap, as well as signature cocktails like the Lavender Vodka Lemonade and the Hibiscus Vodka Cosmo. TL