Taste - Seven to Sample
A Guide To Good Food (and Drink)
MiAn Sushi & Modern Asian Cuisine’s Japanese Cheesecake.
MiAn Sushi & Modern Asian Cuisine’s “Tweety-Bird” Roll.
The Fried Green Tomato, served with bronzed baby shrimp and sauce magnolia from Sazerac Creole Kitchen & Cocktails.
|Sazerac Creole Kitchen & Cocktails
4340 N. Campbell Ave.
(520) 389-8156, saztucson.com
By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen
These recently opened restaurants offer a wide variety of cuisines, from American diner to Creole to Asian.
7053 N. Oracle Rd.
(520) 989-3189, teaspoontucson.com
Growing up in NYC, sisters Teresa Cheung-Valencia and Mary Grzegorski were immersed in the dining business from a young age, as they came from a long line of restaurateurs. Being a part of the industry was not something they sought out, but years later they found themselves in Tucson flirting with the idea of opening up their own brunch spot. “While Mary was visiting here, the idea came up and we just decided to go ahead and do it,” says Cheung-Valencia.
Fast forward to last April, and this modern home-kitchen-inspired eatery opened its doors in Casas Adobes Plaza, in the striking location formerly housing Bluefin Seafood Bistro and Frogs Organic Bakery. The menu consists of foods from their childhood and recipes they love, which they’ve reinvented and made their own. That includes Dutch Baby pancakes, omelets, protein breakfast bowls, as well as Bubble Waffles — based on the ones the sisters purchased from a Canal Street food vendor as kids.
Their lunch menu includes options such as crab cakes, salmon carpaccio, vegetable tempura, and a poached-pear burger. Recently the sisters have extended their brunch concept to include special Friday night small bites, with live jazz on the patio. Whether for brunch or tapas, the charming, misted courtyard is an optimal alfresco spot.
MiAn Sushi & Modern
88 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 882-0001, miansushi.com
Thanks to the long-time success of restaurateur K.C. An, his last name is synonymous with Asian food in Tucson. But after running his father’s business for the last 26 years, Bin An is excited to branch out on his own endeavor. In March he opened MiAn Sushi downtown, offering Japanese (and a bit of Chinese) fare with a modern twist. “I wanted to do something on my own, so I’ve spent the last year preparing for this,” he says.
The very modern building where he opened up shop — on the bottom floor of the new Tucson Electric Power building — is an eye-catching addition to the dining scene. Floor-to-ceiling glass, modern chandeliers and a fire element on the wrap-around patio all make for a dramatic backdrop. To create this feel, An traveled all over the world, selecting and having items made. Everything from the chopsticks and linens, to the plates and patio furniture, came custom from Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul.
But the highlight is the food itself, with Master Sushi Chef Choi from Nobu in Las Vegas serving as Executive Chef. According to An, it’s Chef Choi’s namesake roll on the menu that is quickly gaining fans — The Real Choi Roll, with spicy tuna, salmon, fennel and habañero aioli, actually comes to the table on fire, making for quite an impressive presentation. “Our Peking duck tacos are another crowd favorite,” An points out. The menu includes several playful and surprising signature rolls, salads, chilled and warm small plates, lo mein, fried rice, as well as traditional rolls and sashimi. Delivery service to the downtown area will be available in the near future.
Sazerac Creole Kitchen & Cocktails
4340 N. Campbell Ave., (520) 389-8156, saztucson.com
Finding a bit of the Big Easy in the Old Pueblo is not as difficult as you might think. This recent addition to St. Philip’s Plaza whisks patrons into what could be mistaken for an elegant eatery in the French Quarter. “We wanted to do an old-fashioned New Orleans restaurant, celebrating Creole food and old-time craft cocktails,” explains Suzanne Kaiser, CEO of JAM Culinary Concepts.
The menu includes everything fans of this culinary approach might hope for: fried green tomatoes, catfish, oysters, gumbo, crawfish, po boys (at lunch), red beans and rice and, of course, beignets. Kaiser points out, “We have some wonderful dishes, but the crab cakes are one of our most popular.” Made with jumbo and super lump crabmeat, the cakes are served with house remoulade, haricot verts, and Brabant potatoes. The menu also includes an entire section dedicated to cast-iron classics, including lamb chops with jalapeño mint jelly, salmon served with Creole meunière sauce, and a New York strip topped with sauce marchand du vin.
A unique cocktail menu created by bartender Tiffany Eldredge includes carefully crafted cocktails such as the Louisiana Porch Swing (gin, cherry brandy, citrus, Averna and orgeat), and the bourbon and ginger beer Brass Band, to name just a few. If you’re lucky and visit on a night with live jazz, the picturesque patio at Sazerac is quite the backdrop for a transporting meal.
902 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 622-5100
It was love at first site, when owners of Phoenix’s popular Welcome Diner and Welcome Chicken + Donuts laid eyes on the circa 1964 restaurant on the iconic Sunshine Mile section of Broadway. The mid-century building, which previously housed several other restaurants, is actually what compelled Sloane McFarland and Michael Babcock to extend their brand to Tucson.
“We absolutely fell in love with the building,” says Babcock, chef/partner. “That, combined with Tucson’s rich culinary heritage and strong agricultural roots, made it an easy decision for us to pull the trigger and set up shop here.” Just as with their Phoenix location, at the center is the desire to revitalize the traditional neighborhood diner in the modern context of culinary culture. “We want it to be a community space for locals and travelers alike to share delicious food and beverages and create memories,” Babcock explains.
The menu is as comfortable and creative as the ambience. Breakfast features classic pancakes or biscuits and gravy, and more out-of-the-box options like Pork Posole Rojo or the vegan Three Sisters Burrito stuffed with tempura squash, corn, smoked pecan cheese and tepary beans. Lunch, dinner and late-night offerings — in addition to both classic and “Welcome style” cocktails — range from a kale and snap pea Caesar salad and smoked trout, to burgers, pork chops and grilled cheese. Whatever route you take in ordering, rest assured it was created with purpose, as Babcock explains: “There is a story followed through to its logical conclusion in everything that fills a plate or glass at the diner.”
Jackson Bar + Eatery
8864 E. Tanque Verde Rd., (520) 347-6373
This recent addition to Tucson’s Eastside dining options entered the scene this past spring, bringing with it American comfort foods — think shrimp scampi, meatloaf, burgers, pork tenderloin and filet mignon — as well as a large collection of cocktails and 20 beers on tap. Executive Chef Izaak Morhaim imparts the culinary wisdom he’s collected along the way from some of the city’s well-recognized spots like Acacia, Lodge on the Desert, and Jax Kitchen.
One of the favorite entrées among patrons is the grilled-jalapeño meatloaf, topped with cream sauce made with a Mocha Java Stout from Tucson’s own Barrio Brewing. “It’s like Grandma’s meatloaf — but with our modern twist,” explains Morhaim. Another top offering, and Morhaim’s personal pick, is the truffle burger. As if it weren’t enough to use black truffle shavings in the chopped chuck and brisket blend, this burger is accompanied by indulgent frites soaked in duck fat before frying.
Brunch fans will enjoy the usual, and not-so-usual suspects available Saturdays and Sundays before 2 p.m. Standouts are the French-toasted cream cheese sandwich, topped with raspberry preserves, and the short rib hash covered with béarnaise sauce. Tip: look for a seat close to the windows so you can soak up the amazing mountain views while you’re enjoying your repast.
The Garage Eatery & Pub
802 N. Fourth Ave., (520) 274-4526
At the corner of two historic roads in Tucson’s West University neighborhood, another newcomer joined the restaurant scene last February. The Garage Eatery & Pub is housed in a 1950s-era auto repair shop at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard. “We did our best to preserve the history and the character of the building,” explains Owner David Blair. So although it’s been completely remodeled, you’ll still find the original walls and roll-up glass garage doors reminiscent of the building’s original purpose.
The bright and open feeling of this spot, in addition to a large patio that’s a prime spot for people watching, contribute to the feel Blair hopes to encourage. “I continue saying, ‘I hope we end up like Cheers in Boston,’ I want all the neighbors to know each other when they walk in.” The menu offers creative burgers with toppings like bourbon barbecue glaze, pineapple, beer mustard aioli, and nearly any kind of cheese you might want. You’ll also find large salads and their own spin on standard pub fare such as a Buffalo chicken sandwich, fennel sausage on a locally made pretzel roll, hand-cut fries, nachos, and fish or carnitas tacos made with local corn tortillas.
“Our burgers are the top sellers, but patrons especially seem to love our chipotle-dusted calamari,” Blair points out. And what would a pub be without beer: The Garage features 14 craft varieties on tap, the majority of which are locally or regionally brewed.
Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar
150 W. Wetmore Rd. (at Tucson Mall),
(520) 777-4649, twigsbistro.com
This spring saw the arrival of a Tucson location for a popular eatery that originated in Spokane, Washington. Now with locations in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Texas and Idaho — although still a family run business — Twigs’ secret to success is its devotion to regional American dishes, with a nod to local flavor. “We’re very integrated with the communities we serve and feature locally grown goods on our ‘fresh sheet’ menus whenever possible,” explains Owner Trevor Blackwell. These change on a weekly basis, highlighting special seasonal food and craft cocktails made with ingredients from the area.
The bistro also offers gluten-free options as well as a kid’s menu, which speaks to the original intention at their first location in 2001: “We started with a desire to create a place that not only serves delicious food and drinks in a comfortable atmosphere, but where everyone is welcome,” Blackwell says. “Between our 15-foot wall of liquor and the open fire feature, this could be a dramatic backdrop for an intimate date night, or somewhere you dine out with a large gathering or the whole family.”
So what constitutes regional American fare for Twigs? Gourmet pizzas and “handhelds” (sandwiches and burgers) run the gamut of flavors, such as Cuban dips and curried ahi tuna on pita. Some of the crowd favorites on the entrée menu, according to Blackwell, include Kalua Pork Tacos made with a special house slaw and Creole remoulade, and Crab Mac and Cheese (shallots, blue crab, smoked bacon and goat cheese). Twigs’ signature French fries also are a big hit, featuring a pound of thin-cut potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne, rice vinegar and basil, served with Gorgonzola dipping fondue. TL