10 To Try!
Maynards Market & Kitchen’s Beignets.
The Grand Marnier Soufflé from Le Rendez-vous.
Plato Poca Cosa from Café Poca Cosa.
Union Public House’s Meatloaf.
The mission was a hard one: Select just one dish from the menu of some of Tucson’s standout dining spots. Despite the challenge, however, we’ve got a pretty expansive list to recommend. From fine dining to pizza, pastry to salad, here are 10 must-try eats to tempt your taste buds.
By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen
Menu must: Piastra Salad
Whether you’re a “zoodle” (zucchini noodle) convert or just curious to give this trend a try, this salad is for you. The Piastra stands out on the menu of this wood-fired pizza spot in the historic Broadway Village shopping center in the heart of Tucson. For this dish, zucchini is cut using a spiralizer, transforming the vegetable into a lovely tangle of noodles, then tossed with fresh house-made pesto, cherry tomatoes, and greens. “This is a unique salad,” explains owner Ari Shapiro. “Folks feel like they’re eating a cold pasta dish. We’ve referred countless customers to the greatness of the spiralizer!”
Anyone counting carbs or just looking for a change of pace in the salad game will flip for this verdant and refreshing dish, which balances the simple yet always-dynamic flavors of basil with bright bursts of tomato. For a spot specializing in traditional Napoli-style pizza, all the salads on the menu are a hit thanks to the thoughtful presentation of fresh ingredients. Take, for example, The Kale, made with curly dark green leaves, Kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts, all tossed with cashew dressing.
In fact, everything on Falora’s menu is fresh and purposeful. “We are simple and rustic, focused and fresh,” Shapiro says in describing his restaurant’s style. “This is a neighborhood spot like you’d find in Europe or the states circa 1979.” A very accurate description considering the feel of this spot, which is nestled in a historic and picturesque red-brick building designed by famed architect Josias Joesler. Now hitting its five-year mark since opening, Falora has earned quite a reputation for inventive (think Brussels sprouts and fig) and classic pizzas alike.
3000 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 325-9988, falora.com
Menu must: Strawberry Fields Salad
This salad-lover heaven may be built upon the premise that you can choose your own ingredients, but let this be a gentle nudge not to overlook the classic salads on the menu. Asian, chicken Caesar, Cobb, kale, Mediterranean — the gang’s all here for popular salads. But one, in particular, is especially worth a try: the Strawberry Fields salad.
How can you go wrong with the bright flavors of organic spring mix, strawberries, feta cheese, dried cranberries, almonds, and avocado? “This was not one of our original classics, but it quickly became one of the top salads we see ordered,” explains co-owner of Choice Greens Jeff Katz. “I think that’s thanks to the freshness of the product, and the really fresh and clean flavor profile of these ingredients all together.”
Even when you order one of the classic, pre-determined salads, the ingredients are all added to a large bowl and then chopped together fresh for each order — an important and signature move that Katz believes only further deepens the flavor combinations. Now 14 years a player in the Tucson food scene, Choice Greens knows a thing or two about building the perfect salad.
If salad isn’t your very favorite, they also serve paninis, sandwiches, soup, and mac and cheese with optional mix-ins like bleu cheese, jalapeños, or even peppered bacon.
2829 E. Speedway Blvd., (520) 319-2467, choicegreens.com
Menu must: Capricciosa Pizza
A well-balanced, perfectly cooked pizza stands out in a crowd, which is what makes the Capricciosa Pizza at Vero Amore the must-have on your next visit. Brothers and co-owners Aric and Josh Mussman point to the small details that come together for this particular menu item, like pizza dough made fresh daily and stretched to order, house-made sauces and fresh mozzarella.
The Capricciosa, in particular, is a perfect blend of strong Mediterranean flavors like Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms and salty, cured prosciutto. “Our focus on daily preparations is part of our adherence to authentic Neapolitan pizza standards, so we can ensure your pizza tastes the same at one of our locations as it does on the streets of Naples, Italy,” they explain.
In fact, in 2006, the Mussmans were the first in Arizona to become certified by Italy’s world-renowned Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which requires accordance to strict traditional Neapolitan pizza-making standards.
The menu for this family-run eatery also includes several pasta options, like shrimp Fra Diavolo, Frutta del Mar (saffron risotto with clams, mussels and other seafood), and made-from-scratch lasagna. Grab a spot on the patio and enjoy the alfresco experience — and if you’re feeling adventurous, check out their fun and mysterious speakeasy nearby called The Still. Reservations at the speakeasy must be made to learn the exact location.
2920 N. Swan Rd., (520) 325-4122; 12130 N. Dove Mountain Blvd., #104, (520) 579-2292, veroamorepizza.com
Menu must: Cheese Manicotti
Walking down Fourth Avenue these days, it seems as if there’s a new spot to dine opening every month. But there are also those tried-and-true favorites that have been around for decades and have watched the area change and grow — the spots where you went as a child, maybe came for a date in high school, and now take your own children to experience.
Caruso’s is one of these fabulous locales, tempting passersby with the unmistakable aroma of garlic and oregano since it opened in 1938. Four generations of the Zagona family have served up classic Italian fare and still keep it family-run today.
Their large menu offers ravioli, spaghetti, creamy alfredo, seafood cannelloni, rigatoni Parmigiana and homemade meatballs. It’s always an impossible decision, but we can’t help but point you towards the cheese manicotti. This American-Italian pasta actually translates to “cooked hands,” referring to cooks’ tendency to burn themselves when making them originally by rolling hot crepes. Here, and without bodily injury, homemade spinach pasta is shaped into long tubes and stuffed with ricotta and Parmesan cheese, then topped with red sauce and more cheese before being baked.
Go for the full American-Italian restaurant experience, red-checked tablecloths and all. Order a chianti and soak up the ambiance, either indoors where you can check out the wall-sized murals, or if weather permits, on the charming tree-lined patio under strings of lights.
434 N. Fourth Ave., (520) 624-5765, carusositalian.com
Menu must: Spinach Pappardelle
Sometimes simple goes a long way and makes the strongest impression. Wildflower, a long-standing Fox Concepts restaurant, is known for its seasonally-inspired and carefully-curated menu offerings, but one dish, in particular, stands out thanks to its rustic simplicity. If you ask Executive Chef Kevin Handt what it is that makes patrons come back time and again for the Spinach Pappardelle, he’ll point to just that.
“A sauce made quickly in the pan out of just a few ingredients, roasted chicken, a handful of fresh baby spinach, melted tomato and some Parmesan — you can’t beat it,” Handt shares. Don’t forget the wide, bright green pappardelle pasta made with fresh spinach daily. The melted tomato — prepared by roasting a cut tomato with just olive oil, salt, and pepper — gives the dish a unique flavor, thanks to the acids that break down in the cooking process and give way to a smoother, sweeter taste.
Chef Handt can’t argue with the popularity of this particular dish: “When any guest or server comes in and asks me what I suggest or what to order, I always recommend the Spinach Pappardelle. It is easily one of my favorite dishes in the restaurant and quickly becomes everybody else’s favorite once they’ve tasted it.”
This summer Wildflower will celebrate 20 years in the Old Pueblo, a testament to their well-established spot among favorite local eateries. If you’ve always ordered the slow-braised beef short rib, or previously refused to stray from other favorites like the wood-grilled steak, now is the time to make a delicious exception.
7037 N. Oracle Rd., (520) 219-4230, foxrc.com
Menu must: Lemon Honey Tart
At the foot of “A” Mountain, in one of the city’s most quintessentially “Tucson” courtyards, you’ll find a restaurant so dedicated to using local and sustainable ingredients that its menu shifts regularly. Agustín Kitchen has been serving up new American cuisine for more than four years. And although there are about two dozen reasons on their menu you should visit, it’s one of their desserts that you really can’t live without.
The lemon honey tart is a heavenly handful of flavors, starting with tangy and sweet lemon, which is countered and enhanced with smooth Chantilly cream. Add to that the crisp flavor of cranberry sauce and a buttery sage shortbread crust, and there’s not much more you could ask for.
Sally Kane, owner/operating manager of Agustín, points out that they love to be inventive yet regularly honor tradition. “We change the menu seasonally and make efforts to keep ourselves and our guests inspired, but we also always pay a deeply-felt homage to the classics,” she explains. “For example, we make our own anisette and have the most delicious classic mussels.”
The restaurant and surrounding Mercado itself, although not old, have a distinctly charming and historic feel. In fact, as the Mission District at the west end of the streetcar line prepares to burst with activity and mixed-use development, their mantra has been that they’re building a future historic district. All that said, this is one restaurant where you’ll want to take your time, soak up your surroundings and definitely save room for dessert.
100 S. Avenida del Convento #150, (520) 398-5382
Union Public House
Menu must: Meatloaf
Mac and cheese, poutine and meatloaf, oh my! Stylishly-done comfort food abounds at Union Public House in scenic St. Philip’s Plaza. But the one dish we can’t let you visit without ordering is their meatloaf.
Here they clearly realize that the right spin on a classic can be a winning formula: their meatloaf is made from fresh ground beef and pork belly, served atop a bed of roasted garlic whipped potatoes, green beans, caramelized onions and heirloom cherry tomatoes. The dish is then finished with a mushroom gravy that’s certain to win over even the most gravy-averse.
Part of what makes this unique and consistently well-executed is the scratch-kitchen approach, as owner/operator Steve Stratigouleas points out. “We make everything ourselves here and take our time. Nothing is frozen, instead coming from local and sustainable sources whenever possible.”
Since opening in 2011, Union Public House has drawn regulars and new converts alike with its American comfort food angle. Other dishes worth checking out include soft pretzels with Kilt Lifter Ale cheese sauce, braised pork osso buco, a roasted chicken pot pie, chicken and waffles, several pizzas and a killer Union Burger topped with cheddar, pickled onion and bacon jam.
It also doesn’t hurt that both the large dining room windows and wrap-around porch look out into the center of St. Philip’s courtyard, or that the bar offers 30 beers on tap as well as handcrafted cocktails.
4340 N. Campbell Ave., (520) 329-8575,
Cafe Poca Cosa
Menu must: Plato Poca Cosa
If there’s one restaurant that every visitor to Tucson has already heard and read about — and promptly asks to be taken to — it’s Cafe Poca Cosa. More than 30 years ago, this restaurant entered Tucson’s league of memorable Mexican cuisine and has only further cemented its place in the ranks in the decades since.
In this elegant modern spot, you won’t find your usual Sonoran-style Mexican fare, as chef/owner Suzana Davila explains. “I would describe the cuisine as rooted in all of the regions in Mexico — a mix of my father’s recipes, my travels through the country tasting and learning, all with my own personal twist.”
The best way to choose from the menu is actually to not choose. The Plato Poca Cosa is basically the chef’s choice. Roll the dice, and trust that the three items on your plate will be fantastic. “When I first opened, my father would invite guests into the kitchen if they couldn’t decide on one item and let them try a few different items,” Davila recalls. After this sampling grew so popular, they decided to add it to the menu.
Some regularly recurring dishes you’ll find on this plato are the pollo en mole negro (chicken in mole sauce), pastel del elote (a savory corn cake) and several asadas or fish dishes. “I love that they don’t get to choose. It’s a wonderful surprise, like eating at the chef’s table,” Davila says.
110 E. Pennington St., (520) 622-6400
Menu must: Grand Marnier Soufflé
When a dessert translates loosely to “puff” or “breathe,” you know you’re in for a light and airy treat. Add the heady flavors of orange liqueur and there’s little that can compare. Such is true of the Grand Marnier Soufflé at long-time local French restaurant, Le Rendez-vous.
This traditional baked-egg dessert takes time to do right, which is why diners are asked ahead of time if they are interested in ordering the dish. If you wait until the dessert menu comes around, as Berger explains, you’ll be out of luck unless you intend to order a cocktail (maybe a Kir Royale or French 75) or port and wait it out.
Either way, the wait is worth it when you see the puff of soufflé rising up from its ramekin with a dusting of powdered sugar and dollop of cool sabayon whipped cream. “This dessert really stands out because it’s the epitome of a classic French dessert, as well as being fussy to make,” Chef/Owner Gordon Berger points out. “It’s the kind of dessert that can make a ‘garde manger’ (French for ‘keeper of the food’) wake up in the middle of the night.”
“Since 1981, this place has been a mom-and-pop, classic French restaurant, which is rare in Tucson,” explains Berger. If you like your escargot in a white-tablecloth, flambé-tableside setting, make sure to ask for a seat in the main dining room. But if you’d prefer to savor those snails along with tapas-style small plates, head in to the newer bistro area.
3844 E. Fort Lowell Rd., (520) 323-7373
Maynards Market & Kitchen
Menu must: Beignets
This eatery, located in downtown Tucson’s historic train depot, prides itself on its rotating and locally sourced menus. But something you can usually count on making an appearance on their brunch menu: the beignets. “Everyone loves to see a sweet dish in the sea of savory dishes on a brunch menu,” says Senior Marketing & Events Manager Dalice Shepard.
Among the omelets and benedicts that you’d expect for brunch, you’ll find these pillowy French cousins of the donut. They’re made with a classic pâte à choux pastry dough then fried until they puff up and turn golden brown — and will likely take you right back to that trip to the Big Easy or even France. Maynards, however, then makes the dish its own with some rather decadent finishes: house-made Nutella ganache and bourbon caramel.
Balance out your sweet treat with one of Maynards’ unique brunch offerings, like steak served with pan-roasted foie gras, smoked maple syrup and potato and duck confit hash. Make sure to leave enough time to enjoy the sunny patio with a blood orange or white peach Bellini, all while listening to the trains rumble by.
400 N. Toole Ave., (520) 545-0577, maynardstucson.com