More For Le$$

Biscuits Country Café’s Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes
with house-made cream cheese icing.

Crusty Baguette and olive oil at 47 Scott.

The Tequila Shrimp Tacos at Casa Del Rio.

 

With all the culinary adventures and must-tries across the Old Pueblo, there’s no reason you can’t get a taste of the action without breaking the bank. We’ve rounded up a colorful array of menu items around town that offer a solid — and affordable — place to start.

Biscuits Country Café

Tucked into the southwest corner of Kolb and Broadway, Biscuits Country Café is the epitome of the all-American diner (it also happens to be fully decked out in patriotic colors, from the booths to the art). This local favorite has been around for 25 years, the last 10 of which Bryan and Terry Drake have proudly owned and operated.

“We’ve grown quite a bit, in fact by about 4,000 square feet,” Bryan shares. Besides expanding and remodeling, he and wife Terry also have grown their well-deserved fan club. “We have a great customer base, a lot of regulars and people who have helped us grow this business by word of mouth.”

So, seated in one of the diner’s red-and-blue vinyl booths, what should you order? The menu includes all of the traditional breakfast dishes you’d expect to find: eggs however you like ’em, bacon, pancakes and waffles, chicken-fried steak, French toast, grits, biscuits and gravy. In addition, Biscuits offers several inventive and well-stuffed omelets, such as the Cow Poke (with onions, cheese and homemade chili) and the Philly Cheesesteak (complete with bell peppers and Swiss).

But, if you ask us, there’s no question that you and your wallet will love the Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes ($5.99). After living on the restaurant’s specials board for quite a while, the dish finally made its way to the permanent menu, which also includes pancakes made with chocolate chips, bananas and walnuts, blueberries and even bacon.

To the standard buttermilk pancake batter, the kitchen adds a heady swirl of cinnamon, sugar, butter, nutmeg and brown sugar. While the flavor profile of the pancakes themselves is reminiscent of French toast, Biscuits then elevates this sweet stack by adding a drizzle of cream cheese icing and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Make sure to come back again during lunch to face another dilemma: what kind of sandwich do you order from a menu that reads like the who’s-who of classic sandwiches? From open-faced roast beef or pastrami on rye to a tall-stacked club or tuna melt, there’s no wrong choice — just don’t forget to add a milkshake or malt.

7026 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 290-2556, biscuitscountrycafe.com

Trident Grill

Trident Grill is an all-occasions standby, its easygoing atmosphere perfect for watching the game or a celebratory night out. Think bustling sports bar with a killer menu and bartenders who know what they’re doing. That’s why they are the first stop on our tour, and we recommend you go straight to the Buffalo chicken sliders on the happy hour menu.

These smaller versions of a full-sized sandwich are served during happy hour ($4) as well as on the regular menu ($6). They boast a perfect blend of tanginess and spice thanks to the special house H1 sauce, which Kitchen Manager Bobby Duffek describes as “a spicier wing sauce.” Sliders are topped with bleu cheese crumbles and served on a brioche bun. “There’s almost a sweetness to the bread we use, which helps balance it all out,” Duffek says.

But don’t stop there. The happy hour menu at Trident Grill offers many other smaller bites on the cheap, like the Mini Brawt Burger, buttermilk chicken tenders, or crispy fish tacos (all $5). Or go for the fried pickles with ranch dip, or maybe the fries loaded with cheese, bacon, and green onions ($4). Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday, and also offers specials on the 24 domestic and craft beers on tap.

For visits outside of happy hour, you can’t go wrong with one of the massive half-pound burgers made with grass-fed beef and served with Old Bay fries. The T-Town burger boasts avocado and chipotle mayonnaise, while the aptly named Voodoo Daddy packs a punch with andouille sausage and Cajun mustard. Trident’s seafood offerings range from oysters on the half shell and crab cakes to peel-and-eat shrimp and a one-pound serving of mussels in coconut curry broth.

Multiple locations, visit tridentgrill.com

47 Scott

When brainstorming places to dine out on a budget, 47 Scott may not immediately come to mind. For many, this sleek eatery is more of a date night or birthday brunch locale. But there is also plenty to order here that won’t strain your budget.

As one of the first few restaurants to open downtown and bet on the area’s eventual resurgence, 47 Scott (named for its street address) excels in both the food and ambience departments. And with its speakeasy-inspired sister next door, Scott & Co., they’ve created quite the unstoppable pairing. So what to order?

For those looking to graze, the house cheese slate is a perfect place to start. As co-owner Travis Reese explains, “We serve up house-made ricotta salata-style soft cheese with a lemon oil drizzled on top, as well as fresh house-made mozzarella. The cheese is served with seasonal jam (also made in-house) along with sliced baguette toast and Kalamata olive bread.”

At just $7, this plate is a well-balanced offering. But if you’re looking for something even simpler, the restaurant also offers crispy baguette with olive oil for dipping for just $1. The happy hour menu also provides several small-bite options, such as a stack of grilled cheese ($7), a cup of tomato basil soup ($5) or pomme frites ($4).

No visit to 47 Scott would be complete without one of the handmade, inspired spirits from Scott & Co. The word “cocktail” doesn’t quite do justice to their artfully crafted drinks, so choose wisely from the menu’s categories. Tiki, Originals, Expats, Golden Era or Modern Classics — what’ll it be?

47 Scott Ave., (520) 624-4747, 47scott.com

Black Bear Diner

Although Tucson’s Black Bear Diner opened its doors just seven months ago, this California-based chain has been a comfort food staple since the company’s founding in 1995. Now with 106 locations in nine states, it’s clear they’ve discovered a magic combination. The intention behind the first location in Mount Shasta, California, was to build a menu around classic home-cooked dishes. That means you’re in luck if you’ve got a craving for meatloaf, ribs or even a hot turkey plate with potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce to tide you over until next Thanksgiving.

One such dish you would expect to find in your mother’s favorite rotation is the slow-cooked pot roast. As Assistant Manager Michael Miller explains, “We slow cook the beef and add in chunks of carrot, celery, onions and red-skin potatoes.” We recommend bringing either your best appetite or best friend for this endeavor, as the serving is quite substantial.

As with most traditional entrées offered here, the roast comes with soup or salad, and then your choice of two sides and a cornbread muffin. If you can’t decide between mashed potatoes and gravy or green beans and onion rings, you just don’t have to. You can also order a smaller portion from the “Little Less” section of the menu, but the full size is perfect for sharing.

Not in the mood for pot roast? You can always go with the diner’s most popular dish: Bigfoot Chicken-Fried Steak. Prepared just like you would make it at home, the chicken fried steak is so tender you can cut it with a fork, according to Miller.

If you still have room, the dessert goodies available include cobbler or pie baked in the kitchen daily — just like Grandma made!

6095 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 790-8881, blackbeardiner.com

Tucson Tamale Company

There is something wonderful to be said for a restaurant that focuses on and masters just one thing. When Tucson Tamale Company opened the doors of its first location 10 years ago, owner Todd Martin knocked the tamale game out of the park.  

Martin shares that as a child, the canned version of tamales was a regular pantry staple in his family home. It wasn’t until moving to Tucson as an adult that he encountered his first tamale-making party, and the rest was history.

Once Martin perfected the traditional tamale, he began playing around with ingredients. He eventually discovered a way to make tamales without lard by substituting expeller-pressed non-GMO canola oil. The result is just as fluffy, but slightly lighter.

Now with three locations, Tucson Tamale Company offers a myriad of flavor options. They are broken down into three categories — meaty, veggie, and vegan — and include offerings such as black bean and cheese, vegetable curry, red chile beef, and the most popular and more traditional green chile and cheese. For just $6.89 (or $7.89 with two additional sides), you can pick two tamales of any flavor, but we challenge you to narrow it down to just two.

These days you can also get your burrito, nacho or quesadilla fix from the growing menu. Tamale salads and even dessert tamales are available, too.

Multiple locations, tucsontamale.com

Casa del Rio Mexican Restaurant

Ready for the eastside to let one of their best-kept secrets out of the bag? In an unassuming shopping center near Pantano Road and 22nd Street sits the go-to Mexican restaurant for families all over Tucson. Casa del Rio has quietly and steadily served both traditional fare and some offerings more unique within our city’s sizable Mexican-food arena.

After opening the “house by the river” 39 years ago, owner Doug Jackson has no doubt watched patrons grow up enjoying — and now bringing their own children to sample — the must-try house salsa. Once you whet your appetite with the chips and salsa and you’ve scanned the menu, you can go with the traditional red or green chile con carne (take note: the green sauce is the spicy one) or maybe a chimichanga or Mexican pizza.

But if you’re up for something a little unexpected (and easy on the wallet), consider trying the tequila shrimp taco with rice and beans ($7.75) for lunch. The shrimp in these tasty bites is marinated, grilled, and topped with pico de gallo for a final punch of flavor. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, take Jackson’s word for it: “The tequila shrimp taco is quite popular with both our regulars and winter visitors alike.”  

You also may be tempted by the other tried-and-true Sonoran-style offerings, such as fajitas, tamales and enchiladas. Nothing here is made with vendor-prepared or frozen ingredients, which reflects the restaurant’s commitment to great food, value and service.

1060 S. Pantano Blvd., (520) 296-2309, cdrtucson.com

Paco’s

There is surely no paucity of choices for quick Mexican food on the go in Tucson. But if you haven’t already checked out Paco’s, make sure you add this well-loved spot into your rotation. Here you can order any manner of burritos, tortas, tacos or combination plates.

For the money, however, we suggest you go straight to the items so good they’re available all day: breakfast burritos. Large flour tortillas can be stuffed with the breakfast goods of your choosing for $4.89 (a little more for steak) such as chorizo, cheese, ham, bacon, potatoes and machaca. These extra thin yet sturdy tortillas are filled with eggs, your protein of choice and optional cheese (believe us, you want cheese), and then wrapped in paper for a handy way to enjoy. And if your appetite is no match for Paco’s hardy portion sizes, everything can be split or saved as leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

In case you missed it, this is a drive-thru or order-at-the-counter kind of no-nonsense spot with a loyal following — and for good reason.

5563 E. Grant Rd., (520) 733-5935 tl