Author: tucsonlifestyl

Digging Up a Diagnosis

Valley fever can affect people, pets and livestock here in Southern Arizona, and can be hard to diagnose.

The University of Arizona’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence and Banner Health have created a tutorial to help local physicians speed up the process. Here’s what you need to know about this pervasive disease.

By Anne Kellogg | Photography by Kris Hanning

It can come on like the flu but may take weeks or months to run its course.  In rare cases, Valley fever can result in severe lung issues or meningitis.  Its symptoms mimic many other illnesses — such as rheumatism and even cancer — causing patients to undergo painful testing and unneeded treatment with antibiotics or steroids.  John Galgiani, M.D., director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, professor of medicine in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases at the UA Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix, member of the UA BIO5 Institute and medical director of the Banner — University Medicine Valley Fever Program, has developed a way to assist physicians in the timely diagnosis of this challenging disease.

What is Valley Fever?

Have you experienced a fever, profuse sweating at night, chest pain and cough, muscle and joint aches — especially in the ankles and knees — loss of appetite, and a rash that resembles measles or hives?  You In Health may have thought you had the flu, but these symptoms also are those of Valley fever, which is caused by spores that live in the soil in Southern Arizona.  In addition to areas of our state, Valley fever can occur in semi-arid and arid soils of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas, as well as the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico, and Central and South America.

The corridor between Tucson and Phoenix is one of the most endemic regions for Valley fever, so the University of Arizona’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence (VFCE) was established by the Arizona Board of Regents in 1996 to promote education, research and care for this disease.  Dr. Galgiani explains that Valley fever is a difficult disease to detect and treat, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Its medical name, coccidioidomycosis, means fungal infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides . The name is often shortened to “Cocci” (pronounced “kok-see”).  This organism grows in the top six inches of soils in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures and Moderate winter temperatures.  In susceptible people or animals, infection occurs when a spore is inhaled.

Infection by the spores doesn’t always lead to detectable disease.  In nearly 60 percent of cases, the symptoms are so mild that individuals may not even realize they are infected.  In the remaining cases, symptoms may range from uncomfortable to miserable to even fatal.  It occasionally can develop into a severe, life-threatening form that may involve skin, bones, or other parts of the body, as well as the brain.  Overall statistics for Valley fever show about 150,000 infections per year, with only one-quarter of one percent contracting meningitis (i.e., roughly two cases per thousand), but increased numbers of cases cause a corresponding increase in serious disease.  Serious forms of the infection require anti fungal therapy.

The diagnosis of this disease is complicated because of the way the lungs respond to the inhaled spores.  Initially the infection causes a pneumonia, which sometimes can turn into a lung nodule or even a

The catheterization lab at Tucson Medical Center.

cavity.  Nodules are small, residual patches of infection that generally appear as single lesions (from one, to one and a half inches, in diameter).  If it is documented that the nodule is caused by Valley fever, no other treatment is required.  However, if the original Valley fever infection goes undiagnosed and the nodule is found on a chance X-ray, it looks no different fromfrom a lung cancer, and a physician may suggest biopsy or even removal.  Nodules caused by cocci can remain forever.  Those who had a mild case may have no symptoms or scarring.  Cavities occur in about 5 percent of patients, and may cause the patient to cough blood or have other chest symptoms.  For some patients, the best management is to have the cavity surgically removed.

In Arizona, infection is likely to occur from May to July and again following Monsoon season, from October to the end of December.  Those in occupations that involve disturbing the soil (such as construction, agriculture or archeology), as well as recreational gardeners, may be at greater risk of contracting the disease.

Two-thirds of all U.S. Valley fever infections occur in Arizona.  Roughly 75 percent occur in Maricopa county, with 20 percent or so occurring in Pima County.  According to Arizona Department of Health Statistics, those susceptible to the most serious consequences of Valley fever include people on chemotherapy, on immune suppression medications because of organ transplant, the elderly, or those with immunodeficiency, such as AIDS.

The Benefits of Early Diagnosis

A primary reason for diagnosing early is removing the patient’s fear of the unknown.  Patients suffering from these long-lasting Respiratory symptoms often undergo multiple diagnostic blood tests, chest X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, bronchoscopy, percutaneous fine-needle aspiration, and even thoracotomies.  They often are prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics from their primary care physicians.  In one study, 81 percent of patients with Valley fever pneumonia received at least one course, and 31 percent received multiple courses.  In addition to the cost, it can create antibiotic resistance.  Another issue is doctors prescribing corticosteroids for the rheumatologic complaints (a synonym for Valley fever is “desert rheumatism”).  The anti-inflammatory effects of corticosteroids may create adverse reactions in patients, as well as increasing the chances of Valley fever complications.

Developing the Tutorial

Out of the need to get Valley fever patients treated early and effectively, Dr. Galgiani and his cohorts at the VFCE teamed with Banner Health to help physicians.  “I am quite excited about this — it’s one of the most positive things to come out of the merger between Banner Health and the University of Arizona faculty medical group,” Dr. Galgiani enthuses.  “Banner Health has specific clinical practices that they share with all of their physicians, and the Valley Fever Center for Excellence developed this information for local and national dissemination.  This will help doctors in other states whose patients visited our area and now have respiratory symptoms associated with Valley fever.

“We spent last year in a planning process, where we designed and refined the ABCs of what a primary care physician should do to diagnose Valley fever early and manage it correctly.  This past September we held a webinar on the topic, and we’ll be training Banner physicians all year.  VFCE is a department of the University of Arizona, not part of Banner, so we’ve made all the tools we developed in this process publically available to any doctor who wants to do what we’re doing.”

The new approach for recognizing and treating a new Valley fever infection is centered around the acronym COCCI:

Consider the diagnosis
Order the right tests
Check for risk factors
Check for complications
Initiate management

Physicians are encouraged to consider Valley fever if any of the following indications are present:

  • Respiratory symptoms and at least one of the following:
    • more than one office visit
    • chest X-ray ordered
    • antibiotics prescribed
  • Two of the following have been present for a prolonged period: fever, fatigue and/or arthralgia (joint pain)
  • High numbers of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) found in a blood sample
  • Skin rashes known as erythema nodosum or erythema multiforme

The tutorial and all the other resources created for the clinical practice training can be accessed online at https://vfce.arizona. edu/education/banner-valley-fever-clinical- practice-toolbox.

For more information on the new UA/ Banner clinical practice protocols, see the Valley Fever Clinical Practice Toolbox at the VFCE website, which includes the webinar mentioned earlier.

The protocols were developed with assistance from David Valenzuela, M.D., a Phoenix-area family practice physician, clinical assistant professor at the UA College of Medicine — Phoe

nix and the physician executive who heads Banner Medical Group Primary Care.

As part of the effort, Dr. Galgiani and Fariba Donovan, M.D., Ph.D., another VFCE researcher and faculty physician with the UA Division of Infectious Diseases, are providing small group training sessions for six to 12 clinicians each at 39 Banner Health clinical sites across the State.

They completed about a half dozen sessions by the end of January.

I Want a New Drug…

“There have been no recent breakthroughs or changes in the antifungals that are used in Valley fever,” Dr. Galgiani notes.  “There are a lot of divergent opinions on whether to start patients on fluconazole … it depends on the patient’s clinical presentation.  The antifungal treatments don’t cure it — they can help, but only by suppressing it.  If the patient’s immune system doesn’t ‘step up to the challenge’ when the antifungal drugs are stopped, those who really needed treatment will relapse.”

Researchers at UA have been working on a drug called nikkomycin Z as a new treatment for fungal infections, particularly Cocci.  “It works by blocking an enzyme that is important in making the cell wall,” Dr. Galgiani explains.  “An key part of the cell wall is ‘chitin.’ Chitin is made by an enzyme called chitin synthase, and nikkomycin Z blocks that enzyme.  In that regard it’s similar to penicillin, which acts by blocking formation of the cell wall of a bacterium.”

Because this drug’s most important use would be for Valley fever here in the Southwest, which isn’t a worldwide disease, drug companies haven’t had a strong incentive to develop it.

“We’re trying very hard to get it back into clinical trials, and have been making progress, but the bottom line is that it needs more financial support than we’ve been able to get.  The National Institutes of Health has been very supportive, but they’re not a pharmaceutical company.

They want this drug to go forward, but we haven’t yet gotten the support to do it.  It’s frustrating … we hope to find a pharmaceutical company that would be willing to partner with us.”

When a medication or a vaccine is created for human use, it must go through many clinical trials and intense scrutiny by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).  Drugs for dogs and other veterinary purposes also require FDA approval.  However, veterinary vaccines are cleared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  “Work on an effective vaccine for the prevention of Valley fever has been ongoing for decades,” says Dr. Galgiani.  “Currently, we have a vaccine candidate that shows excellent protection in mice.  We are proceeding through the steps to bring this Vaccine through USDA approval for use in our canine patients.  That itself would be a wonderful accomplishment.  Just as exciting, if our vaccine candidate is found to protect dogs from Valley fever, that will add to the evidence that a similar vaccine might ultimately be used to protect ourselves.”

Work on the vaccine is being coordinated through the following VFCE research partners: Marc Orbach, Ph.D., Jeffrey Frelinger, Ph.D., and Lisa Shubitz, DVM, at the University of Arizona; Colorado State University’s Richard Bowen, DVM, Ph.D.; and Anivive Lifesciences Inc., a Californiabased biotechnology company that licensed the vaccine in 2017 from the UA through Tech Launch Arizona, the university unit that helps commercialize innovations developed at UA.

Getting the Word Out

In addition to helping physicians diagnose Valley fever earlier, the Valley Fever Center for Excellence (VFCE) at the University of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Health Services (AzDHS) also are trying to educate the public.

For example, a billboard will go up this month in Phoenix with the words ““Pneumonia or flu for weeks? It could be Valley fever. Ask your doctor for the test.”

The campaign is being funded by a grant from IMMY, a Norman, Oklahoma-based firm that specializes in high-quality diagnostic tools for diseases caused by fungi such as Aspergillus, Blastomyces, Candida, Coccidioides, Cryptococcus and Histoplasma.

It’s coordinated through the VFCE; Kenneth Komatsu, M.P.H., state epidemiologist and chief of the Office of Infectious Diseases with the AzDHS Division of Public Health Preparedness; and Rebecca Sunenshine, M.D., a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, epidemiology field officer for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and medical director of disease control for Maricopa County Public Health.

Look for the billboard along Interstate 10 or the 202 Loop in Phoenix starting March 4.

Fore a Worthy Cause

From February 27th to March 3rd, PGA TOUR Champions will vie for the coveted Conquistadore Helmet trophy in the Cologuard Classic, and Southern Arizona’s kids will benefit.

By Joan Liess

Defending Cologuard Classic champ Steve Stricker describes Tucson as a “neat place” and a “great town” for good reason.  Stricker visited an aunt in Tucson for years.  “I’d come out to see her, play in some of the mini tour events and try to qualify for the Tucson Open.” Stricker eventually played in seven Tucson Open events from 1992 through 2001, and had some memorable moments.  “In 1994, I had a chance coming down the stretch.  Just needed to make a birdie on the back but finished

second,” he recalls.  “It’s a great feeling to finally put that helmet on.”

He will have stiff competition this year.  “We’re expecting, once again, to be one of the strongest fields on PGA TOUR Champions,” says Executive Director Judy McDermott.  The Conquistadores received commitments from World Golf Hall of Fame members, former champions, Charles Schwab Cup winners, and some of the top-ranked golfers on tour.

Steve Stricker.
Photo by J. Martin Harris.

Two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen is just one of those exceptional commitments.  The prolific South African golfer, wine maker and golf course designer just recently turned 50 and will compete on the Catalina Course for the first time.  He did, however, have a previous visit to Tucson.  Goosen played through the quarter finals in the World Golf Championships — Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in 2010.

The field also includes one of the world’s best known golfers — Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, making his Tucson debut.  The Ulsterman claims three PGA TOUR victories, including an Open Championship, 15 International wins and a plethora of national team successes.  The fun-loving Clarke has his priorities.  “When I had my choice of being on the golf course for my 50th birthday or being on the beach in the Bahamas, the beach sort of won that battle.”

Baseball hall of famer John Smoltz (Atlanta Braves) traded his pitcher’s glove for a golf glove a few years back.  Now, thanks to a sponsor’s exemption, he’s playing in the Cologuard Classic.  The workhorse right-hander said of his former career, “I literally gave everything I had every single time I went out there.” No doubt that sentiment applies to being on the links, too.

Fans also can count on three-time PGA TOUR Champion Jerry Kelly to be in the hunt for the helmet trophy.  Kelly shared second place with Gene Sauers and Scot Dunlap in 2018.  As a spokesperson for Exact Sciences, the manufacturer of Cologuard, Kelly also is raising the bar on his co

mpetitors when it comes to colon cancer screening.  “My wife is a cancer survivor,” he says.

“Everybody that we know has been touched by cancer in some way.  It feels like an opportunity to make more people aware of colorectal cancer and get them tested.”

Retief Goosen.
Photo by PGA Tour/Getty Images


Jose Cuervo Pro-Am

Gates open at 7 a.m.

Country duo Chris Lucas and Preston Brust of LOCASH. Photo courtesy LOCASH.

Jose Cuervo Pro-Am

Gates open at 7 a.m

Cologuard Classic First Round

Gates open at 9 a.m
Opening Ceremony on First Tee 10 a.m.
After-Party Following Play, 19th Hole
Party Pavilion

Cologuard Classic Second Round
Dress in Blue Day

Gates open at 9 a.m
LOCASH Concert – Driving Range

Cologuard Classic Final Round

Gates open at 9 a.m
Awards Ceremony and Trophy
Presentation on 18th

Tickets and Information:; (800) 882-7660

Feels Like a Party

Saturday, Mar. 2, After the Last Putt Drops

LOCASH’s new country-rock single, Feels Like a Party, says it all.  This year’s shindig is going to be a rocking good time.  The party site is the big, beautiful Catalina Course Practice Range.

Preston Brust and Chris Lucas are the voices of LOCASH.  The duo has soldout concerts and tasted the top of the chart as Nashville’s quickest-rising singer-songwriters.  Georgia-born country singer Craig Campbell opens the show after the last putt drops.  Special guests include our men and women in uniform.  Get tickets on

John Daly with spectator. Photo by Chris Mooney.

Play Along

It’s typical to experience first-tee nerves when you’re playing a round with a PGA TOUR Champion legend.  The good news is you don’t have to play like a pro to have an unforgettable experience at the Jose Cuervo Pro-Am.

The evening before the first Pro-Am, amateurs and pros get to know each other at a pairings party.  This two-day golf event matches amateur players with a different PGA TOUR Champion each day.  Yes, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a guaranteed good deed — the real winners are local kids.

Proceeds from the Jose Cuervo Pro-Am and the tournament benefit youth athletic programs and charities.  “Since 1962, the Tucson Conquistadores have been raising money for youth sports in Southern Arizona,” says Conquistadores President Rob Draper.  “Tournament proceeds also will benefit the First Tee of Tucson, which uses the game of golf to prepare kids for life,” he adds.  “Now in our 57th year, the Conquistadores have raised more than $35 million.”

Proceeds from the Jose Cuervo Pro-Am and the tournament benefit youth athletic programs and charities.  “Since 1962, the Tucson Conquistadores have been raising money for youth sports in Southern Arizona,” says Conquistadores President Rob Draper.  “Tournament proceeds also will benefit the First Tee of Tucson, which uses the game of golf to prepare kids for life,” he adds.  “Now in our 57th year, the Conquistadores have raised more than $35 million.”

Smile, You’re on TV

Considering that the Cologuard Classic is a world-wide televised event, looking and acting your best is a smart move.  Fans know to plan for the weather, wear comfortable walking shoes and not leave home without sunscreen and sunglasses.  Fortunately for fans and players alike, navigating the Catalina course at Omni Tucson National Resort is a breeze.

The fan-friendly setup throughout the venue is a result of the Tucson Conquistadores’ 53 years of experience staging golf events, 35 of which were held at Omni Tucson National.  “Generations of Conquistadores have invested their time and talents to make this tournament the best it can be,” says Tournament Chairman Clint Buckelew.  “Our guys roll up their sleeves and get the job done.” Buckelew also praises the contributions of volunteers.  “This event requires service in more than 20 different areas on and off the course,” he observes.  “We couldn’t be successful without them.”

Special Events

Dress in Blue Day


March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  Players, announcers and fans will wear blue to shine a spotlight on colon cancer, a disease that claims the lives of more than 50,000 Americans each year.  The first 10,000 fans will receive a free colon cancer awareness star pin.

50-50 Hole-In-One Challenge


Age 50 is when colon cancer screening is commonly recommended to begin.  The Cologuard Classic is marking that milestone with a special charitable connection.  If one of the pros makes a hole in one on the 16th hole on Saturday, $50,000 will be donated to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and $50,000 to The First Tee of Tucson.

Celebrity Foursome


Golf fans are in for a big surprise.  The last group on the final nine holes on Saturday won’t be PGA TOUR Champions players.  Instead, a celebrity foursome will play a 9-hole scramble and meet you at the finish line.

By The Way

One couple’s regular trip from Mexico to Tucson led them to take up residence in a new (old) community.


Over the years, Dhana and Gene Waken have owned houses in scenic places, including Napa, California, and Maui, Hawaii. But four years ago, while traveling between their Alamos and Tucson homes, they stopped in Tubac and discovered another place to put down roots. The drive from Alamos to Tucson sometimes seemed very long for the Wakens, and on one trip Gene joked, as they were approaching Tubac, “If we lived here, we’d be home by now!” They pulled off the interstate and took a quick drive through the newer Barrio de Tubac neighborhood, falling in love with — and eventually purchasing — a Spanish Colonial home on a quiet cul de sac. The village, known for its arts community, provides a tremendously convenient location for the couple — just 60 miles to Tucson and 17 miles to the border. Although they sold their Tucson property, they periodically visit the Old Pueblo to see their physicians, friends and acquaintances. The couple kept their Alamos home, too, and Dhana still has an antique shop in that area. When asked how she selects items for her shop, she notes, “I buy things I would love in my home and hope someone else is inspired by my finds.”

The fireplace is the focal point of the Great Room. A large Persian rug, circa 1920, is flanked by a pair of modern upholstered sofas.
The fireplace is the focal point of the Great Room. A large Persian rug, circa 1920, is flanked by a pair of modern upholstered sofas.
Blue (left) and Kikkoman (on an antique 17th century church bench from Paris) eagerly await the arrival of guests.
Blue (left) and Kikkoman (on an antique 17th century church bench from Paris) eagerly await the arrival of guests.

The couple’s dogs, Blue and Kikkoman, love to romp from the main house through the courtyard to visit Gene in his office.

Wisteria vines offer a backdrop for casual outdoor dining.
Wisteria vines offer a backdrop for casual outdoor dining.

The Frenchstyle graveled courtyard is a terrific space for outdoor entertaining.

It was Tubac’s scenery that drew them to the city, but they really fell for the house, which was featured on a recent home tour. Dhana has decorated their three-bedroom casa with treasures in a mix of styles from many cultures. “I love unusual pieces, such as a 15th century Bishop’s robe closet,” she says. She has found interesting and beautiful items in local shops, including Pancho’s Resource & Design, Angeles y Diablitos and Jane’s Attic. One of the appeals of the home is how interior and exterior spaces blend. “I love the inner courtyard and open floor plan,” says Dhana. “It has lots of windows and doors that lead to the center garden.” There’s even a casita for Gene’s office off the center space. He owned an engineering firm for more than four decades, and still consults. The couple’s dogs, Blue and Kikkoman, love to romp from the main house through the courtyard to visit him in his office. The backyard slants down toward the wooded Anza Trail on the Santa Cruz River. “We would like to build a bocce court in the backyard someday,” observes Dhana. The area is visited by local wildlife, and the Wakens have sighted deer, javelinas, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and coatimundi. In addition to being a Master Gardener and floral designer, Dhana also is a dedicated and enthusiastic hostess. Gene is of Lebanese heritage, and Dhana enjoys utilizing his family recipes in her entertaining (see Entertaining at Home on page 26 for some of her favorite recipes).

Tubac and Forth

A poolside view of Russell Palmer and Alec White’s Tubac-area home.
A poolside view of Russell Palmer
and Alec White’s Tubac-area home.

Southern Arizona proved to be the perfect location for a couple from California to build their future.


Russell Palmer and Alec White lived and worked in Santa Barbara for many years, but they dreamed of building a home in Southern Arizona. Their combined creativity is on full display in their Spanish Colonial casa south of Tubac in the Morning Star Ranch development.

Imagine a central courtyard-style hacienda — with modern amenities — sited to take advantage of views of the nearby mountain ranges. Surrounding this fabulous home are 40 acres dotted with native mesquites, Mexican blue oaks and ocotillo. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Russell, who had worked in the music industry and studio electronics, recently began selling real estate. Alec is a landscaper who managed the grounds of a major historical home when they lived in Santa Barbara. For several years prior to moving to Arizona and starting the building process, the duo made a lengthy list of their must-haves for a desert home, borrowing extensively from favorite features in their previous residences. “We chose what we liked best in each one,” says Russell. “Luckily, we have the same taste so most decisions were easy.” They continued revising the list until the first shovelful of soil was unearthed. The hacienda, built by Dorn Homes and nicknamed “Las Montañas” due to its surroundings, combines everything they love. The couple’s knowledge of architecture, horticulture and art history have been blended together perfectly to create a cohesive whole.

A traditional Mexican-style adobe wall edges the pool patio.
A traditional Mexican-style adobe wall edges the pool patio.
A tile-embellished wall fountain graces the entry patio.
A tile-embellished wall fountain graces the entry patio.

Built of concrete block and color-matched to the desert to mimic adobe, the result is a rustic aesthetic. Many elements of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Andalusian tradition are evident, such as wrought-iron metalwork, painted ceramic tiles and lavish landscaping.

A wide tiled stairway leads down to the front patio. The entryway features a large iron double doorway with a cantera stone surround.

Most of the home’s rooms can be accessed from the interior courtyard. Casement windows and French doors were carefully aligned to capture views and open to shaded loggias. Greta, the couple’s 17-year-old heeler, enjoys lying on the home’s stained and polished concrete floors.

A Rumford-style corner fireplace with cantera stone mantel is the focal point of the expansive Great Room, with its 22-foot-high ceilings. At its far end is an open-concept kitchen with a large central island topped with honed granite. Travertine backsplashes, a copper farm sink and colorful talavera tile give the room a casual feel. “We love to cook, and this design is perfect for entertaining,” Alec notes.


The open-concept kitchen is perfect for casual entertaining.
The open-concept kitchen is perfect for casual entertaining.
A Rumford-style fireplace with a cantera stone mantel is the focal point of the Great Room.
A Rumford-style fireplace with a cantera stone mantel is the focal point of the Great Room.
The heart of the home is the central courtyard, which features a large fireplace and containers of olive and citrus trees.
The heart of the home is the central courtyard, which features a large
fireplace and containers of olive and citrus trees.
Homeowners Russell (left) and Alec (right) with their heeler Greta.
Homeowners Russell (left) and Alec (right) with their heeler Greta.

Off the courtyard, one of the inner vestibules was designed to accommodate a large antique glass bookcase from Myanmar. This and a similar piece were purchased from Colonial Frontiers several years ago, and were chosen specifically for their Arizona home.

Alec’s expertise in landscape design shows in the home’s wraparound patio gardens, displaying native and desert-adapted species for year-round visual appeal.

The duo remains busy since finishing their home. From his home office, Russell is a realtor with eXp Realty in Tubac and Rio Rico. He enjoys assisting clients in finding retirement homes in quaint towns near Tubac, while Alec currently manages some of the grounds at Morning Star Ranch.

Their hacienda provides a restful ambience that both gentlemen adore. Russell concludes, “Even in the summer when everyone else wants to leave, we love watching the monsoons from our covered patios.”

Dining – Hungry for Amore

Reforma’s Chocolate Layer Cake.
Reforma’s Chocolate Layer Cake.


Candlelight, an intimate ambience, an exquisitely prepared dinner and possibly even a decadent dessert are the ingredients for a romantic dining out experience. Here are six tried-and-true local restaurants sure to inspire love.


Reforma Modern Mexican. Mezcal + Tequila

Whether you choose a spot on the picturesque patio overlooking St. Philip’s Plaza and its fountain, or a cozy place within the walls of Reforma’s urban chic interior, you’re in for a departure from your usual Sonoran-style Mexican eateries. Besides the difference in surroundings, the menu itself is inspired by the fresh flavors of central Mexico. While you look over the menu, Owner Grant Krueger recommends you take advantage of what he says is possibly one of the largest tequila selections in the state: “Start with a handselected tequila flight and let the servers take you through some of the finest agave spirits in the world.” From there, he opines that sharing is the way to go, so opt for the guacamole trio to start — an assortment of traditional sweet and spicy variations. And since romance often is synonymous with chocolate, why not go with the chicken mole, featuring deep flavors of chocolate and poblano. To ensure a delicious end to your special dinner with your sweetheart, linger over an order of the house-made churros

4340 N. Campbell Ave., Ste. 101, (520) 867-4134,


Warm Griddled Lemon Cake with Berries and Cream at GOLD.
Warm Griddled Lemon Cake with Berries and Cream at GOLD.


High in the foothills, part of the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa property, sits a stately dining room with nearly panoramic views. You’re off to a good start here, before you’ve even glanced at the contemporary menu, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking both the city below and surrounding mountains — even better if the weather allows for a seat on the terrace. GOLD’s menu is made up of seasonally inspired modern American cuisine, with nods to the Southwest whenever possible. No matter what season, you can expect plenty of seafood options, as well as classics like steak, lamb and slow-roasted chicken. Whatever you order here, you can be assured an artful and well-balanced culinary experience. There’s a reason why the restaurant has won the prestigious AAA Four-Diamond Award for numerous years. “GOLD has been a romantic culinary destination for decades,” says Executive Chef Todd Sicolo. “I enjoy pairing the timeless, breathtaking views of Tucson with creatively reimagined dishes featuring regional products straight from our local partners.”

245 E. Ina Rd., (520) 297-1151,

The Pan-Roasted Diver Scallops at GOLD.
The Pan-Roasted Diver
Scallops at GOLD.

Kingfisher Bar & Grill

A longtime local favorite, Kingfisher has maintained its stellar reputation for carefully balanced classic dishes and an inspired menu for 25 years. Well known for seafood, the restaurant kicks off its menu with the likes of oysters, housesmoked ruby trout, steamed mussels and shrimp cakes. Once you get to entrées, look for even more seafood dishes, such as grilled sea bass or the macadamia nut crusted Hawaiian fish. Similarly tempting are standouts like baby back ribs, chicken pot pie or steak. Not sure what to order? That’s fine by Chef Jim Murphy: “I think romance is about slowing down and being thoughtful with one another — spending time savoring life together. “I would start with a half bottle of Veuve Cliquot alongside grilled and chilled shrimp, baked oysters Rockefeller, and a golden beet and heirloom tomato salad,” he says. For an entrée he points to sautéed Onaga long tail snapper, while suggesting that you leave room for banana-datepecan cake with candied pecans.

2564 E. Grant Rd., (520) 323-7739,

Jonathan’s Cork

For roughly 25 years, Tucsonans have counted on Jonathan’s Cork for their special occasion dinners out. And the décor, a homey throwback to the ’70s filled with dark wood and Southwestern art, accentuates that feeling of longstanding tradition. “We have several small, private rooms with their own fireplaces,” Chef Jonathan Landeen points out. If that’s not enough to set the scene for a special occasion meal, the menu boasts traditional starters like shrimp on ice, oysters and escargot, as well as classic entrées such as roast duck, steak, or ribs. More unusual offerings include bison, ostrich and venison. So, what would Chef Landeen recommend for a romantic meal? “I would share crab cakes, the grilled romaine salad, salmon or prime rib, and ostrich for the more adventurous,” he says. And since no meal is really complete without dessert, “I would finish the meal by sharing a bread pudding.”

6320 E. Tanque Verde Rd., (520) 296-1631,

Caffe Torino

It’s not difficult to make an eveningmemorable when you’re dining on the cuisineof Northern Italy. Caffe Torino truly brings authenticity to each dish offered by Owners Ollie Shouse and Daniela Borella, with a menu full of recipes passed down for generations by Borella’s family. “When guests come in from Italy, they tell us, ‘This tastes like home,’” shares Tony Frank, entertainment and social media director for Caffe Torino. Think beyond the spaghetti kiss, à la Lady and the Tramp, with more complex and heady dishes like the Tagliata al Gorgonzola (flat iron steak served with creamy Gorgonzola sauce) or the Scottadito di agnello (grilled lamb chops with citrus pesto). There’s definitely something for every palate, as well as all of the classics you’d expect, such as gnocchi, cioppino, lasagna, and eggplant Parmesan. Even with so many rich and textured flavors to choose from, nothing will conjure romance quite as much as dining on the patio under the stars. “We’re a small, intimate restaurant with a great romantic atmosphere,” says Frank. “Candlelit tables, low lighting, impeccable Italian food and an amazing wine list — not to mention jazz on the weekends.”

10325 N. La Canada Dr. (Oro Valley), (520) 297-3777; 5605 E. River Rd., Ste. 121 (Foothills), (520) 300-6860,

Harvest on River’s Triple Chocolate Cake.
Harvest on River’s Triple Chocolate Cake.
Harvest on River’s Wild-Caught Salmon.
Harvest on River’s Wild-Caught Salmon.

Harvest on River

With any special occasion, having a great view or unique atmosphere can take it to the next level. Harvest on River, tucked into the second floor of a shopping center with a patio overlooking the city, is a great locale for a quiet dinner with your special someone. When Reza Shapouri and his wife Lisa took over ownership of Harvest in Oro Valley in 2011, they kept the focus on what the restaurant is known for: local and seasonally inspired fare. The same is true at this newer location in the Catalina Foothills, which the Shapouris opened in 2015 in partnership with Executive Chef Michael Veres. The menu offers everything from roasted cauliflower tacos and vegan gnocchi to burgers and short ribs. With a little bit of everything, and a menu perfect for sharing, Shapouri points out they see their fair share of date nights. “We have a great wine selection, house-made cocktails, and you can’t forget our fantastic desserts — like the triple chocolate cake made in house by my wife, our pastry chef.”

5605 E. River Rd., Ste. 201, (520) 529-7180,

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Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to showcasing the people, places, local flavors, and attractions that make our city unique.

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