Category: Local Flavor

Burger Masters

There are lots of places to go for a good burger in this town, but these six spots are a cut above.

KIMBERLY SCHMITZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY THOMAS VENEKLASEN PHOTO ASSISTANTS JACKSON AND NOLAN VENEKLASEN

Divine Bovine

Super new on Tucson’s burger scene, Divine Bovine bursts out of the gate like a bucking bull with a mission. Though it’s only eight months into the game, don’t dare discount this hot new spot owned and operated by Ben Rine, former owner of BrushFire BBQ Co. With around 15 pre-conceived options or a deep well of build-it-yourself ingredients from which to choose, guests can order a highly anticipated delight and watch it come to fruition in the open kitchen.

The scratch kitchen offers beef patties that are house ground with brisket, chuck and short rib; buttermilk fried or seared chicken breast; Arizona-farm raised bison; or the Impossible 2.0 veggie burger. Any one of these tantalizing offerings may be placed between a fresh La Baguette Parisienne bun, under a mountain of house-made mac & cheese, triple-fried fries, or cradled in a bed of greens. Rine’s playful passion for building a bodacious burger experience is apparent in the wickedly fun and dutifully scratch-made delights. He explains, “I always wanted a burger joint. There is so much you can do with this medium. I can really play and goof-off with this.” After pulling together the Funny Farm Hand, resplendent with creamy peanut butter, jalapeño raspberry jam, candied bacon, sweet hot pickles and white cheddar, Rine recalls, “I had to rest against the table for a minute. I needed a picture of this — it’s pretty amazing!”

Rine recognizes and respects that food is a personal thing, so whether you dare to devour one of his creations or build your own delicious concoction, belly up to the counter and order away. Under no circumstances, however, should you forget to grab at least one amazing side. A weeks-long experiment led to the perfectly prepared Pure Gold Potato French fries, punched, brined, and triple-fried daily to order. If you’re determined to go somewhat rogue, the heavenly mac & cheese or near sinful hushpuppies with jalapeño raspberry jam perfectly complement any of Rine’s or your own creations. Wash down the indulgence with a local soda or one of more than 40 beer options served individually or by multiples packed in a bucket of ice.

1021 N. Wilmot Rd.; 203-8884 divinebovineburgers.com

Charro Steak

Picture of The Charro Burger
The Charro Burger, available at Charro Steak.

The Flores family has served Tucsonans and visitors iconic Sonoran-style Mexican food since 1922 at El Charro Café. More recently, the city’s longest-running culinary legacy expanded to include pub, seafood, and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine spots. One of the latest additions to the Flores restaurant concepts is Charro Steak, with Executive Chef Gary Hickey at the helm. With an eye to purity of their main ingredient, Ray Flores explains, “We only buy grass-fed meat. No hormones, no antibiotics. The animals drink from natural springs. These are important details.”

The best bits and pieces trimmed from the naturally raised Arizona and Montana grass-fed beef are ground and formed into delectable half-pound patties known as Charro Burgers. Grilled to order over a hybrid mesquite fire/gas grill, and stacked with Willcox tomato, queso Manchengo, and Charro sauce, they are encased in Sunrise Bakery heritage Sonoran wheat buns. Oh, but wait, the Charro Burger fun isn’t over just yet. Add an over-easy cagefree egg, avocado, charred poblano, bleu cheese, pork belly or grass-fed chorizo (or any combination therein) for a blow-your mind, taste-bud-blasting experience. Pair the Charro Burger with hand-cut French fries, the Sonoran Au Gratin-style Papas de la Casa, or an order of classic Charro beans and prepare to stare down a serious case of food coma. Insider tip: Do not succumb to the coma before topping off the meal with a little dulce (sweet). Will it be the margarita lime flan, the tamal del Nutella or the PB&C (peanut butter & chocolate) tres leches cake? Maybe throw caution (and your top button) to the wind and go for the Dulceria Sample Board.

Naturally, working one’s way through all these amazing offerings will create a hearty thirst. Sip a glass or flight of red, white or rosé from the chef-curated wine menu. Choose from more than 25 whiskey, bourbon and scotch options, 20-plus beer labels, or an array of unique cocktails. Keep an eye out for one of the many local brands offered. Designated drivers and teetotalers may indulge in a non-alcoholic brew or the Charro Steak peach tea served with grilled peaches. With so many options, there’s one thing each and every diner will have — an unmistakably Old Pueblo dining tradition experience that won’t disappoint.

188 E. Broadway Blvd. (520) 485-1922 charrosteak.com

Truland Burgers & Greens

Photo of Truland Burgers & Greens’ Western Bleu Cheese Burger
Truland Burgers & Greens’ Western Bleu Cheese Burger.

Co-owners Jeff Katz and Paolo DeFilipis combined the concepts of Graze Premium Burgers and Choice Greens to serve Tucson’s north-siders with Truland Burgers & Greens, with a new location slated to open in Chandler in early 2020. Now in its fourth year, it’s humbly upscale with the heartbeat of a true “joint,” evidenced by the availability of canned beer, and beer and wine on tap. Certainly, we appreciate the delectable green offerings, of which Truland has many, but our gaze is on the plethora of things served in a bun. For vegetarians, there’s the locally sourced, smokey tepary bean and superfood veggie burger, which is pretty scrumptious by all measure. Chef strongly suggests burger fans enjoy two patties of Niman Ranch hormone/antibiotic-free beef or locally sourced Double Check Ranch grass-fed beef seared to medium well. The Truland Classic sports two slices of American cheese, lettuce, caramelized onions and Tru-sauce, and there are 15 available addons such as grilled crimini mushrooms. Maybe a double-patty chorizo burger with pepper jack cheese and Hatch green chiles tempts you, or perhaps you want to check out Katz’s fave, the Early Riser, with two slices of American cheese, a cage-free fried egg, all-natural nitrate/nitrate-free bacon and organic ketchup. The magnum opus of Truland’s burger offerings is the Western Bleu Cheese burger, adorned with bleu cheese, bacon, crispy onions, and barbecue sauce.

Without doubt, a perfect side for every Truland burger is an order of Kennebec potato French fries. They’re Belgian-style, twice-fried in non-GMO rice bran oil, and seasoned with kosher salt. Take it up a notch with the truffle fries treated with truffle oil, Parmesan, pecorino, parsley, and served with truffle mayo. If you manage to get a hand free from your burger of choice, wrap it around a Dragoon IPA or Barrio Blonde from the tap, or a can of Guinness or Bells Two Hearted Ale. A really nice assortment of wines is on tap or by the bottle if a little natural sulfite infusion is more to your liking. If, by some miracle, there is room for dessert, top off your Truland experience with a piece of their legendary carrot cake or an ambrosial all-natural ice cream milkshake. Warning, one or two bites or sips just won’t do — you’ll go big and go home super satisfied and planning another visit.

7332 N. Oracle Rd.; 395-2975 trulandburgers.com

Beaut Burger

Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike are flocking to the Mercado San Agustín (MSA) Annex for a feel good/tastes good meat-free burger bite. Five years ago, a seed was planted when vegan cuisine chef Kerry Lane and serial entrepreneur Ari Shapiro were on a hike in Canada and jonesing for a quick and good veggie burger. Not long after, the concept of Beaut Burger was born and realized by the duo — a no-frills lower-price-point veggie burger joint with cheap beer. It’s an everyman/ woman spot where people can enjoy a primal burger and fries experience minus the animal product.

Having recently celebrated its oneyear anniversary, Beaut has been warmly embraced by Tucson, and the people of the westside in particular. Shapiro admits that he, a vegetarian, and Lane, a vegan, are very particular about their food. Therefore, the vast majority of menu items were conceived by Lane and made inhouse daily, by hand — including buns, pickled poblanos, tamarind chutney, radish sauce, barbecue sauce, slaw and burger patties. “I’m not a culinarian. Kerry is the mind and hands-on genius behind the menu. I’m just a scrappy entrepreneur who wanted to be able to get a veggie burger minus a linen napkin and steep price tag,” Shapiro explains.

Loath to pick a favorite of Beaut’s fabulous fare, Shapiro points to the B4 as the best-selling burger, proudly proclaiming it as his late-game contribution. Piled atop a proprietary hand-formed patty of grains, walnuts, beans, vegetables, and spices, the griddled mushrooms and caramelized onions harken back to a favorite of the entrepreneur’s youth. Beaut fanatics also are partial to the B9, a near-heavenly compilation of roasted eggplant, pepita pesto, and house-made mozzarella. And for the chile-pepper-loving and socially sensitive veggie burger connoisseur, the B Kind burger stacked with jalapeño and roasted zucchini, slathered with vegan sour cream also offers proceeds donated to Ben’s Bells. A side of the hand-cut russet fries are always an amazing bet, but beer-battered cauliflower bites or some zippy housemade coleslaw won’t be regretted, either. Between cow-friendly bites, wrap your hand around house-made limeade, a $2 Miller High Life, or a 12-ounce can of wine. Oh, and don’t forget to grab Fido a homemade dog-biscuit. High-style, out-of-sight flavor combinations, and delightfully industrial- chic atmosphere make Beaut Burger Tucson’s every-man, -woman, and -dog spot for a quick, tasty, healthy, burger bite.

267 South Avenida del Convento 344-5907; beautburger.com

Lindy’s on 4th

The OMG Burger, a 12-patty, threepound monolith of insane indulgence and bragging rights, may have put Lindy’s on the national foodie radar with appearances on Man v. Food, Meat & Potatoes, the Travel Channel, and Food Network’s Ginormous Foods. But since opening in 2005, Lindy’s has been considered a daytime or late-night hot spot to grab a bite for Tucsonans, especially UA students. Originally more of a sandwich spot, owner Lindon Reilly proves it pays to play with your food. With a menu eventually skewing toward the burger bandwagon, Lindy’s has become a favored new/old burger joint in Tucson.

Even after moving across the street, burger lovers still flock to Lindy’s on Fourth, some for the burger challenge, but most for the scandalously delicious seven-ounce (base) patty creations. Use a BUSS pass (Build Up Something Special) by choosing a beef or black bean patty, or fried or seared chicken breast. Select a “holding medium” — salad bowl, lettuce wrap or brioche, gluten-free, or honey bun (to name a few). Then get to building — fries, tots, grilled veggies, Lil’ Smokies, bacon … you name it. You can leave the stress of so many choices behind by picking one of Lindy’s own concoctions. The OG, a classic with lettuce, tomato, onion, and Lindy’s sauce stands strong, but if you really want to arouse your senses, opt for the Big Bang, with homemade jalapeño macaroni salad, Lil’ Smokies, potato chips, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and sour cream n’ onion spread. One of their signature burgers is for pyromaniacs only, with green chile, jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, guacamole and ghost pepper sauce. Of course, no man or woman can live on burgers alone, so a Lindy’s side is a must. The Phat chips — house-fried and smothered with mac & cheese, sour cream, chives and bacon bits is a popular choice, but there’s also French fries or tater tots fighting for breath under guac, green chiles, jalapeños and pepper jack. Whet your whistle with dollar-off craft draft or a $5 signature cocktail during happy hour or $5 Mimosas and Bloody Marys all day on the weekends. If you can still walk comfortably after your meal, be sure to work off some of those calories with a stroll around Fourth Avenue. The walk will help you decide which of Lindy’s burgers to tackle on your next visit.

500 N. Fourth Ave.; 207-6970 lo4th.com

Union Public House

A Foothills staple since October 31, 2011, Union Public House has been an anchor for good eats in St. Philip’s Plaza since its opening. Aside from the superstitiously macabre opening date, the only thing scary about the cornerstone eatery is the frightful decadence of its offerings. As many dishes as possible are infused with Chef Tony Coluci’s version of “flavor crystals” — bacon. From the beginning the Union Burger has been a constant menu item and far-and-away fan favorite.

Photo of Union Burger
Union Public House’s famed Union Burger.

General Manager David Serafin explains that the staple is “an exquisite creation exactly the way it is served. It’s not made to put a bunch of sauces on and cover up.” A half-pound Union Grind patty of 80/20-ground grass-fed beef is perfectly seared to taste and dressed with English Red Dragon cheddar, house-made bacon jam (i.e., Flavor crystals reduced with sugar, vinegar and apples), and red winepickled red onions. All this deliciousness is surrounded top and bottom by a brioche bun made in house by baker Travis Evans. Serafin explains that it’s a burger made for a purist — pure ingredients, scratch made, to order. If hoisting this massive feast is a little scary, opt for the sliders instead. Union Sliders are smaller-in-stature, spicy offerings of the Union Grind topped with bacon (of course), cheddar, and house-pickled jalapeños. For the burger lover unwilling to buck tradition, the All-American burger sporting the more traditional costuming of lettuce, tomato, onion, cheddar, mustard, and mayo inside a house-baked sesame bun awaits.

Whichever amazing burger is chosen, make sure it doesn’t come to the party alone. Invite some of the house-punched Chipperbec French fries or hand-sliced potato chips along. Or pick the insanely amazing Poutine fries bathed in housemade gravy, white cheddar cheese curds, and chives, or a cup of Yesterday’s Soup (house-made soup given time for the flavors to marry and blossom). Stop into Union Public House anytime for an amazing burger or slider, but make a point of dropping in for the joint Halloween/anniversary party complete with live music, spirits (of all kinds), and a costume contest. 4340 N Campbell Ave., Ste. 103; 329-8575 uniontucson.com

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September is the perfect month to enjoy viewing artworks while you dine at a Tucson eatery. Here are six places to experience culinary and visual creativity.

Sarah Burton

Gusto Osteria

On Tucson’s eastside, tucked into a shopping center at Tanque Verde and Sabino Canyon, sits a cozy Italian restaurant known for both hearty dishes and walls that display local artists’ work. Gusto’s décor is tastefully minimal (polished concrete floors, finished exposed ductwork, simple tables and banquet seating), which only further drives diners’ focus to the pops of color in the artwork.

For nearly 10 years now, Stacy Beste and her husband Gus Gerson (as well as son, Jack) have owned and operated Gusto. After working in several well-known Tucson kitchens, including Bobby McGee’s, Olson’s, Scordato’s and Giuseppe’s, and impressing many with his cooking style, he finally opened his own take on traditional Italian fare. Gusto offers the classic go-tos like manicotti, eggplant Parmesan, shrimp scampi, many salads, pizza and pasta dishes.

“The lead artist involved, Anita Pinkerton, is in charge of the gallery, which changes several times a year,” explains Beste. “We’re proud to display local artists and help in that way, and they sell their own pieces. We do not take any fee or commission.” To go even further, Gusto hosts live painting events a few times a week, where you can watch an artist work on something right there while you enjoy your veal Parmesan.

7153 E. Tanque Verde Road, 722-9487, GustoTucson.com

 

 

 

Feast

Artfully crafted fare deserves a thoughtful artistic environment, a point not lost on Feast’s Owner and Executive Chef Doug Levy. Since opening in 2001, Feast has championed a seasonal, rotating menu designed around the very best ingredients available based on the time of year. This careful planning spills over into the ambience of the place.

“The art at Feast is curated by David Adix, a talented and prolific local artist himself, who’s well connected with the art community in Tucson,” Levy points out. Adix, who also is responsible for the art displayed at Tucson eatery Pastiche, is well known for his sculptures made with salvaged and found materials. “I usually rotate the art every three months,” Adix shares. “I have local art and artists lined up six months in advance.”

You can come back each month to an entirely different menu (except, of course, Feast’s favorite that’s almost always in the mix, the seared Halloumi grilled cheese), and you can count on a consistent stream of local art to enjoy with your meal. Art, ingredients chosen and used at the peak of their season, an on-site herb garden, and a wine shop — Feast has all angles covered.

3719 E. Speedway Blvd., 326-9363, EatatFeast.com

 

Café 54

This downtown café is not only a charming and bright lunch spot, but also happens to be part of Coyote TaskForce, a unique training program for adults in mental-health recovery. Participants in the program receive on-the-job training as everything from cooks and pastry chefs to cashiers and dishwashers.

Since opening in 2004, Café 54 has served up lunch favorites, such as tuna melt, beef gyros, meatloaf, and campanelle pasta with pesto. Keep your eyes out for their specials board for a real treat. And although they do an impressive amount of takeout business and catering, those who dine in have the benefit of enjoying the parade of local art rotated throughout the restaurant.

“We only accept original pieces by adults who identify as individuals living with mental illness,” explains Coyote TaskForce Development Coordinator Joanna Keyl. Artists work with the art program coordinator and bring in several works, with a handful selected for display. “Artists determine the prices for their art, and all proceeds are directly reimbursed to them.”

54 E. Pennington St., 622-1907, Cafe54.org

 

Café à la C’Art

If the clever punctuation in its name doesn’t give it away, the location of Café à la C’Art affirms a strong connection to the arts. This picturesque café actually is located on the grounds of the Tucson Museum of Art in the historic Stevens House, an adobe built in 1865 by a local politician. To further punctuate the point, Food & Wine magazine even included it in a list of top 10 museum restaurants in the U.S. Stepping through the Monet-inspired garden patio into the restaurant sets the stage for a casual and charming dining experience.

“We’re fortunate to be a part of Tucson Museum of Art, so we are able to feature in our restaurant some of the area’s best artists and have it curated by Etherton Gallery,” explains Owner/Executive Chef Mark Jorbin. “Most of the

work is on display for a good length of time, and some of it is semi-permanent. New items come in as pieces are sold or replaced with something new.” When he first opened the spot in 1998, they were a small lunch spot and catering company, and have grown tremendously to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner — not to mention baked goods and artful indulgences made in-house by a fulltime pastry chef.

Enjoy a lemon poppy waffle with fresh ricotta and berry compote during the café’s weekend brunch, or dine on achiote citrus barbecue baby back ribs after a stroll through TMA. In either case, be sure to take a look around the four rooms of Café à la C’Art. “For quite some time we have had pieces by Gayle Orlen-Marcus in our main dining room and entryway. Her work is amazingly colorful and whimsical and a perfect fit for our restaurant,” Jorbin shares. “We also have paintings by Jim Waid in two of our smaller dining rooms — his work is part of the museum’s collection as well. Jim and his family actually lived here in the Stevens House many years ago, so it’s appropriate that his work is on display.”

150 N. Main Ave., 628-8533, CafeALaCartTucson.com

 

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

Location is everything when you boil down what makes Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails a well-balanced dining experience. Not only does the very name of the place celebrate its location in a century- old building at the heart of Tucson’s now-bustling downtown scene, but similarly, the menu is assembled around seasonally changing ingredients from a network of local farmers and gardeners.

Sense of place rules here, thanks to Janos Wilder, the celebrated James Beard Award-winning chef and owner in the culinary driver’s seat. And location chimes in again, when the restaurant can tap the talent of its renowned neighbor for direction when it comes to art. “We work with Etherton Gallery, which is upstairs, to curate our art,” Wilder shares. “Hannah Glasston selects the art from artists they represent, and we make the final decisions. We change it up about four times a year.”

Wilder’s menu serves up American dishes, woven with flavors and traditions brought to this country by those who have come from afar and made it their home. That plays out in dishes like pan-seared cabrilla with passion fruit and coconut milk sauce; fried plantain chips with Panamanian-style shrimp; or steak served with mole and street vendor-style corn.

135 S. 6th Ave., 623-7700, DowntownKitchen.com

 

Blue Willow

Since 1978, Blue Willow has offered a respite from the chaos of everyday life for its loyal customers.

Sitting along the Campbell Avenue corridor, the rooms of this 1940 adobe home make for several comfortable and cozy dining rooms complete with working fireplace. Add to that a large all-season, plant-lined enclosed patio and vibrant local art, and understand how they’ve become a Tucson favorite.

While digging into fresh fruit crepes or Sonoran carnitas for brunch, or an oversized blackened salmon Caesar or the Blue Willow club sandwich at lunch, make sure to peruse the work of local artists that flank the walls. “We choose art that represents Tucson and who we are,” explains Co-owner Rebecca Ramey. “We have a kind of garden and homey theme, we serve American comfort foods, so we like to use art that goes along with that feeling.”

For years, the only art that graced the Blue Willow’s walls were cactus oil paintings done by Ramey’s stepfather Mark Seidler, but the decision was made to incorporate other local artists. “We like things that are different and speak to us, but we’re really super picky to ensure we represent who we are,” Ramey notes. Some who have made the cut include the vibrant hanging ceramic heart sculptures by Lisa Agababian of Fuchsia Designs, and the colorful hand-glazed tile mural artwork of Carly Quinn.

Let’s Roll!

Sarah Burton

With ingredients such as fresh seafood, avocado, mountain yam and cucumber, sushi chefs can create a true work of art. We profile six local eateries where you can admire the culinary craft, and indulge your appetite for Japanese cuisine.

Sushi Cortaro on River

After opening Sushi Cortaro to great success nine years ago, the owners decided to launch a second location in 2017, this one at River and Stone. Fans of the original will be relieved to know the menu is the same at both locations — including the all-you-can-eat option during lunch and dinner — so you can get your fill of rainbow rolls, red snapper nigiri or spicy scallops.

The fresh flavors are no accident, as Ken Lin, manager of the River location, points out: “We carry top-shelf fish, which is what we always hear from our customers,” he says. “They always come in and say how fresh everything is here.”

But if raw fish isn’t your favorite, they also carry plenty of cooked rolls. In fact, according to Lin, their most popular menu items are the deep-fried rolls. Their menu also is filled with other traditional Japanese fare, such as ramen or udon noodles, tempura or teppan dinners, donburi (rice bowls), and katsu (crispy fried cutlet of chicken or pork).

(River and Stone) 75 W. River Road, Ste. 181, 888-1886; (Cortaro) 8225 N. Courtney Page Way, #141, 572-8668; sushicortaro.com

Kukai

On Tucson’s westside, just next door to the Mercado San Agustín, sits the newer MSA Annex, a cluster of modified shipping containers designed by Tucson architect Paul Weiner. Among the boutiques, coffee roaster and eateries is Kukai, a Japanese kitchen where you step up to the window to order, and dine at a scenic spot in the courtyard.

Owner Michael McCormack explains the concept: “After being in Japan with my wife’s family, I realized some of the greatest foods there were made for the working force, sold on busy little streets,” he says. “Traditionally, onigiri was a meal made to carry, and it still is in Japan. I wanted to bring some of the magic of the Japanese food scene to the downtown area while also carrying on the tradition of my business partner Kazuo Senda, a long-time restaurateur here.”

Start with their most popular dishes, Hakata ramen (pork, noodles, ginger and green onion) or the Mt. Fuji Don (rice bowl with spicy tuna, cucumber and avocado). “We’re on a mission to focus on Japanese onigiri, which nobody else in town has done before,” McCormack shares. “We don’t consider ourselves strictly a sushi restaurant, but more a purveyor of delicious and fun Japanese street food.” 267 S. Avenida Del Convento, Ste. 11, 367-5982, eatkukai.com

Sushi Cho

This well-loved spot has been serving up sushi since the early ’90s, with the current owners taking over in 2003, handily maintaining a loyal base of regulars. “We have customers who have been coming here for more than 15 years, and some of our wait staff has even been here that long, as well,” Manager Sarah Du notes. “We know the customers by name and have watched them grow up, go through college, and been there when they celebrate their birthdays, proposals and family gatherings.”

Du points to their always-friendly service for the customer loyalty they enjoy, as well as the quality of fresh fish offered: “Our sushi is comparable to San Francisco, Hawaii and New York,” she exclaims. The restaurant offers other dishes beyond sushi, such as tempura, baked mackerel, tonkatsu and teriyaki, but with more than 40 rolls to choose from, their most popular menu item is the Cho Combo.

Aptly named, the Cho Combo lets you customize your meal, with your choice of a full-sized roll, four pieces of nigiri, miso soup and salad. Other must-tries are green mussels baked on the half shell, barbecued squid and, of course, ice cream (either the green tea or sweet red bean) for dessert. 1830 E. Broadway Blvd., 628-8800

Izumi

When Izumi opened in 2018, their all-you-can-eat menu quickly made an impression on Tucson sushi lovers. Most first-time diners are surprised to find several kinds of ramen, raw oysters on the half shell and crab legs, according to Manager Andy Lin.

“We have a huge selection, more than 80 items available for all-you-can-eat or just ordering from the menu,” Lin explains. “You can order everything from nigiri to teriyaki, to miso salmon to Chilean sea bass.” Look for donburi rice bowls, bento boxes and poke bowls during lunch, several entrées, a full sushi menu, and some playful specialty cocktails (think plum wine spritzer or Japan old fashioned) and desserts — fried banana spring rolls anyone?

Lin shares that although there are so many options, two specific rolls seem to lead the pack in popularity. The signature Izumi roll (two lobster tails in soy paper topped with spicy crab, eel sauce and spicy mayo) is tied for “first place” with the dynamite roll (tempura California roll topped with a dynamite mixture of octopus, crab, shrimp and scallops with spicy mayo). 3655 E. Speedway Blvd., 327-2778, izumioftucson.com

Sushi Zona

For several years now, Sushi Zona (formerly Sushi Yukari) has held its own among Foothills restaurants, thanks to a robust menu of traditional Japanese dishes. Sushi offerings run the gamut of the nigiri — from fatty salmon toro to snow crab, to sea urchin to clam — and all your favorite rolls, like the spider or yellowtail roll.

Of course, no sushi spot would go without signature rolls, and here is no different. Sushi Zona gets creative with the volcano roll (salmon, white fish, crab stick and volcano sauce), king cobra (eel atop a California roll), and the black pepper tuna roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, Japanese pickles, topped with black pepper tuna).

For those who prefer a warm dish, you can find many other things to order, like ramen, udon or soba noodle soups, grilled fish, curry, rice bowls, teriyaki, and sukiyaki served in a nabemono (Japanese hot pot). 5655 E. River Road, #151, 232-1393, sushizona.com

 

Yamato Japanese Restaurant

This Japanese restaurant has been serving authentic sushi to Tucson for roughly 30 years — very quietly. In fact, many locals may have driven by for decades without realizing the wealth of traditional Japanese fare waiting just inside the doors of this spot nestled in a strip mall.

Here you find classic sushi artfully done. Traditionalists will be pleased with the array of nigiri, sashimi, handrolls and rolls, as well as many other non-sushi options. There are several versions of donburi (rice bowls) available, or if noodles are more your thing, choose from several udon or soba soups with additions like sliced beef, fish cakes, seaweed, chicken or tempura.

Whatever your preference, this location doesn’t stray from a straightforward, fresh and simple sushi style. Based on the number of years they’ve held their own in Tucson’s culinary landscape, they clearly have it down to a science. 857 E. Grant Road, 624-3377.

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Dine with Your Canine!

In a place like Tucson, with more sunny days than not, and patios aplenty, there are many dining out options that let your pooch tag along. Plan your meals carefully, and there’s no reason Muffin the mini schnauzer can’t enjoy a leisurely brunch with the fam, or Mr. Wiggles the Welsh terrier shouldn’t accompany you to satisfy that taco craving. We’ve collared six restaurants that are beloved by humans and canines alike.

PREP & PASTRY

Both locations of this popular breakfast and lunch spot, with its artful twist on the classics, are well worth the wait you’ll sometimes find on busy days. People drop by every day for the Monte Cristo on brioche French toast, or the Roasted Veggie Benedict, with wilted kale and avocado. But the centrally located original also happens to have a lovely patio that welcomes dogs, offering both their own bowl of water and shady spot to share with their owners.

“We all have dogs and are dog lovers, so we’re happy to give that opportunity to people out and about with their pets,” says Brian Morris, partner and general manager of the Campbell location. In fact, Morris and his dogs Moose (English mastiff) and Gila (Dane mix) provided modeling services for this article.

“We actually would have loved to have a patio at both locations, but unfortunately the layout of our eastside location just didn’t allow room for one,” Morris explains. But if you’re looking for a dinner spot where you can take your dogs, look no further than their sister restaurant, Commoner & Co. “If you’re out for dinner and don’t feel like dropping the dogs off at home, you’re welcome at Commoner,” he says of their Foothills eatery, which has two patios to choose from.

3073 N. Campbell Ave., 326-7737, prepandpastry.com; Commoner & Co., 6960 E. Sunrise Dr. #110, 257-1177, commonertucson.com

THE CORONET

On a bustling corner of Fourth Avenue, just before the downtown underpass, sits one of the most picturesque patios in the area. Here, the rustic European country fare is well matched with the former Hotel Coronado’s 1928 architecture. As if you needed another reason to request outdoor seating, The Coronet is clearly pet friendly.

 

“We love dogs,” owner Sally Kane exclaims. “Our patio is an excellent location for all your furry friends. We are fully shaded and can even provide a serape to lay on if need be.” If Patches should get parched, don’t hesitate to ask for a water bowl. There are two available, one a Thai embossed silver bowl, because fur babies need a bit of glam, too.

Whether you’re enjoying brunch (breakfast galette anyone?) or a small-plate-style supper from the seasonally inspired menu, don’t be surprised if the staff come over to get their pet fix. “It may not happen every time,” Kane adds, “but there’s a good chance a piece of bacon or other goody will find its way out to you!”

402 E. 9th St., 222-9889, cafecoronet.com

GHINI’S FRENCH CAFÉ

A top spot for brunch for most of the 20 years they’ve been open, Ghini’s serves up French-inspired dishes such as Eggs Provençale, crepes, and both Croque Madame and Monsieur. As Owner and Executive Chef Coralie “Chef Ghini” Satta points out, “Ghini’s is Tucson’s first official pet-friendly restaurant. We have been welcoming our four-legged friends since 1992.”

Pets who join their families here can expect a bowl of water, organic dog biscuits — and maybe even a hug. “I was born in France, where it’s very normal to have our dogs with us in restaurants, even indoors,” Satta shares. “Alas, that isn’t allowed in the U.S.”

Make sure to check out the patio for breakfast, lunch, brunch or the special Friday and Saturday night Bistro Dinner menu. As Satta and her staff like to say, they welcome all dogs and well-behaved humans. “Not everyone appreciates that,” Satta says, “but we think it’s funny and a little bit true.”

1803 E. Prince Rd., 326-9095, ghiniscafe.com

SEIS KITCHEN

Because there’s no such thing as too much alfresco dining, both locations of Seis Kitchen offer beautiful patios, but it’s the original location in the Mercado San Agustín where the real magic of the ambience happens. Within the courtyard of the Mercado, near the base of “A” Mountain, Seis Kitchen’s first locale has only patio seating, and pets are 100 percent welcome.

After ordering at the window, and finding a spot in the unique brick-paved courtyard, you and your fluffy partner in culinary adventure can sit back and enjoy the busy scene, which includes live music depending on the day and time. “We love that our guests can bring their fur babies to hang with us,” says Owner Erika Munoz. “We have a super-relaxed, family friendly atmosphere — and pets are part of the family, so we should be able to spend as much time with them as possible!”

Seis (Spanish for six) represents six distinct culinary regions in Mexico, which means you can savor everything from street tacos and tortas to Mexico City-style quesadillas and seafood specials. And both locations offer snacks, as well as water bowls. There’s even a doggie water fountain at the Mercado.

130 S. Avenida del Convento, #130, 622-2002 (Mercado San Agustín); 1765 E. River Rd., #131, 612-7630 (Joesler Village), seiskitchen.com

ECLECTIC CAFÉ

On Tucson’s northeast side, Eclectic Café is a go-to choice for a place to dine alongside four-legged members of the family. Of course their menu is known for offering a little bit of everything, including pasta, traditional Mexican fare, burgers and meal-sized salads. But locals know this also happens to be a pet-friendly haven.

“When people bring in their dogs, we ask if they’d like a bowl of water and we also have dog treats,” shares Owner Regina Ortega- McCarty. “I try to buy the good organic ones, so we’re giving you more than your average dog biscuit.” In fact, as she points out, the patio can be such a hot spot that even though they don’t accept reservations, they recommend calling ahead if you’re bringing in your pooch to see if there’s a wait for the patio. Pups should be leashed and well behaved, for the safety of servers and other canine visitors alike.

“We have many regular pets who come in two to three times a week,” Ortega-McCarty explains. “We have Spike, a female long-hair Chihuahua who comes and enjoys pasta and hot dogs; and Leroy, whose owners tell us that when they get to the corner he starts whining in excitement once he realizes where they’re headed.” In fact, with so many furry-friend diners, she and her husband are planning to add a special photo board to spotlight them all.

7053 E. Tanque Verde Rd., 885-2842, eclecticcafetucson.com

THE CUP CAFÉ

Inside the historic Hotel Congress, Cup Café has long been a gathering point for downtown. Just as long, the patio of this eatery has been a well-known place to relax alongside your pet. “Our patio is one of the best spots to bring your dog in downtown Tucson,” says Marketing Director Dalice Shepard. “Delicious food, great drinks, people watching — all while hanging with your favorite pup — it doesn’t get much better!”

Cup Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so no matter whether you’re ready to sample those cast iron-baked eggs you’ve heard so much about, or dig into either a plant-based burger or the traditional version — you and Fido are welcome to come as a team.

While you’re enjoying the patio, you and your canine will get excellent service. “We provide bowls of water for our furry friends, and we have doggie treats at the front desk, too,” Shepard shares. So, no need to leave Miss Pinky the poodle home while you sip your coffee (or local IPA depending on the time of your visit) and soak up the hip and historic surroundings.

311 E. Congress St., 798-1618, hotelcongress.com/dining

 

The Tasty 10!

This is the second year of “10 to try.” Although it’s hard to narrow down our staff’s favorites, we think you’ll find in these selections something that will make your own “best of ” list.

FROM THE STAFF OF TUCSON LIFESTYLE

Saffron Indian Bistro

MUST TRY: CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

Although it’s the national dish of England, Tucsonans are crazy about Chicken Tikka Masala! According to server/bartender Aaron Wilson, this dish is the one most often requested at Saffron Indian Bistro, usually ordered with a side of garlic naan with which to sop up the delicious creamy, tomato-y sauce. The succulent chicken breast pieces are first marinated in yogurt blended with a number of traditional Indian spices such as cumin and coriander. The chicken then is added to a slow-simmered fresh tomato sauce with a hint of cream and zesty Indian herbs and spices. Basmati rice sprinkled with cumin seeds accompanies the saucy deliciousness.

Saffron offers most familiar Indian dishes, which are available in different levels of spiciness. Wilson notes that customers who like it hot can request additional spice levels, ranging from “spicy American,” “extra spicy,” and “Indian spicy” to a level so high the staff refers to it as “pet hospital”! Another notable factoid about Saffron: Owner Mintu Sareen offered furloughed Federal workers (with valid ID) free lunch buffets during the government shut-down — more than 700 were served!

7607 N. Oracle Rd., Suite 101, Oro Valley, 742-9100; tucsonindianrestaurant.com

Agustín Kitchen

MUST TRY: MEZZE PLATTER

If we learned nothing else from kindergarten, it’s that “sharing is caring,” and you can show your dining companion that you care very much by selecting the mezze platter at Agustín Kitchen. This Mediterranean-inspired dish offers plenty for two to share, and so many delicious and different tastes that it may be hard to decide what you like best.

Executive Chef Alex O’Neill explains how the dish evolved. “It started on a summer menu. We were trying to figure out something that was a little more economical, and more adventurous than the traditional chef board. Sally Kane, our operating manager, mentioned mezzes, and it piqued my interest with how dynamic they are. There are a plethora of ingredients that you can pull from to make a mezze platter, and it instantly became a staple on our menu. It’s one of those items that I think we would be met with torches and pick axes if we ever took it off!”

With ingredients that include beet-pickled eggs, hummus, flatbread, olives, sheep’s milk feta, falafel, and muhammara, it’s easy to taste why it’s so popular.

But it’s only one option on a menu that takes advantage of both locally sourced ingredients and O’Neill’s culinary wizardry. The restaurant not only has good relationships with many farmers and food producers in the region, the Mercado itself holds a farmers market every Thursday, and sometimes O’Neill will pick up something that seems especially inspiring.

“When I make the menu, there’s an unspoken tie that binds everything together,” says O’Neill. “Any time we put a dish on the menu, it has to speak to what the restaurant is and who our clientele are.”

That means the brunch, lunch and dinner menus can have everything from entrées with a Southwest flair (huevos rancheros), to Asian influences (tandoori pork loin), to classic French dishes (coq au vin), all created with a distinctive Agustín approach.

With bar dining that has a fun communal vibe, patio seating (with live music on the weekends), and a dining room that is elegant without being stuffy, there’s a spot for any dining mood.

100 S. Avenida del Convento #150, 398-5382; https://agustinkitchen.com.

Culinary Dropout

MUST TRY: BEER BATTERED FISH & CHIPS

Fish & Chips is a traditional dish that works well in casual eateries, so it’s no surprise to find it on the menu at Culinary Dropout. While developing the concept for the eatery, founder Sam Fox and Clint Woods, Fox Restaurant Concepts’ vice president of Culinary, created the dish to reflect classic comfort dishes for a gastro-pub style setting. Made with California Rockfish and beer-battered (using Stella Artois), the fish fillets are deep-fried to be crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. They are served with coleslaw, tartar sauce and fries.

Three days before opening the inaugural Culinary Dropout, Fox and Woods were still working on the menu, with a lot of ideas but no firm direction. “Nothing was working out,” Woods states. “So we starved ourselves for a day, and that’s how we came up with the ideas, like, ‘What are you hungry for right now?’ A little hung over, a little starved from the day before … that’s how the menu came about.”

The menu features many such pub food items that are enhanced in creative ways. The results are as varied as the eatery itself, with its many different dining areas, each with a different vibe.

2543 E. Grant Rd., 203-0934; culinarydropout.com/locations/tucson-az

El Sur Restaurant

MUST TRY: CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP

Visiting the 22nd Street location of El Sur Restaurant is like dropping into your grandmother’s house for dinner … if your grandmother is a fabulous cook from Sonora, Mexico. The aromas are enticing, the staff is welcoming, and the menu includes so many options that you’ll want to return for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The chicken tortilla soup is a really good example of the care that goes into preparing each order. Isela Mejia, who owns the restaurant with her husband Luis, explains that they boil the chicken themselves, make their own broth, sauté tomatoes, onions and green chiles, and put it all together just before it goes out to your table. “We make everything when you order it, so the tortilla strips, the avocadoes, the goat cheese, nothing is cut and done until you order,” says Isela.

The recipes are those of Isela’s mom, who was from Sonora, as well as from El Sur’s cook, who likewise hails from that state. Whether you order the soup, shredded beef flautas, or cheese enchiladas, a server will come to your table and offer you steaming, freshly grilled onions and peppers to go with your meal. And fans of rice and beans will be pleased to know that they are prepared fresh several times throughout the day to keep up with the demand.

The 22nd Street location offers both interior and patio dining. The 29th Street store was recently remodeled, and is set up like a taco shop. “You order up at the front,” notes Isela, “and we have a salsa bar, a chip bar, and we make our corn tortillas for our street tacos by hand.”

The legions of fans of the 22nd Street location, who know how crowded the cozy dining room can get at peak lunch and dinner times, will be relieved to hear that plans are in the works to expand beyond the present boundaries. 5602 E. 22nd Street, 748-1032; 4602 E. 29th Street, 747-3313; www.elsurrestaurant.com

Beyond Bread

MUST TRY: CHOCOLATE BOMB

For many Tucsonans, Beyond Bread has become synonymous with delicious dessert items in addition to their amazing baked-on-the-premises breads. One treat that ranks as a Tucson Lifestyle favorite is the Chocolate Bomb. These orbs of chocolatey goodness come in three flavors: peanut butter, amaretto and the “chocolate lovers” version. It’s easy to find which is which, as the peanut butter has a hole in the chocolate shell to show off its peanutty inside; the amaretto has an almond attached to the shell; and the chocolate lovers features a white chocolate drizzle. Assistant Manager David Drazkowski, of BB’s Speedway location, notes that “The peanut butter seems to be the most popular, and it usually sells out first.”

Before indulging in your chocolate bomb, make sure to peruse Beyond Bread’s extensive menu. With its creative takes on sandwiches and salads, there is literally something for everyone in your party. The menu points out which options are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free, and also warns those with dental issues (via an adorable toothshaped icon) about crusty breads.

Monterey Village at Wilmot, 6260 E. Speedway Blvd., 747-7477; beyondbread.com

Bob’s Steak & Chop House

MUST TRY: PRIME FILET MIGNON

When you’ve got a fantastic product, there’s really no need to “gild the lily.” This is certainly true of the Prime Filet Mignon at Bob’s Steak & Chop House, which is available in 9-, 12- and 16-ounce portions. According to Bob’s General Manager Peter Prassas, their prime beef is chosen from the top two percent in the country, and is perfectly trimmed and expertly grilled. “With beef this great, there is no need for marinades — just salt and pepper, cooked and seared to perfection,” says Prassas. “The filet really is the best of the best — you’d be hard pressed to find a more tender piece of beef. Some guests prefer the ribeye, which is more marbleized. Each entrée — whether it is beef, vegetarian or seafood — is accompanied by our signature giant carrot, which is coated in a cinnamon glaze.” The carrot is a throwback to Bob’s grandmother, who used the vegetable to separate food items on his plate!

Bob’s Steak & Chop House’s dining room is charmingly old school, with hardwood floors, leather chairs, wooden beams and iron chandeliers. The main dining room seats 60, 30 on the patio, which looks onto the Catalina Course of the Omni Tucson National Resort. A private dining room is available for parties up to 50 guests, and boasts golf course views. The eatery is renowned for its hefty portions, big pours on drinks, and its attentive and knowledgeable staff. Omni Tucson National Resort, 2727 West Club Drive, 877-2377; bobs-steakandchop.com/Tucson

Dao’s Tai Pan Restaurant

MUST TRY: VEGETARIAN SPRING ROLLS

Long before most Americans learned what pho was (and subsequently fell in love with it), Cac Dao, owner of Dao’s Tai Pan Restaurant, was doing his best to introduce the cuisine of his native Vietnam to Tucson. A professor in UA’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Mechanics, he discovered some 20 years ago that he had to go to Phoenix for authentic Vietnamese food. He and his wife bought what was originally a Chinese restaurant, and went about slowly educating consumers. “The American public didn’t know that much about how to enjoy pho, banh mi and other dishes,” says Dao, “so we started a cooking class. We taught them how to make the spring rolls, and then they could eat what they made.”

The spring rolls are a little marvel: perfect for an appetizer, or even by themselves for lunch. Dao’s has the conventional variety, goi cuon tom thit, but also their own vegetarian version, goi cuon chay dau hu chien, with noodles, green onion, tofu and mint. “There’s no such thing as vegetarian spring rolls with tofu in Vietnam,” explains the owner. “We created it because of the needs of the customers. Traditionally spring rolls come with pork and shrimp. Someone said, ‘Why don’t you put tofu in and eliminate pork and shrimp?’ People have loved it. I debated whether to use fresh or fried tofu, and it depends on the customer. If they want fresh, we will do that.”

Likewise, Dao’s has both the type of pho one would find in Vietnam, as well as some rice noodle soups that are uncommon, such as pho rau dau hu with tofu and vegetables, or pho gar au, with chicken and vegetables. The chicken and vegetable soup was created for a regular customer, and has proved to be so popular that Dao says it’s their “signature dish.”

The exciting innovations don’t stop with the appetizers and entrées, however. Dao has added his personal tastes and experience to the beverage selection. “When I was in Vietnam, I was a student, and I liked to enjoy fruit smoothies,” he says. “I actually helped my brother run a store selling them. Four or five years after we opened here in Tucson, we added these drinks with tapioca, which are originally from Taiwan. I came up with the recipes myself from my experience, and named them things like Tropical Storm, and Sensation of Vietnam.” For those who need a smooth and satisfying blast of caffeine, the restaurant also has sweetened iced coffee and Thai iced tea.

446 N. Wilmot Road, 722-0055; 4206 N. 1st Avenue, 888-2200

Shogun Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

MUST TRY: CATERPILLAR ROLL

Although the Caterpillar Roll may look like its namesake insect, it does not contain any (thank God!). This “Americanized” sushi roll is unlikely to be found in Japan, but is super-popular in Tucson. It contains cooked fresh water eel (unagi) and cucumber, wrapped in a seaweed sheet (nori), and rice. The cucumber offers a hint of crispness. The exterior is layered with avocado, then drizzled with a thick, sweetened soy sauce that perfectly augments the eel’s slightly smoky flavor. According to Shogun’s Front-end Manager Chris San Jose, the Caterpillar Roll is half-price as a special on Wednesdays (each day features a different roll as the special). He notes that the restaurant primarily is known for its sushi and sashimi, and especially for its fresh, generous cuts of fish.

Shogun also serves traditional Japanese offerings such as teriyaki, sukiyaki, tempura fish and vegetables, Bento boxes filled with tasty items, and colorful “boats” laden with a variety of cooked items or sushi/sashimi assortments.

5036 N. Oracle Rd., 888-6646; shoguntucson.com

47 Scott and Scott & Co.

MUST TRY: GRILLED CHEESE STACK

Like the downtown scene itself, the menu at 47 Scott is always evolving. Manager Teodoro Lillard comments that, “It’s a menu with offerings for every individual. It constantly changes with the seasons, with creativity, and the availability of products.”

Although it’s not a huge menu, it’s finely curated so that whatever you’re in the mood for, you’re likely to find something that suits your tastes. Asked for her favorite item, Lillard names the scallops, which are served with a celery root risotto. She also singles out the handmade pasta options: a squash/wild mushroom/sage gnocchi for vegetarians, and a carbonara that includes house-made pancetta, prosciutto chips, and a 63-degree-cooked egg. “When you break the egg,” she explains, “you make your own sauce.”

But many long-time fans of this happening dinner spot choose the grilled cheese stack as their favorite item. Made on sourdough bread with a three-cheese blend, and served with a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce, this delectable dish is definitely not the uninventive sandwich you remember from your childhood. And don’t be surprised if, by the time you read this magazine, there also is a new grilled cheese on the menu (although the traditional version will still be available).

Lillard says that one of the things the business is currently working on is creating a little better definition between 47 Scott, and Scott & Co., the bar that’s located in an adjoining room. “The bar is first come first served, more casual,” she says. “It’s more about socializing and interacting.”

Whichever area you choose, however, Lillard observes that the place is known for, “Friendly and approachable service, great and creative food, and a sense of community.” 47 N. Scott Avenue, 624-4747; www.47scott.com

5 Points Market & Restaurant

MUST TRY: THE PANCAKE

Adjacent to Cesar Chavez Park on South Stone is a little gem of a restaurant that brings a new sparkle to breakfast and lunch. The small but comfy space, staffed by folks who really seem to love their jobs, utilizes local food purveyors to offer a menu that co-owner Jasper Ludwig says is “small but diverse.”

Items include everything from a smoked salmon Benedict, to a breakfast salad (with butternut squash, argula and eggs), to a smoked beet sandwich. But those of us who fondly recall weekend mornings spent drizzling real maple syrup over a scrumptious, nearly dessert-like breakfast treat will gravitate to “The Pancake.” 

“It’s pretty basic as far as pancake recipes go, but it’s a good recipe,” says Ludwig. “I guess there’s something nostalgic about a really classic pancake. I think it’s a combination of quality organic ingredients, clarified butter that we brush on while it’s cooking, and putting cinnamon on the plate.”

Buying local is so important to the owners that they even give a shout out to many of their vendors on one wall of the restaurant. And they’ve taken the local connection a step further: “We’ve gone as far as creating our own farm, which we’re in our second season of growing now. That’s allowing us to play with even more rare, interesting heirloom seed varietals,” comments Ludwig.

Though 5 Points, which has interior dining, as well as a small, front patio, is only open for breakfast and lunch, and all the offerings are brunch-style foods, there’s such a span of choices that you can return again and again to sample new things. That goes for the beverage choices, too, which include all varieties of coffee drinks, about 10 hot or iced teas, and fresh juices.

756 S. Stone Avenue, 623-3888; www.5pointstucson.com

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About Us

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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Phone: 520-721-2929 x 102
Address: 7000 E Tanque Verde Rd # 11,
Tucson, AZ 85715

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