Category: Local Flavor

Eyes on the Pies

Each of these distinctive local restaurants could win awards for their mouth-watering pizza

by: Betsy Bruce

Scordato’s Pizzeria

It’s 10:50 on a Monday morning and cars are already pulling into the parking lot at Scordato’s Pizzeria, waiting for the 11 a.m. opening. It’s no surprise that an establishment bearing the name of legendary Tucson restaurateurs is so popular. The eatery, made of brick and beams, sits where Stone Avenue meets River Road on the near northwest side. Seating 130 guests, dining areas encircle the central bar, which features high-tops and cherry-wood stools to pull up to a granite slab bar. The dining areas are made intimate under corrugated low angled ceilings, dark wood tables and hardwood floors. Framed posters — Cinzano, Barrilla — adorn brick walls. Sporting events air on a pair of big screen TVs; cold drafts are pulled from a 12 spout tap.

Scordato’s Manager Jeff Happoldt says, “The key is using high-end ingredients and making everything from scratch.” Dough is made daily using imported Caputo flour and crafted with the same level of skill as the finest bread. Favorite pies include the house made sausage and roasted cippolini onion with mozzarella and fresh sage leaves; and the Japanese eggplant, zucchini and roasted red pepper with aromatic trugole cheese drizzled with pesto and finished with Pecorino Romano. Takeout is available, but it’s suggested that customers savor a Scordato masterpiece in house to ensure the perfect crunch of crust, bubbling cheese and piquant pepperoni. Says Happoldt, “Fresh out of our 620-degree oven is the best you can possibly get.”

Be sure to look up as you enter and exit to take in a gasp-inducing silver and crystal chandelier that Liberace himself would have lusted after … as well as the pizza, of course.

4911 N. Stone Ave., 529-2700 Scordatospizzeria.com

Proof

St. Philip is the patron Saint of Joy … so what better place to get a heavenly slice of pizza than “Proof” at St. Philip’s Plaza on Campbell and River. GM/Owner Grant Krueger says he and his partners dug the double meaning. “We not only liked the name due to the rise of bread, we wanted to highlight our bar with the proof in alcohol. We’re very proud of our house-made pizza dough, pasta and bread, amazing craft cocktails and eclectic wine menu.”

Southern Arizonans experience a good part of the year in temperate temps, so half of the tables at Proof are outside. Fourtops sit under a roan-colored planked canopy lit by firefly strings; a fire pit warms when fall arrives. Inside, a “sleek, modern feel with rustic ambience” was the goal, with whitewashed wood floors, and a granite bar surrounded by industrial stools.

Pasta, salads and sandwiches are offered, but artisanal pizza highlights the menu. The oven-charred crispy thin crusts accommodate heirloom tomatoes, housemade mozzarella and other premium toppings. “Our Margherita pizza is our most popular,” say Krueger. “If you are going to measure an Italian restaurant, go authentic.” The mushroom pie is another favorite, combining mushrooms, goat cheese, truffles and scallions. Krueger’s personal favorite? “It’s got to be the potato! It’s so simple, but it takes technique. I like to add some crispy prosciutto if I feel like spicing it up.”

Brunch is offered Sundays at “Proof,” and its St. Philip’s sisters, Union Public House and Reforma. Check for musical performances in the shared courtyard.

4340 N. Campbell Ave., 789-7447 Prooftucson.com

Fiamme Pizza

The aromas of mesquite wood and oregano greet hungry guests ambling toward a sliver of restaurant in the foothills, Fiamme Pizza, tucked into a supermarket strip on the southeast corner of Swan and Sunrise. Once inside, guests glimpse the source of olfactory delight, the brick pizza oven at the front of the house, shooting sparks (fiamme is Italian for “flames”). An open marble-slabbed kitchen is adjacent to the oven, and this is where fresh dough is worked into rounds and embellished with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Fior de latte mozzarella, full-leaf basil, 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a variety of locally sourced ingredients.“The pizza at Fiamme is unique because we use ingredients and cooking methods that create a product that is one of a kind,” says Owner/ Chef Scott Volpe, adding, “The pizza is made with naturally leavened dough and cooked to a light, airy, crispy yet soft finish.”

The wide variety of pies include the Pizza Picante, a white pizza with Calabrese salami, Calabrian chiles, onion and mozzarella; and the “Grandma,” with family recipe sauce, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta and basil.

Two-tops progress along the pristine white walls, which are adorned with framed travel shots of both mother Italy and beloved Tucson. Grandmother Volpe is framed, pink-cheeked and 1930s coiffed, next to the myriad medals awarded grandson Scott, the six-time gold medalist at “Campionato Mondiale della Pizza,” in other words, the best pizza dough tossing artist on the planet.

An open ceiling soars above pewter-colored, wood-planked floors. Frank Sinatra segues into “Sh-Boom” and a vintage poster of Sophia Loren gazes at diners from the wall, her elegant fingers holding a margherita pizza, no doubt almost as delicious as can be had at Fiamme.

4704 E. Sunrise Blvd., 529-5777 Fiammepizzatucson.com

Renee’s Organic Oven

What has blonde spikes, a big appetite and drives across the country in a vintage Camaro SS? Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri, of course, host of the Food Network’s wildly popular Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. That famous rag-top pulled up to Renee’s Organic Oven right here in Tucson last year, and Renee and husband/chef Steve have been surfing tsunamis of tourists and Tucsonans when it re-airs — a dozen times so far. The obvious query is which Triple D designation does Renee’s fit? “That’s what we said,” responds Renee. Her conclusion simply stated is, “This is a guy, no pun intended, who just wants to highlight what people do really well.” Fieri joined Steve in the kitchen to make The Tailored Tony, “Our kind of foodie version of a Sloppy Joe,” according to Renee, using organic grass-fed beef, marinara, roasted red pepper, fresh basil and mozzarella on house-made organic focaccia. “When the episode airs, we have focaccia stacked from tabletop to ceiling.” Also composed for the affable television personalitywas the signature Spinach Dip Calzone, with creamy spinach, artichokes, organic free-range chicken, roasted green chiles and cream cheese wrapped in a flaky, browned crust. Guy’s first-bite review? “This is dangerous Bro.”

The star of Renee’s is the pizza, despite the worldwide publicity for the sandwich and calzone. “We’ve been perfecting the all-organic pizza crust for as long as we’ve been open,” says Renee. “The key, however, is not being too fussy. We are not jamming to Beethoven in the morning, doing exacting science; it’s about the integrity of the ingredients.” No matter what area of the country a guest is from they find something about the pizza, which has a local flair, to love. “I truly feel we make a Tucson pizza,” remarks Renee. Favorites include the “Old Town,” elegant in its simple composition: fresh basil, Parmesan and Bacio Mozzarella (with a kiss of Buffalo milk). The sausage and roasted red pepper pie is a new addition and an instant favorite. “Jeff’s II” is named after the couple’s 17-year-old son, and it features organic free-range chicken (moist and flavorful), pesto, mozzarella, feta and pine nuts.

The 40-seat establishment, (mostly inside, with outdoor seating for 12), has been celebrating innovative, delicious, healthy food on the southwest corner of Tanque Verde and Sabino Canyon for 15 years, earning more than 160 five-star reviews on Yelp. Cement floors and honeycomb light cylinders brighten and warm, while the tangerine walls display art and expressions of encouragement. Renee invites diners to make reservations, and adds, “We are grateful we are loved and filled!” Fingers crossed, Renee’s will double in size next year, as the neighboring business plans to move one door down. 7065 E Tanque Verde Rd., 886-0484 Reneesorganicoven.com

Anello

The incandescent Anello doesn’t take reservations for parties under five, or even have a phone number. Look for the redbrick façade on Sixth Street, illuminated after sundown by an ebony cylinder, just across the alley from Crooked Tooth Brewery. Owner Scott Girod indicates he’s really too busy to answer the phone; too busy keeping his promise to his wife and young sons to make this enterprise soar. Anello means “promise” in Italian, as well as “ring,” the shape of a pizza.

Slight of build and inky maned, the now 33-year-old Girod wanted to “see what Neapolitan pizza was all about.” He spent three months cycling across Italy from Rome to Tuscany, to Sienna to Florence, “eating as much pizza as I could.” Naples found him perfecting his talents at pizzeria La Notizia, “The News.”

The kitchen at Anello occupies a full third of restaurant space and a third of that third is lorded over by the Ferrari of pizza ovens, a Ferrara, introduced to Girod in Italy. At 2 p.m., the beast is already growling, turning pecan wood into glowing coals. Crates of fresh herbs and tomatoes from local purveyors have just arrived, waiting to be composed.

Feasting at Anello, on any given day, is decided by the bounty that arrives through the massive blonde wood front door (there is no backdoor). This evening’s menu includes Asian pears shaved thin, pecorino, pistachios, thyme, pickled jalapeno, drizzled with honey and lemon. “Fresh, bright, not what you’d think of as a salad,” says Girod. “The starter is to kind get your appetite going.”

Headlines on the dynamic menu are more abbreviated than Haiku: “Bite … Pizza … Sweet,” a Trip Advisor review mirrors the poetry — “Small place, incredible pizza, delicious deserts.” House favorites include: Bianca, with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, olive, basil and chiltepin; and Margherita, featuring tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and basil. Guests may add a curated protein to any pizza. Among the sweet finishes is a olive oil cake.

It takes just 30 humans to fill Anello’s blonde wood communal table and twotops. Polished cement floors reflect the warmth cast by spiraling gold lights, a pink accent wall peeks out from behind the Ferrara. A Chandler native, Girod offers words as delicious as his food when asked why he chose the Old Pueblo to open his business. “I was over Phoenix. Tucson offers so much more. For me it’s all about food and pizza and bringing people together. I hope people see something familiar, but taste it in a new way, and how flavorful a few things can be when done well.” Reservations for parties of five or more can indeed be made on line.

222 E. 6th St. HELLO@ANELLO.SPACE

Tucson Lifestyle Magazine Burger Masters

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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Tucson Lifestyle Magazine Restaurant Paintings Wall

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.

Live help

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

 

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