When the discussion about which new eatery to try dissolves into an hour-long debate, you know you’re living in a food-focused community. A good problem to have, of course, and Tucson’s culinary culture has yet to slow down on introducing additional options into the where-to-dine-out conundrum. From ramen in midtown to family style Italian in Oro Valley, here’s eight newer dining locales to add to your must-try list.
By Sarah Burton | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen | Photo assistant Nolan Veneklasen
Alloro D.O.C. Italian Trattoria and Chophouse
Along with the multi-million-dollar renovations recently unveiled at Hilton Tucson East, the location also introduced a new Italian restaurant concept, Alloro D.O.C. Fans of Jax Kitchen and the Abbey will be pleased to see a familiar face at the helm — Executive Chef Virginia “Ginny” Woo
“We take the comfort food of traditional Italian recipes and present the best parts of each compilation,” says Wooters. The menu offers Italian dishes with a farm-to-table scratch twist, like the Fettuccini Alfredo prepared table-side with fresh pasta, Italian short ribs, or the tomahawk-style prime cut steak. Rustic pizzas come topped with homemade mozzarella and are cooked in the pizza oven onsite. Antipasti selections range from Italian cheeses and cured meats to house-marinated produce or fresh-baked focaccia.
Alloro, with an elegant, contemporary feel, is located on the hotel’s second floor, overlooking the lobby one way, and the pool the other. They serve both lunch and dinner as well as Sunday brunch, but with such an array of imported antipasti, signature cocktails, and a stylish bar area, it ought to be on your list of happy hour spots as well.
7600 E. Broadway Blvd., (520) 721-5633, facebook.com/alloroDOC
What’s not to like about noodles? Judging by the loyal devotees that Raijin Ramen has amassed since their late-January opening, plenty of Tucsonans feel the same way. There are a few bright spots in the local culinary scene for ramen lovers, but this is one of the few largely dedicated to steaming (or cold and refreshing if that’s your preference) bowls of ramen.
Owners Diana and Jun Arai already have established themselves with Ginza Sushi, which they opened in 2008, but it was time to add to their repertoire. “Jun worked at a ramen restaurant in Nagano, Japan, right after we were married,” Diana shares. “Ever since we moved to Tucson we wanted to open this concept.”
One of the more popular dishes is the Black Tonkotsu Garlic in pork broth with thin straight noodles and chashu (pork), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), egg, seaweed, and both green and fried onions. Not to be outdone is the equally popular spicy Miso Ramen, which adds medium curly noodles with chashu and menma to miso pork broth, with green onion, seaweed and corn. Outside of the bowl-format you’ll find Yakisoba, cucumber and seaweed salads, as well as gyoza, fried octopus and other appetizers.
2955 E. Speedway Blvd., (520) 795-3123, facebook.com/raijinramen.tucson
The American Eat Co. & Market
The next time your family squabbles over where to go out for dinner, an easy solution can be found at the American Eat Co. & Market, the city’s first all-local food court. Be advised, this is not your average mall-style food court, but more like its quirky, foodie cousin.
Located on Tucson’s Southside, in the former American Meat Co., you’ll find a bustling high-ceilinged building with order counters for multiple dining options. After ordering, find a seat at one of large community-style tables, in the bank of booths, or on the patio and get ready to carefully eye the dishes and platters carried by passersby
Inside the American Eat Co. you’ll find Opa! Time (Greek), Avenues (Mexican comfort food, self-described “Chicano ’hood eats”), Dumb Fish (poke and rice bowls), Market Bar (beer and wine), The Bite (sliders), Upper Crust Pizza, Dos Amigos Butcher Shop, Café con Leche (coffeeshop), AZ Rib House and Isabella’s Ice Cream.
1439 S. 4th Ave., (520) 867-8700,
The Drunken Chicken
With restaurants steadily being added to the lineup on Fourth Avenue, co-owners Ben Sattler and Micah Blatt realized there was still something missing — and decided to open up shop to fill that gap. “We’re a fried chicken restaurant with an imagination. Micah actually came up with the concept,” explains Sattler. “Fried chicken is one of our favorite food groups, and we didn’t want to ‘phone in’ a generic restaurant, so we built the base of our recipes around the highest quality chicken we could find.”
That means all the chicken they serve is sans antibiotics, steroids, artificial hormones — and best yet — never frozen. The menu lets you choose from the likes of the classic chicken and waffles plate (which garnered a Best of Tucson from Tucson Weekly in 2017), Chicken Cheese Steak, traditional chicken strips (go for the Beast if you want that wrapped in bacon and fried in waffle batter), and sandwiches like Buffalo or BBQ Chicken.
Of the non-chicken fare worth checking out, the Mac and Cheese or Balls (what Sattler calls cheesy, jalapeño, mashed potato, fried goodness) are the next patron favorites. “Beyond our chicken and waffles, we try to serve comfort food that will put a smile on anyone’s face. Obviously we’re not promoting ourselves as a health food restaurant, but that doesn’t stop us from serving grilled chicken or salads.”
429 N. 4th Ave., (520) 617-0000,
When Portland restaurateurs Marc and Tracy Frankel moved to Tucson, the plan was to slow things down and put some space between themselves and their 18-location restaurant group (which they still own) in Portland. However, when you’re good at something, it’s difficult to stop. Fast forward to this February when the Frankels opened the doors of Pizza Luna, serving up a variation of an Italian classic.
Neo-Neapolitan pizza means a delightfully light, thin crust thanks to a special process. “We baby our dough with a 72-hour cold fermentation process,” Tracy explains. “We bake it in a super-hot oven, which produces a light and buttery crust with a hint of sourness, and a delicate crunch.” You can design your own pizza or choose from the carefully balanced house pizzas, split into rossa or bianca (red or white), topped with scratch-made, premium ingredients.
“The most popular pizza is the Puttanesca,” Tracy shares. “It’s topped with whole-milk mozzarella, artichoke hearts, imported Greek feta, Niçoise and Gaeta olives, and sweet grape tomatoes on a garlic and olive oil base.” Besides pizzas, another customer favorite is the Luna Board appetizer, which is a wood pizza wheel piled with finocchiona and sopressata salumi, aged prosciutto, Israeli feta, fontina, Humboldt Farm goat cheese, curated olives, house-made pickles, fig jam, and crostini.
1101 N. Wilmot Road, (520) 344-7637, pizza-luna.com
The newest eatery in this lineup, Cans Deli (a sister to TallBoys) opened in early May, on busy Fourth Avenue. They’re currently offering a Jewish-inspired menu, starting with a limited menu and moving into latkes, matzah ball soup, and other Jewish classics over time.
“We’re interested in perfecting house-made pastrami and corned beef,” says Benjamin Schneider, one of the Cans Deli partners. Keep in mind, this is not a kosher deli: “We do have pork on the menu,” he explains. “But all great Jewish non-kosher delis also offer pork products.” Eventually, they plan to introduce Middle Eastern twists, such as gluten-free falafel, hummus, and tabbouleh.
In addition to the deli, Cans also is a live music venue. “The other partners and I have been interested in the idea of combining food, music, and drinks into one happy family of a business,” Schneider describes. “We’re all heavily involved in music, which obviously comes with a bar scene, but the food aspect adds a communal vibe that is very important to all of us.”
340 N. 4th Ave., (520) 775-0226, cansdeli.com
Longtime fans of Michelangelo’s Ristorante Italiano will be relieved to know that after two months of revamping and renovations, the Tucson favorite has re-opened with a new feel and new name — Bottega Michelangelo. Although the same family, with generations of recipes to share from Southern Italy, runs the new iteration, more than just the name has changed.
“Our main goal was to give the place a more casual, family friendly atmosphere,” explains co-owner Gio Ali. This includes a modern, airy ambience, with an open kitchen, updated bar, contemporary finishes, and a pastry case filled with house-made desserts that ensures you won’t leave without a sweet treat to cap your meal. And thanks to the addition of a wood-burning pizza oven, the new menu offers extra options.
“We now have more pizzas and are focusing on comfort food from Southern Italy, where we come from,” Ali points out. Some standout menu items are the trifole pasta, with oven-roasted tomatoes, pesto and burrata cheese, as well as the chopped bottega salad topped with chicken, dates, goat cheese, bacon, and creamy basil dressing. According to Ali, one of the more popular pizzas is the Siciliano, boasting fresh mozzarella, sausage, eggplant, basil, and oven-roasted tomatoes. Similarly the porchetta, slow-cooked pork belly with house-made sausage, rapini, fingerling potatoes and an apricot sauce has its own loyal following.
420 W. Magee Road, (520) 297-5775, www.bottegamichelangelo.com
Queen Sheba Eritrean Restaurant
Tucson’s first Eritrean restaurant opened its doors in January, bringing us an exotic and not widely known flavor profile. Traditional fare from Eritrea, a northeast African country on the Red Sea, is similar to that of Ethiopia but thanks to their location on the coast often features more seafood.
Although Queen Sheba’s menu does not include seafood, they focus on stews of different meats, vegetables or legumes cooked in heady berbere flavors (chile pepper, ginger, garlic, basil, fenugreek) and served with spongy injera flatbread, which is used like a utensil. The dishes you choose are served atop a large, circular injera, but don’t hesitate to ask for some additional pieces on the side. If this is new to you, don’t worry, there are meat and veggie combos available so you get a little bit of everything to share.
Some standouts are the lamb or spicy beef cooked in a red berbere with onion, tomato sauce, and garlic; as well as several vegetarian and vegan options like the Alicha (yellow split peas) or Beresen (red lentils). The menu includes a fresh avocado salad that comes with jalapeños and Italian dressing, ga’at (a traditional volcano-shaped porridge) and — a nod to the Italian influence in Eritrea — spaghetti with meat sauce.
5553 E. Grant Road, (520) 336-3736, queenshebatucson.com