Welcome to Tucson: 10 Must-Try Mexican-Inspired Dishes

Here's a guide to 10 can't-miss Tucson dishes with a distinctly Mexican influence. 

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©Copyright 2012 Jackie Alpers - All rights reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Welcome to Tucson

Tucson, Arizona, is famous for its Sonoran-style Mexican food. A college town located just 60 miles north of the Mexican border, and situated between Santa Fe and Southern California both in geography and in style, Tucson boasts a truly unique regional cuisine. Here's a guide to 10 can't-miss Tucson dishes with a distinctly Mexican influence. 

 

By Jackie Alpers

El Charro Cafe

311 N. Court Ave.

Carne seca is sun-dried shredded beef, and Tucson, which boasts 270 sunny days a year, is one of the few places in the world where it's available year-round. Thin strips of beef are seasoned with lime and salt, then hung in a large cage to dry. The dried meat is then shredded and pan-fried with green chiles, onions and tomatoes, and served with tortillas or in salads, tacos, burros (large burritos) and enchiladas. Pictured is the Carne Seca Plato from the oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant in the United States, El Charro Cafe.

BK Carne Asada  

5201 S. 12th Ave. or 2680 N. 1st Ave.

The Sonoran hot dog has gained international fame. It's a grilled bacon-wrapped hot dog served in a soft, sweet bolillo roll, topped with whole pinto "charro" beans, chopped tomato, mustard, mayo and (if you dare) a chile or two. Find it at local favorites El Guero Canelo and BK Carne Asada. 

Cup Cafe
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Bloody Mary at the Cup Cafe

311 E. Congress St.

This may look like your run-of-the-mill Bloody Mary on the outside, but on the inside it's very special, made with tomatillo puree, a batch of secret spices and and Tito's vodka. Find it at the Cup Cafe in the Hotel Congress. 

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S. 6th Ave.

South Tucson has miles of Mexican taquerias, but only one, Taqueria Pico de Gallo, serves red plastic party cups filled with spears of fresh mango, coconut, jicama, watermelon and pineapple doused generously with lime juice, salt and chili powder. It will cure whatever ails you. 

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S. 6th Ave.

Handmade, thick corn tortillas are part of what make the tacos at Taqueria Pico de Gallo unforgettable. The delicate fish tacos served with pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos are a favorite. They also come stuffed with traditional carne asada, birria or cabeza. 

Jason’s Mexican

2400 N. Pantano Rd.

Tostilocos are a street snack with a cultlike following. A small bag of Tostitos is ripped open lengthwise, then dressed with chamoy (a sauce made of pickled fruit and chili), cucumber, peanuts, tamarindo candies, salsa, lime and Clamato.

Penca

50 E. Broadway Blvd.

In the South and other areas of the country, these are called pork cracklins. Here in Tucson, they're called chicharrones, and they still crackle and pop in the bowl. At Penca they are seasoned with housemade chili-lime salt, and they're perfect for happy hour. 

Proper

300 E. Congress St.

Proper offers locally sourced down-home comfort food with a Southwestern slant. Try a stack of super-huge cheddar biscuits smothered in sweet ancho-chile sausage gravy and garnished with shredded locally grown sage. 

Janos’ Downtown Kitchen

135 S. 6th Ave.

The menu at Janos' Downtown Kitchen calls this "Shrimp with a Sense of Place." I call it a spectacular marinated shrimp gordita with pickled locally scavenged cholla cactus buds (escabeche), housemade stone-ground corn gorditas and spicy black beans. 

Lindy’s on 4th

431 N. 4th Ave.

Lindy's hamburgers are completely over-the-top, mountains of meat with names like "The Donkey Punch" and "OMFG" that can be a little intimidating. The one pictured has diced green chiles, jalapenos, pepper Jack cheese and guacamole, available with up to three burger patties. The "OMFG" has nine patties (!), and if you finish it in 20 minutes or less, it's free.  

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