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Ellen Shapiro

Tucson Dining: Where Should I Eat?

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A last-minute mission to Tucson has me stranded here (specifically, in Oro Valley) with no idea of where to eat. Had a chicken Caesar salad from Costco for lunch, and someone is taking me to "Tucson's best Chinese restaurant" for dinner, but after that I'm lost. Anybody have knowledge of this area? Unfortunately, I'm going to have to stay close in to where I am -- no opportunities to visit Phoenix or Scottsdale this time around.


Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Tucson isn't the worst place to be trapped when it comes to food. Most of the restaurants are guilty only of trying too hard to be like "big city" restaurants. You will do best to stick to the less fusiony, less pretentious restaurants. I lived in Tucson for two years and never ate fabulously but also never ate too badly.

If you're in New York probably the only thing in Tucson that is better than what you have there is Mexican and Southwestern food. Most of the Mexican is "Sonoran style," but it will be familiar.

One of the most famous Mexicans is also one of the best. It's called Café Poca Cosa (88 E. Broadway Blvd., 622-6400). Another good one is La Pianola (840 E. Ft. Lowell Road, 792-0711). Just eating at the taco stands and Mexican bars is also great. Here is a good article from Tuscon Weekly the best restaurant info source around the area:

http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/2001-08-16/chow.html

You can search around that site for lots of intelligent Tucson restaurant reviews.

A good typical Tucson Southwestern is Old Pueblo Grille (60 N. Alvernon Way, 326-6000). Owned by a man named Bob McMahon who is sort of the Danny Meyer of the area. Not quite but sort of. As close as they come around there anyhow.

You will find no good Chinese (is it too late to get out of your dinner plans?) but plenty of good enough Japanese. The best but also a bit overrated is Sachiko Restaurant (1101 N. Wilmot, 886-7000). A good Japanaese restaurant that thinks it is a great Japanese restaurant.  The place I like for easy sushi is Yuki's Sushi (7153 E. Tanque Verde Road, 546-9854 and a branch also at 2962 N. Campbell Ave., 326-7727).

A good Vietnamese place exists: Hoa Mai (2547 E. Broadway Blvd., 319-8420)

If you're looking for fine dining restaurants with Mobil Stars or other critical acclaim nationwide and in the guidebooks there are six or seven in the area almost all of which are at the resorts and which are good but overpriced. It seems they are all called "The [something]" Room for some reason. The Gold Room. The Tack Room. The Ventana Room. Also like Rosie just said Janos restaurant probably the only one I would recommend to you but still expensive by local standards, maybe as much as Blue Hill would cost in New York?

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Larry: I just wanted to mention quickly that I had lunch today at Café Poca Cosa on your recommendation and found it to be very good indeed. New York would be lucky to have a place like this. I'll post some more notes when I get back to New York, but just wanted to say thanks.


Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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and I'd like to say thanks, too, Larry.  I enjoyed reading your post and I'm happy you shared with us.  I hear Ellen gets cranky when she doesn't eat well and we already have our quota of cranky moderators.

(Edited by Steve Klc at 8:53 pm on Dec. 6, 2001)


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Larry, I could tell from the tone of your post that your recommendations were going to be right on the money.

I see you've only posted this once. I hope you'll be a more frequent participant.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Larry, I made it to Old Pueblo Grille for lunch today. You're right, the guy seems to be a bit of a suburban Danny Meyer. We stuck to the Southwestern items, though there were a disappointing number of hamburger-esque things on the menu. Still, the local clientele seemed happy, and so were we. Thanks again. I'll try to post some notes when I get back to New York.


Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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I'm headed to Tucson in July -- any recommendations for good/interesting places to eat and/or food-related things to do while I'm there -- any good markets, food shops, etc???

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Hello! I'm a concierge at a premier resort in Tucson. Tucson has a lovely assortment of excellent restaurants.

For fine dining I would highly recommend Janos and The Ventana Room. Janos is located at the Westin La Paloma resort and is a Southwestern restaurant with city views. Janos Wilder, the chef and owner, has received the James Beard award. The Ventana Room is located at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and is one of only 2 Four-Star restaurants in Tucson. Their specialty is contemporary Continental food. Both have excellent wine lists. Their chef, Phillippe Trosch, is originally from France.

For excellent food in a more casual setting, Cafe Terra Cotta specialises in Southwestern food. Owner and chef Donna Nordin is nationally known as one of the original pioneers of Southwestern cuisine. Cafe Poca Cosa is a unique Mexican restaurant, not the traditional tacos and burritos, but a very fresh menu that is created and changed twice daily by chef and owner Suzana Davila. For traditional Mexican food, La Placita Cafe is a local favourite, with friendly service and excellent seafood specialties.

As far as food-related activities, there is a Farmer's Market on 17th St., near the downtown area. An excellent source for fresh produce, seafood, and especially for spices indigenous to the area that may be difficult to find in other parts of the country/world. Culinary Concepts is a lovely cooking shop that specialises in gadgets and utensils, and also offers ongoing cooking classes. Wild Oats is a chain of speciality grocery markets with gourmet and health foods, some from the local area as well.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Phone numbers:

Janos (520) 615.6100

Ventana Room (520) 299.2020

Cafe Terra Cotta (520) 577.8100 www.cafeterracotta.com

Cafe Poca Cosa (520) 622.6400

La Placita Cafe (520) 881.1150

17th Street Farmer's Market (520) 792.2588

Culinary Concepts (520) 321.0968 www.culinaryconcepts.net

Wild Oats Market (520) 299.8858 www.wildoats.com

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The Ventana Room is located at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and is one of only 2 Four-Star restaurants in Tucson.

What is the other?


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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If I were going to Tucson anytime soon, the first thing I'd do is to go to Mi Nidito and order a bowl of Caldo de Queso.

And Grey - what is the current state of the Tack Room?? Good, not good, there, not there?


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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The Tackroom finally gasped out its last breath...closed on 18 May, 2003. Will be re-opening in the fall as an Italian restaurant, presumably of a different name.


Edited by Grey_Gardens (log)

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The Tackroom finally gasped out its last breath...closed on 18 May, 2003. Will be re-opening in the fall as an Italian restaurant, presumably of a different name.

Wow. End of an era, that's for sure. Was fun to visit another world, and see how the rich ranch folk presumably lived.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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thanks for your suggestions. I'm looking forward to exploring the market! (I've actually been to mi nidito and love it -- the carne seca is great too).

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Hello Southwest eGulleteers!

Any suggestions for our upcoming visit to Tucson would be appreciated.

Love just about anything as long as preparation/ambience/service are top-notch..not on a budget...What say you?

Thanks so much.

CJ/chuckjohnson50@hotmail.com

Char

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opt for regional cuisine which means mexican-influenced dishes, since tucson isn't a mecca for attracting culinary talent.

j-bar at the westin

janos

cafe poco cosa

tucson is very laid back, so don't expect anything special in terms of ambience, atmosphere, etc. the demographic is largely students (u of a), air force base and retirees. if the skyline country club serves brunch, you may want to check them out - they have a spectacular view of the city.

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MARY'S LUCKY DOLLAR MARKET

best mexican food in the world. Southside, a little ghetto and definetly not a 'restaurant.' to gice you an idea, however, if you don't call by 9am, there is no soup for you. Mary makes the best tortillas in america.

i haven't been back in years (i live in oregon now) but i think it is in the neighborhood of 10th st and Utah ave.

i know this doesn't relly fit your criteria, but you will have an adventure.

oh Janos Wilder is amazing. i went to preschool with his daughter. Eat his food.


"The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom."

---John Stewart

my blog

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Thanks for replying, oh toro and markovitch.

I was beginning to wonder why no one had any comments.

I'll look into your recommendations....Sounds like slim-pickin's for high-end creative cooking but we do love regional cuisine.

Have you heard of a Mexican breakfast conconction called "Chile Quilies"? I'm probably not spelling it correctly. Eggs/tortillas...yum! Any ideas for a place where we might partake?

THANKS

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Check out Guadaloupe Cafe, especially the enchiladas with the red and green chile sauce. Refreshingly bold use of chiles.


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Thanks mark! I will check them out.

Now the search continues for a great Mexican breakfast and also at least one or two upscale dinner destinatins...

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I'll second the Cafe Poca Cosa recommendation. Janos is good, too. For another Mexican restaurant, you can try El Mezon del Cobre. I'm not sure if the two Mexican restaurants I mentioned serve chilaquiles, though.

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cafe poca cosa is moderately priced, but considered to be amongst one of the best restaurants in tucson. i recommend them for lunch, but dinner would be fine also. imo, the atmosphere is better suited for a casual lunch.

janos would probably be considered "high end" in tucson. they're definitely worth a visit. j-bar at westin is a janos creation with a more casual feel.

i'd like to clarify that there are several restos that try to classify themselves as "high end", but their food is really lacking and, imo, they're just trying to recreate california menus but at a higher price. in other words, when you veer away from regional cuisine in tucson, you're pretty much chasing cuisines that are better and cheaper in california (and other states.)

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oh toro.....so you wouldn't recommend North, Bistro Zin or Wildflower? They 'look good on paper' but I haven't seen anyone post a comment. THANKS

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