Photo: The Parish The Parish Chicken & Waffles
Photo: The Parish

With a diverse and creative culinary scene, Arizona’s second-largest city is a foodie’s dream. 

The last few years have been good for food in Tucson. In 2015, the Old Pueblo was named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the US, and it’s been building consistently on that recognition ever since. 

While Arizona’s second-largest city long has been known as the land of tortillas and tacos—in fact, it proudly lays claim to having the country’s “best 23 miles of Mexican food”—those aren’t your only options. Sure, there are plenty of mom-and-pop taquerias, but there’s also a wealth of innovative and award-winning eateries serving up everything from contemporary cuisine to international fare. And most restaurants are independently owned, with chefs who enjoy creating exciting dishes and experimenting with locally sourced ingredients. 

So where should you eat the next time you head south? Why not try one of our favorites? Here are 14 essential spots—from legendary culinary institutions to new concepts that are winning over critics nationwide—to check out in Tucson.

El Charro Cafe

311 N. Court Avenue

520-622-1922

For a true taste of Tucson’s—and Mexican food’s—history, this James Beard Award-nominated classic can’t be beat. For 100 years, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family has been dishing up Sonoran favorites, including its famous carne seca and chimichangas, which founder Monica Flin is credited with creating after accidentally dropping a burrito into hot oil. In 2021, owner Carlotta Flores, Flin’s great-niece, was named one of Forbes magazine’s “50 Women Over 50,” and in May 2022, the restaurant and Flores were featured in the season finale of “Top Chef. Can’t make it Tucson? You can still enjoy your favorite dishes, which are shipped worldwide.

Photo: Visit Tucson

Barrio Charro

3699 N. Campbell Avenue

520-372-1922

This collaboration between of two of Tucson’s most iconic food personalities—Don Guerra of Barrio Bread and El Charro’s Carlotta Flores—is a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch bistro. While the menu is packed with burgers, salads, and brunch favorites, including burritos, tamales, soups and chilaquiles, the stars here are the signature “tortamanos” and toasts made with Guerra’s breads, and the tlayudas, Mexican street tostadas on locally sourced pizza-sized corn tortillas. 

Photo: Ami Fong

The Monica

40 E. Congress St.

520-645-1922

Opened in Spring 2022, the latest venture between Don Guerra and Carlotta Flores is an innovative kitchen and pantry concept located in the heart of downtown Tucson. Dishes range from egg-based breakfast meals to hearty beef and chicken entrees to vegan sandwiches and bowls. The “Responsible Burgers” are made with a blend of grass-fed beef and shitake mushroom, while nine hand-pulled pizzas options feature such creative toppings as meatballs, El Charro’s carne seca, goat cheese, chickpea chorizo, and prickly pear barbecue sauce. Order at the counter, and then enjoy your meal on the spacious turf-covered patio.

Photo: Ami Fong

BOCA Tacos y Tequila 

533 N. Fourth Avenue

520-777-8134

“Top Chef” contestant turned James Beard Award nominee Maria Mazon is elevating the city’s South of the Border offerings with her modern take on traditional tacos. As the name implies, the restaurant celebrates the tasty handheld meal. Tender corn or flour tortillas are filled with such innovative ingredients as Anaheim chiles, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, fire-roasted corn, beer-battered white fish, hash browns, and poached or fried eggs. Savor them with one of the dozens of tequilas and mezcals available at the bar, or a refreshing margarita or paloma. The pet-friendly eatery even offers a Doggie Bowl of carne asada for your four-legged friend. 

Photo: Visit Tucson

El Güero Canelo

5201 S. 12th Avenue

520-295-9005

You may not think of hot dogs as must-try dishes, but the iconic Sonoran dog is unlike any you’ve had before. Served in a slightly sweet Mexican bolillo roll, it comprises a bacon-wrapped wiener, pinto beans, onions, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce. This unique—and tasty—recipe has garnered widespread fame. In 2018, the James Beard Foundation honored the humble eatery, painted in the red, white and green of the Mexican flag, with its America’s Classics award, which honors restaurants that serve “quality food that reflects the character of their community.” Try your dog Sammy style: two bacon-wrapped franks in a single roll.

Photo: Visit Tucson

Mi Nidito

1812 S. Fourth Avenue

520-622-5081

This South Tucson family-owned institution has been serving generations of local residents, college students, travelers, and celebrities since it first opened in 1952. The Sonoran-based Mexican cuisine showcases tried-and-true family recipes. Order a la carte tacos, burritos, enchiladas and other Mexican favorites, or try a generous combination plate with rice, beans and tortillas. The President’s Plate, the meal ordered by President Bill Clinton in 1999, includes a bean tostada, birria taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada and beef tamale, all for less than $20. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a fruity frozen margarita.

Photo: Stuart Spivack/Flickr.com

Tito & Pep

4122 E. Speedway Boulevard

520-207-0116

Opened in early 2019, this midtown bistro has received nationwide praise for its Southwestern cuisine. In early 2022, chef and owner John Martinez was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, and in September, the restaurant was named to the New York Timeslist of the year’s top 50 restaurants. Emphasis is on small shareable plates, such as fire-roasted eggplant agrodolce and roasted carrots with pomegranate and sunflower seeds. Fresh seafood, steaks and chops are mesquite-grilled for a subtle smoky flavor that’s reflective of the region’s culinary terroir.

Photo: Visit Tucson

BATA

35 E. Toole Ave

520-367-4718

This highly awaited gourmet concept from the owners of the popular Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink was open for only seven months before it was named to Bon Appétit’s list of 50 best new restaurants. Housed in a formerly abandoned warehouse, the chic fine-dining eatery offers a seasonally changing menu that is largely vegetable-forward, with the majority of ingredients sourced from within 20 miles of Tucson. Don’t miss the malawach, or traditional Yemenite Jewish pancakes, served with labne, a Middle Eastern yogurt cheese, and shio koji picked cucumbers.

Photo: BATA

Agustín Kitchen

100 S. Avenida del Convento, Suite 200

520-461-1107

Tucked inside the Spanish colonial Mercado San Agustín on Tucson’s west side, this sophisticated-yet-relaxed chef-driven bistro offers new American cuisine with a focus on ingredients that are made and grown in Southern Arizona. Dine indoors or enjoy the cool fall breezes beneath fragrant citrus trees in the market’s verdant courtyard. The menus—brunch, lunch and dinner—are divided by Pantry, Garden, Ocean and Land. A mainstay of any meal are fresh oysters, available individually or by the half-dozen. After lunch or brunch, stop by La Estrella Bakery, also in the Mercado, for some traditional Mexican pastries.

Tumerico

402 E. Fourth Avenue; 2526 E. Sixth Street

520-392-0224; 520-240-6947

With two locations to the east and west of the University of Arizona campus, this Latin-inspired plant-based concept features scratch-made vegan and vegetarian dishes using locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes daily and comes with options such as jackfruit, nopalitos, soy chorizo, eggplant chicharron and cashew crema. A customer favorite is the Cuban-inspired ropa vieja, made with jackfruit carnitas and poblano peppers.

Photo: Tumerico

The Coronet

198 W. Cushing Street

520-222-9889

Set in a 160-year-old adobe landmark in the historic Barrio Viejo, the Coronet is a brasserie-style café that serves ethically sourced, sustainable and organic dishes from a peanut-free kitchen. The internationally inspired menu includes a selection of small and large plates that are meant to be shared. The butter-basted hen and Persian-style steelhead with olives, walnuts, rice and pomegranate are local favorites. Housed in the same building and under the same ownership are Nightjar Tavern, a traditional old-world pub that serves savory late-night bites, ranging from rosemary marcona almonds to Thai mussels to Bangers and Mash, made with Dragoon Session sausage; and Meyer Avenue Café & Mercantile, which offers breakfast and lunch counter service. Popular dishes include the Lil Dutch Babies with tart citrus cream and Shakshuka!, a spicy Middle Eastern tomato sauce with chickpeas and eggs. 

Photo: The Coronet

Anello

222 E. Sixth Street

Gilbert native and Pizzeria Bianco alum Scott Girard transformed a former gallery just north of downtown into one of the top-rated dining experiences in southern Arizona. There’s no sign on the building, but you can’t miss the aroma of wood-fired dough, its crusts charred and bubbled, topped with fragrant sauce and melty cheese. The minimalist space, anchored by a bulbous pizza oven, matches the sparse menu—just four pizzas and three each of bites and sweets. We recommend the Bianca, a white pizza with ricotta, mozzarella and chiltepin peppers.

The Parish

6453 N. Oracle Road

520-797-1233
It may be hard to believe, but some days you just need something other than tacos and margaritas. This Southern-fusion gastropub serves up cajun and creole dishes that would make New Orleans proud. Hush puppies, gumbo, po’boys and beer-battered catfish are classic Southern menu items, but chef Travis Peters also melds Mardi Gras flavors with Tucsonian flair. The Goat Cheese Relleno, for example, is topped with pico de gallo; the Carolina Pulled Pork adds a twist of pibil and habanero aioli; and the Chicken and Waffle features a mesquite-smoked bird on a grilled elote waffle. Housemade hot sauces and craft cocktails complete your meal. 

Photo: The Parish

Tooley’s Cafe

299 S. Park Avenue

520-372-2190

Following a six-year absence, this Tucson classic reopened for breakfast and lunch in the Lost Barrio neighborhood, and fans of the original restaurant will be excited to know that this new iteration of the beloved establishment offers the original menu from 1989. Hungry fans can once again tuck into Tooley’s generous servings of turkey tacos, corn cakes, pozole and fluffy plate-size cookies. Order at the counter and dine on the expansive patio.