Romeel's Tucson Restaurant Reviews

About This Page:  This is a collection of reviews from Tucson restaurants we have eaten at since we moved here in 2000.  It is mainly so we can recall and recommend places to friends, family, and visitors.  It is by no means a complete list of Tucson eateries. YMMV.  If you want reviews of more upscale places, try Zagat.

About Us: We are a family that eats out somewhat often and enjoys a variety of foods and cuisines (mostly international).  We are not paid critics and have received no compensation for the reviews below.  Some of us are vegetarian/seafood eaters, others omnivores.  FYI we are originally from California, so factor that in however you deem appropriate;)


Reviews are organized by cuisine, with the exception of the last section on University Eats, which contains restaurants on University Ave. just West of campus as well as a few to the northeast in Nob Hill Plaza on Speedway.  They are roughly listed from our most favorite to least within a category.  Restaurants reviewed: 125.

Entree prices based on dishes we usually order (note- NOT total bill per person):
$: 2-5 buckaroos
$$: 5-8 simoleons
$$$: 8-12 dead presidents
$$$$: 12-20 greenbacks
$$$$$: 20-30 blow straws
if you have to ask: you can't afford it

Links to full-length reviews, mostly from Tucson Weekly, have been added when found

Links to home pages with menus have been added

Jump To: Taquerias Mexican Southwestern Thai Vietnamese Teppan Sushi Other Asian Middle Eastern Indian Greek Ethiopian Steak/BBQ French Pizza/Italian American University Eats

La Salsa: $$
The top of the taqueria food chain.  This chain (unfortunately owned by Carl Karcher of Carl's Jr. fame) follows in the fast-growing "Fresh Mex" avenue of fast food.  The fish and shrimp tacos are grilled, not batter fried, and the meat is lean cut.  But the real catch is the amazing salsa bar, where you can flavor each morsel exactly to your liking even if you have Sybil-esque taste buds.

Pico de Gallo:  $ A Southside favorite.  Nice selection of tasty tacos in homemade corn tortillas, and the ceviche rules.  The namesake dish is a cup of seasoned tropical fruit, an oasis on a Tucson summer's day.  An eclectic customer mix, with some old-timers and others who just started coming after it got written up in some national magazine.

Rubio's: $
Famous Baja (batter-fried) fish tacos are the specialty of this San Diego-based chain.  They haven't kept up with the Fresh Mex Joneses in variety but they have kept prices refreshingly low.

Nico's $ Big food at small prices, and tasty enough to try again.  Great late-night eats, with 24-hour drive-thru.  Meat tacos are better than the fish ones, and they all want for avocado, but at these prices just shut up and eat!

Los Betos:  $ While all of the above places are worth a visit, there is really nothing much to recommend this chain.  Adequate, cheap but not cheaper-than-food cheap.  Beats Taco Bell, I suppose.


La Parrilla Suiza: $$$  Mexico City food is their claim to fame, and though most dishes are fairly familiar, there are some noticeable differences versus Tex-Mex or Sonoran foods that are the Tucson staples.  Best chile rellenos in town, and their chimichangas rival El Charro's.  Mexico City fare is hearty and cheesy, so come hungry.  (funny review, even if they couldn't figure out that the name, which translates to Swiss Grill, comes from their fondue-like cheese baths.)

El Parador (John Jacob's): $$$-$$$$  Of the plethora of excellent places to choose from in this category, this one rates highly.  Colorful tropical ambiance complements a menu that offers both the inventive (dipping into Southwest cuisine) as well as the traditional, and is consistently top-notch.  The tableside guacamole is a must.  The lunch menu features eclectic and tasty items as well, though service can slow to a crawl when crowded. 

Taco Bron:
Solid, fairly cheap Sonoran cocina.  The food and ambiance transport you south of the border.  Hearty solid fare, great margaritas with a daily happy hour, and a nice build-your-own-burro option for you finicky types.  Good table service is a plus.  .

El Mezon del Cobre: $$$$  For seafood lovers, this is the place to be.  It's rare to find a place that does Mexican seafood well (other than fish taco stands), but this one hits the jackpot.  Their landlubber dishes are worth sampling as well.  (contrary to this review, we found their lunch uninspiring.)

Maya Quetzal: $$-$$$  This low-key Guatemalan spot located in the alternative heart of the city really deserves its own category, offering cheap and flavorful dishes that are distinctly different from the endless Mexican variants populating Tucson.  Atmosphere is low-budget and there aren't many vegetarian options, but that aside, it gets a Sissy Hankshaw-sized thumbs up.

La Fuente: $$$  This longtime Tucson institution features mariachis every night and some truly authentic and well-prepared Sonoran cuisine.  The noise, bustle, and open-air ambiance makes you feel like you're at a Mexican wedding reception with a few hundred of your closest friends.  A tad pricey for what you get, but still worth a visit.

El Charro: $$$
The self-proclaimed inventor of the chimichanga, this well-publicized Tucson original is a great place to let visitors experience a slice of the Old Pueblo.  Make sure to go to the downtown one; the other ones' atmospheres pale in comparison.  Food here is good across the board, but their Carne Seca is outstandingly bone-dry and flavorful.  Reservations advised, especially on weekends. 

Lerua's: $$-$$$ Cozy character-filled cocina specializes in green corn tamales, and the rest of their menu of basic Sonoran food is pretty tasty as well. 

Guadalajara Grill:  $$$  In many towns, this would be the best Mexican restaurant, with an immersive atmosphere, tableside salsa, and hearty servings.  In Tucson, however, it barely stands out from the crowd, and we tend to find the food bland. 

Chuy's: $$ This sports bar/happy hour spot/family joint offers good value for reasonably tasty Tex-Mex meals like fajitas and tacos.  Full bar for those who partake, but their margaritas are just OK.  Noise is a minus (or a plus, if you have noisy kids). 

El Torero: $$  Formica tables provide an unpretentious counterpoint to Mi Nidito's relative glitz at this traditional Sonoran neighborhood joint. Favorite of the late renowned Archeoastronomer and Tucson icon Ray White. [JDS]

El Cubanito:
$$ This campus-bordering eatery serves up macho Cuban sandwiches and hearty plates of meat.  Nice change of pace from the usual off-campus grub. 

  As with many La Encantada businesses, this new Fox Restaurant is more style than substance.  The atmosphere is chic but bland; this is reflected in the food, which looks promising on the menu but fails to inspire on the palate.  Sure it's better than your usual taqueria, but for the price I'd expect more, especially in this town.  City views and tequila selection are plusses.

Mi Nidito: $$$  This South Tucson hole-in-the-wall has received national acclaim, boasting such eminent visitors as President Clinton.  As a result, the restaurant draws overwhelming crowds, with long waits beginning around 6pm (reservations not accepted).  To its credit, the simple, unadulterated Sonoran food has remained consistently good, and the prices haven't increased... much.  It is the sort of place that would be an absolute find as an unpretentious neighborhood restaurante, but now its reputation probably exceeds it.  Vegeterians tend not to be enamored of this place.

$$-$$$ A "swear-by" spot for many locals, our experience has been one of relative disappointment.  Food is good but not great, and doesn't quite justify the expense.  Another place with eminent visitors listed on the wall.

Macayo's:  $$$ This Arizona chain serves some fairly good Sonoran and Tex-Mex style dishes, but it isn't great value for the quality of the food.

Mariscos Chihuahua: $$$  These seafood-specialty restaurants that would rank higher if they weren't so pricey.  The atmosphere is simple, and the food equally so.  A worthy choice to sate a spicy seafood craving, but nothing to get excited about in a town full of quality Mexican food.

Las Cazuelitas de Tucson:
$$$  Another South Tucson sit-down joint that's a tad upscale.  While a slight cut above in quality, the prices don't really justify.  They have a norte branch too now.

Papagayo: $$$  Solid but uninteresting Mexican food, with nothing in particular to recommend it except its neighborhood feel (partially negated by being in a strip-mall). 

Casa Molina:
$$$  A disappointment.  Touted as one of the oldest and best of the Old Pueblo's many Mexican eateries, we instead found the food to be generally bland and unappealing.  Also seemed to be popular with the snowbird crowd, which we didn't take as a positive sign.

La Placita Cafe:  $$$-$$$$
Trying to carve out a niche in semi-upscale but conventional Mexican food, this place fails to entice or invite.   The salsa was uninspired.  The food equally so: one of our chile rellenos arrived still cold inside.  Service was the only plus.  Apparently we're not the only ones disappointed: 


Poca Cosa: $$$$  Their location changed, but fortunately the menu and the food are as good as ever.  Simply put, this restaurant consistently serves some of the best food in Tucson.  Southwestern food is basically nouvelle preparation with mexican spices, and nobody does it better than Poca Cosa.  Virtually nothing that I've ever had here has been anything short of excellent.  Note that while the daily-changing menu board features ~15 items, the focus is on meat, leaving pescatarians/vegetarians with limited albeit choice (note: singular).  The new venue is more hip/chic and less colorful/homey, but the upside is that it's now possible to hear what the person at the other end of the table is saying. 

J-Bar: $$$$
This hipper, more causal spin-off of Janos at the La Paloma Resort offers inventive and flavorful cuisine heavily utilizing local Sonoran ingredients.  The main drawback is the fairly limited menu, but fortunately every dish is a winner.  Despite the fancy foodage, the portions are Mexican size, and the prices are pretty reasonable for what you get.  Margaritas are fabulous too.  Definitely one of our new faves in Tucson.

Zivaz: $$-$$$  They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so Pei Wei should feel flattered, because this restaurant is almost identically a Southwest cuisine version of it.  Which is not to say that Zivaz's isn't great;  the idea of serving high-quality, inventive, and flavorful Mexican-inspired cuisine in a low-budget yet pleasant atmosphere is surely an idea whose time has come.

Casa Vicente:  $$$-$$$$  First, this is a Spanish restaurant, but being the only one I've been to in Tucson it doesn't get its own category (yet).  That said, this place is distinctly worth a visit, whatever it is.  The food is mostly delicious, but you have to pick and choose what you like:  Two-thirds of the tapas we ordered were super scrumptious, while one-third were fairly ordinary.  There is often live music and the place does get packed.  Overall a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable evening.

Old Pueblo Grille: $$$-$$$$  Interesting southwestern flavors, immersive ambiance, generous portions, and reasonable prices make this outdoor patio-featuring venue an excellent choice for a hearty meal.  The food isn't quite as good as the above places but it's not far below, in line with the cash outlay.  Fine margarita and tequila selection as well.  Probably the best value in the Metro Restaurants pseudo-chain.


Bangkok Cafe: $$$
Thai food continues to improve in Tucson, as this conveniently-located (Speedway&Tucson) newest entry demonstrates.  Rich, flavorful coconut curries and interesting chef's specials make this a more than passable place for a Thai fix.  One report of ultrabland veggie dishes, but other veggies love the place.  .

Char Thai: $$$  Prior to Bangkok Cafe, this was the best of an unimpressive collection of Tucson Thai eateries.  It's still not far behind, though the portions are smallish and the food unspectacular.  The fascinating Far East-Old West murals add an oddly whimsical touch to the cozy ambiance.

$$$  Mediocre.  The crispy fish is the best dish.  Beware of "multi-ethnic" restaurants, as it is evidently quite difficult to do more than one type of cuisine well.  Don't confuse this with Thai China Palace (
)... though come to think of it, it probably won't matter if you do.

Karuna's: $$-$$$  Bare-bones joint draws crowds, though we're not sure why.  The lunch buffet is worth a try, it's cheap enough so you get what you pay for.

Mina's Thai: $$$  Add another option to the altogether uninspiring selection of Thai restaurants scattered about town.  Nothing particularly outstanding here, either in food or ambiance.


Miss Saigon: $$ Authentic, tasty bowls of Pho, vermicelli, broken rice, and other favorite staples.  Ignore the picture menu pasted along the wall, they don't have most of that.  Fortunately, you can't go wrong with what they do have, unless you are averse to shredded dried fish sprinkled on your Pho.  Limited vegetarian options, though I've never heard complaints. 

Dao's Taipan's: $$ Almost as good as Miss Saigon, this Eastside eatery serves up the usual noodle and Pho bowls with all the accoutrements.  The Vietnamese fare is solid and tasty, and they have Chinese food as well.  And it has one thing you don't see often in a Vietnamese joint:  A drive-through window!

Nam-Son: $ Cheap and reasonably tasty, this off-campus order-at-the-counter joint with patio seating is a solid choice for a quick Pho or noodle bowl.  A significant dropoff from the above two places, however.

Pho Thu:
$$  Neighborhood joint serves up standard if a tad greasy Vietnamese chow.

Pho 88:  $$ Serves similar dishes as the above places, but at about $1-$2 more per bowl, and not as fresh or tasty.  At least Nam-Son has a draw as a walkable campus option and is almost cheaper than food.  This place is just a miss.


Sakura: $$$$-$$$$$ 
The full teppan experience awaits.  Neither quality nor quantity is lacking, nor selection (depending on your budget).  They have sushi as well, it's well done but not eminently recommendable.  A fun evening for the whole family.  You can spot the veteran customers as the ones who nonchalantly catch the spatula-flipped shrimp in their mouths.

Takamatsu: $$$$
Basically the same as Sakura, except perhaps a notch down in price, quality, and liveliness.  A separate reason to go is for Tucson's best Korean fare, including Korean BBQ. [JSK].


Sushi on Oracle:  $$$-$$$$ Its pedestrian name may not pique your interest, but the quality, quantity, price, and ambiance should.  Overall probably our favorite sushi restaurant in Tucson, similar to Sushi-Ten in quality and price but in a nicer setting with better service.  Good range of non-sushi offerings as well. 

Sushimatsu:  $$$$-$$$$$ Tucked into Yoshimatsu is this cozy, ambianced sushi bar that serves some of the most authentic and freshest sushi in town.  The Lexus to Sushi on Oracle's Toyota, this place is equally worth a visit, it just depends on how much you want to spend.  Oh, and get that babysitter on speed-dial, because no children are allowed!

RA: $$$$$ 
The "upscale" sushi restaurant in town gives you a more creative selection, elegantly prepared, but not particularly fresher or better.  Dress LA and go hang out with the yuppies after work at their half-price sushi happy hour

Sushi-Ten:  $$$-$$$$  This used to be our favorite spot in Tucson for fresh, delicious, and (relatively) inexpensive sushi, but has gone somewhat downhill after a change in ownership.  Still not a bad choice.

Sachiko: $$$$  About the same quality as Sushi Ten but somewhat more expensive.  You're paying for atmosphere.  Good place for a sushi date.  Go East, young man (or woman); don't even bother with the one by the airport.

Sushi-Cho: $$$-$$$$  A fairly standard but solid sushi enterprise near campus.  The main draw is the size of the rolls, which are somewhat larger than most.

Bonsai: $$$$ Also a teppan place, but we've only tried the sushi and it's fairly run-of-the-mill.  Atmosphere is nice but you pay for it.  Their Tucson roll is the best reason for a visit.

Kampai:  $$$$ Not sure what the lure is here.  The sushi is a step down in freshness and a step up in price.  There are better alternatives.

Yuki Sushi: $$$$  Nothing in particular to recommend this mini-chain.  The "spicy" rolls are Korean-style (hoisin, not spicy mayo), which is not our preference. 

Other Asian

Seri Melaka (Malaysian-Chinese): $$$-$$$$
A true gem.  Surprisingly authentic Malaysian food alongside cut-above Chinese fare makes this strip-mall eatery one of our favorites.  The menu is a tad limited (on the Malaysian side), but it's so good that you don't mind coming back for the same curry again and again.  The daily lunch buffet sports a high quality sampler of Malaysian and Chinese dishes for a friendly price.  Overall, a stunning counterpoint to the "beware of multi-ethnic" mantra.   They recently opened a sister restaurant, Neo of Melaka, which is a bit more upscale and just as tasty. The image “â€� cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Bamboo Club (Asia Fusion):  $$$-$$$$
Somewhat upscale Chinese-inspired food in the vein of P. F. Chang's, this Park Place Mall eatery gets a thumbs up for its solidly prepared and reasonably interesting dishes.  Many Chinese standbys are on the menu like Mongolian Beef, but they are done with a bit of elan, or else choose from their more inventive offerings.  The crispy sweet calamari is not to be missed.  Cocktails were a bit of a dissapointment, but they cheerfully made it right upon complaint.

C. I. Chu's (Mongolian BBQ): $$-$$$  While many "super buffet" restaurants offer a lite version of Mongolian barbecue, this restaurant gives you the full works.  Nothing spectacular, but how can you go wrong quick-grilling meat and veggies over a searing hotplate the size of Genghis Khan's butt?  Hint:  The secret to juicy and flavorful Mongolian BBQ is to overload on the sauces. 
  They also have a Broadway location .

Asian Bistro (Chinese-Thai): $$-$$$  Despite the generic name, this cozy joint offers up reasonably high-quality Chinese and Thai-inspired fare for a more than reasonable price, even if their claims of offering upscale "Pacific Rim" cuisine fall a bit short.

China Phoenix (Dim Sum): 
$$$  This has now superceded Gee's as our favorite dim sum in Tucson.  The main reasons are the generally higher quality and noticeably lower cost.  The downside is the selection, which is not nearly as extensive as at Gee's.  But all your standard favorites are in circulation, including barbequed chicken feet!  Don't all jump up at once, now.

Gee's Garden (Dim Sum): $$$$  After several failed Chinese restaurants at this location, Mr. Gee has finally brought upscale dim sum to Tucson.  Frankly, Chinese fare is not our cup o' green tea, and I find few that merit a return visit (Chef Chu's in Palo Alto is one).  But dim sum... that's another story.  Battle the throngs of Chinese that show up after noon on weekends to get a seat (what better sign is there than that?), and then don't be shy flagging down passing carts.  Once large parties of Chinese folks arrive, they bring out the good stuff, so be patient.  It's expensive and not quite up to the freshness standards of LA & SF's Chinatown, but it does just fine in a dim sum pinch.

P. F. Chang's (Asia Fusion): $$$$
The big brother of Pei Wei's offers creatively prepared Asian-inspired dishes in a trendy high-end chain setting.  A bit overhyped and overpriced, but worth an occasional visit.  Make reservations. 

Yoshimatsu (Healthy Japanese): $$-$$$  What do you get when you take a Tokyo family restaurant, cross it with a Santa Cruz ex-hippie vegan diner, and stick it in a former Denny's in Tucson?  Probably something like this cute restaurant serving udon, Japanese curry, and other oddly healthy Japanese fare at a reasonable cost.  Our experience is that everything is good but needs extra flavor; fortunately there is plenty of soy sauce, dried fish, nori, and powdered chili to sprinkle on.  A better reason to go is their upscale sushi bar, Sushimatsu. 

Middle Eastern

Ali Baba:  $$-$$$  Grilled meats, falafel, and exotic preparations of fish and vegetables are yours for the asking at this low-key and low-priced strip mall joint.  Lots of veggie options.  Sadly, their impressive buffet is no more.  Don't forget to check out the Arabic foods store in the back. 

Luxor Cafe:
  $$$-$$$$ The outwardly nondescript strip-mall exterior houses an equally nondescript Middle Eastern eatery.  The food is decent but nothing to get too excited about, just the usual Egyptian/Lebanese/Turkish fare, good enough for a fix.  The best part of this place is its ambiance, left over from the previous two Middle Eastern restaurants to inhabit this unlucky venue.  They do have a hookah area, if that floats your boat.

El Saage:  $$-$$$ Fast food Middle Eastern fare is a great concept, and the food itself is solid enough, but the atmosphere is lacking.  For these prices you can't have it all I guess. 


Saffron: $$$  Finally, a cut-above Indian restaurant in Tucson.  The flavors are more subtle than at the stock North Indian places below; still spicy, but lighter on the onions and garlic which brings out the other flavors, and less heavy.  The lunch buffet is a touch more expensive but still a good deal.

Sher-E-Punjab: $$-$$$  This North Indian tandoori joint is run by a Sikh family, and the authenticity shines through.  Rich curries, succulent tandoori, and well-done naan make this our favorite Indian restaurant in Tucson.  The lunch buffet is one of the better deals in Tucson.

Gandhi: $$-$$$  This place favors a mix of central and northern Indian cuisine, and has some of the best vegetarian Indian food in Tucson.  The lunch buffet is cheap, but it's mostly about the vegetables as the meat dishes are below par.

Amrutha:  $$-$$$ This latest entry to the Tucson Indian scene is somewhat enigmatic.  First of all, it is the only place to get South Indian food (dosa, idli, sambar, etc.), so this automatically puts it on our regular stop list.  On the other hand, we've had a wide range of experiences there, from brutally amateurish service and offendingly bland food, to attentive service and sambar so spicy we couldn't finish it.  Reports are they may actually have two batches of dishes, the authentic spicy one and the snowbird version.  We hope they settle on the former and find some consistency.  They have a lunch buffet as well with not-often-seen central Indian dishes, but we were not overly impressed by selection or quality.

India Oven: $$-$$$  This place features a quirky but friendly owner, and the food has the same feel, satisfying but somehow not quite right.  The lunch buffet is quite decent, but why not motor the three minutes to Sher-e-Punjab for a better version?

New Delhi Palace: $$-$$$  All the above are at least worth one visit, maybe two.  Not the case here.  The lunch buffet had the least selection and looked tired, and reports are that dinner is in the same vein.  (counterpoint)

Govinda's: $$  This is actually a Hare Krishna restaurant (within a temple compound) that offers an eclectic mix of foods buffet-style at all times. 
Come for the chow, stay for the chants.  Unfortunately, they don't make up for the lack of onions and garlic (forbidden) with other spices, as they do at some other Hare Krishna places.  The selection of Indian food is usually small, though they also have salad and out-of-place pasta dishes to accompany.  All this for a rather hefty price makes this one a miss, with the exception that they sometimes have $3 nights... then at least you get what you pay for. 


Athens on 4th Avenue: $$$$ Hellenic specialties are done right at this cozy restaurant.  Nice moussaka, and also try the calamari-based dishes.  Some of the freshest seafood we've had in Tucson.  Open only for dinner, and not on Sundays. 

Fronimo's: $$-$$$  This walk-up-and-order joint features a nice selection of menu items from the usual Gyro and Souvlaki to fancier dishes like Moussaka and Lemon Chicken.  The food has a healthy feel (down to the free filtered water), but it's plenty tasty and solidly prepared.  All around a pleasant and convenient stop for a good Greek fix.

Jim's Greek Patio: $$ This walk-up joint serves up filling and delicious souvlakis, piping hot and accompanied by mounds of fries, onion rings, or salad.  Tastiest of the Greek fast-food places (cf. The Fat Greek, in University Eats), though the falafel is a bit oddly seasoned.


Zemam's: $$$ OK, I have to begin by saying that my wife grew up around the corner from Little Ethiopia in LA.  So while Ethiopian is among our favorite cuisines, our standards are mighty high.  So perhaps not surprisingly, we found Zemam's a disappointment.  The spices seem not quite right, the injera (spongy bread) lacks flavor, and the cook uses "healthy" vegan ingredients instead of real butter, etc.  Our friends are much more positive about Zemam's, so perhaps we are simply too picky.  It is worth at least one visit to judge for yourself, especially if you've never experienced Ethiopian cuisine, which pleasantly won't set you back too much in the cash department. 


  $$$$$-(if you have to ask)  The top rung of the Metro Restaurant chain, this locally-owned steakhouse serves up impressively tasty hunks of meat with the usual assortment of well-done sides, and some interesting appetizers.  Even their cheapest steaks are better than almost anything you find elsewhere (though they're also more expensive than anything elsewhere).

(if you have to ask)  World famous chain of high-end steakhouses has a branch right here in Tucson.  Bring the company credit card, or a rich uncle.

Lil Abner's Steakhouse:  $$$$-$$$$$ Giant open-fire barbecue pits cook your meat in full view at this indoor/outdoor old west round-up, which used to be a stagecoach stop in the late 1800's.  Nothin fancy here, just great barbecue (Texas style, but sadly no links!), plenty of beer, and some rip-roarin' square dancing from time to time.  Vegetarians have a choice of 3 types of dressing with their iceberg lettuce.

  $$$$$ Impeccable service and swank atmosphere define this high-end seafood restaurant.  Don your bowtie and join the geriatric crowd for some of the freshest seafood in town;  guaranteed to impress your date.

El Corral: $$$$ The prime rib is what they advertise, and the prime rib is what you'll get, pod'ner.  If y'all know what's good for ya, that is. 

Pinnacle Peak:
If you wear a tie, they cut it off.  Maybe they resell it "half off" (insert groan here) and that's how they can afford to sell their well-portioned steaks so cheaply.  On the other hand, the steaks are so flavorless and bland, maybe they're buying 'em half off.  The surrounding Trail Dust Town is fun for kids, complete with train ride and Wild West stunt shows. 


Melting Pot: $$$$$-(if you have to ask)
Fondue restaurant wins for most romantic dinner experience in Tucson.  Cheese, meat, and chocolate fondue make for a perfect evening, though saving room for the latter requires more restraint than I possess.  Skip over the sound-better-than-they-taste "healthy" dipping broths, and go for the traditional hot oil meat bath.

The Dish: $$$$$  Cozy, mostly unmarked bistro tucked in behind the Rum Runner (one of Tucson's finest liquor stores, by the way) is a Tucsonan jewel serving sterlingly-prepared nouvelle cuisine. 

Acacia: $$$$$  An eclectic menu of interesting fusion choices highlights this pleasant St Phillips Plaza bistro.  The consistently high quality on a wide range of dishes was impressive.

Le Rendez-vous:  $$$$$-(if you have to ask)  Authentic and hearty Southern French cuisine makes this the best true French restaurant in Tucson.  But don't expect a cozy candlelit atmosphere for romance, it's more like that of a Bordeaux village bistro.

Red Sky Cafe: $$$$$  This "American bistro" takes the angle of using fresh Western U.S. ingredient in creatively prepared nouvelle dishes, and for the most part it totally works.  Another plus is that they serve Western American instead of French portions. 

Feast: $$$
Cute idea to sell high-end nouvelle cuisine in a down-home cafe format.  You can pick from the weekly-changing menu board (see their website) or else choose tapas-style from the display case.  Recent expansion means seating is no longer a game of musical chairs.  Nice selection of beers and ciders, and the desserts are tempting.  Make sure and browse the racks of high-end wines and olive oils that you can purchase for a nominal fee. 

French Quarter:
Not exactly French but rather Cajun, this noisy and smoky bar offers up some nice po' boys and other down-home cooking, with the appropriate level of Louisiana spice and the full range of Bourbon Street alcoholic concoctions.

Le-Delice: $$$$-$$$$$ The best patisserie in town also serves delicious homestyle French meals in a simple cafe setting.  You will want to save room for dessert, trust me.  Also ideal for a morning croissant (they feature a nice breakfast menu as well) or a dessert rendezvous, but make it early as they close at 8 most days. 

Pastiche: $$$$ Many locals swear by this affordably priced nouvelle bistro, but we have a hard time getting excited about the food here.  It's all somewhat pedestrian, fairly bland, and doesn't really live up to the promise of its seemingly extensive and interesting menu.  It's still quite good, but if you want this type of cuisine then you can get a range of more interesting options in town for just a few more bucks.

Dakota Cafe: $$$$-$$$$$ Within the Pinnacle Peak complex is this mildly upscale restaurant attempting California nouvelle cuisine.  I say "attempting" with a half-serious California sneer.  It's actually passable food, but a bit pricey for what it is.


Oregano's: $$$
Purveyors of molto-cheesy, molto-yummy Chicago style pizza.  They also reportedly make a fine thin-crust pizza from the "yeah, whatever" department.  Huge and delicious shrimp caesar salad for the Atkinsers, who merely have to resist the bed of irresistible crispy-fried vermicelli.  The downside is the omnipresent wait (reservations not accepted) and cramped quarters. 

Zona 78: $$$
California wood-fired pizzas are done just right at this hip Northside eatery with patio seating.  Best thin-crust pizza in town.  Kid-friendly.

Canal Street Pizzeria:  $$  Solidly good pizza, no gimmicks.  Lots of cheese, nice wood-fired crust, good atmosphere.  A tad pricey but worth it.  They deliver now too.

Vivace: $$$$$  Excellent but still perhaps somewhat overrated, this restaurant receives a lot of acclaim from critics and plebes alike.  All the elements are in place for a top-of-the-line restaurant, including excellent service, pleasant ambiance, an extensive wine list, and of course well-prepared food.  It's the kind of place to take a rich relative from back East in order to show them that Tucson does indeed have high quality  authentic Italian food, albeit at a cost.

Gavi: $$$-$$$$ This expanding local chain serves up some absolutely scrumptious high-end Tuscan fare.  If you're in the mood for pasta, head here basta.   Chef Gavi Colaleo has now expanded into French cuisine at his Kolb & Sunrise location; haven't sampled it ourselves but it did get a nice write-up:

Magpies: $$ Of the local chains this one consistently rates the best, both with us and in popular surveys.  Nice range of gourmet toppings prepared on your choice of crust, and they don't skimp on the cheese or sauce. 

Brooklyn Pizza Co: $$
Authentic New York style pizza done right (or as close to right as you're gonna find) in Tucson.  Fuhgeddaboudit.  By the slice, too.

Zachary's: $$  This after-school hangout just south of campus serves up ginormous deep dish pizzas to go with a none too shabby selection of beers on tap.  The pizza is not over-the-top good, but the whole scene is just plain fun, and if you leave hungry then you must be on a George Foreman seafood diet ("I see food, I eat it").  Caution for Bay Areans:  This is unrelated to the fabulous same-name Berkeley Chicago-style pizzerias, which disappointed me so much that I boycotted the place for a year. 

Rosati's: $$$  This budding nationwide chain does a creditable Chicago style deep dish and a mediocre thin crust.  Really, it's quite nice except the sauce is lacking in herbs and (particularly for us) garlic, so tends to be rather bland.  Go home and sprinkle on fresh garlic, basil and oregano and you got it going on.  Check out their new off-campus location at 6th and Campbell.

Sauce: $$$ Gourmet pizza outlet for a local fancy Italian place.  Wood-fired thin-crust pizza with creative toppings, including many with salad.  Downsides?  The wait, no substitutions allowed, and the limited menu choices, particularly for vegetarians who don't want arugula on their pizza. 

Old Chicago: $$$
The Chicago-style deep dish here is a bit sparse on cheese and sauce, leaving us wanting.  Sports bar atmosphere makes it a popular after-work hangout.  Good selection of beers on tap.

Grandma Tony's, Arizona Pizza Co.  $$ Equal in quality, style, and price.  Equally uninspiring.


Beyond Bread: $$
Wide selection of gourmet breads and scrumptious pastries make this le boulangerie par excellence in town.  But wait... there's more than just bread! (get it?)  They also offer a range of delicious hot and cold sandwiches, for which you can choose any bread from the selection du jour.

Mimi's Cafe: $$-$$$  Our favorite breakfast spot in Tucson, hearty and tasty, with gigantic muffins to start and well-prepared standards to finish.  Good service, kid friendly.  Dinner favors a slightly Cajun flavor, but offers a range of dishes to please all.

Blue Willow: $$  Head through the kitschy shop in front to get to a pleasant courtyard serving airy breakfast/brunch fare.  Great spot to while away a Sunday morning hangover with friends.

City Grill: $$-$$$  Burgers, steaks, chicken, ribs -- American food served in an upscale yet homey setting, at reasonable prices.  Woodfired pizzas, seafood, pasta, and a nice selection of desserts round out their diverse menu.  Everything good, but nothing great.

Eclectic Cafe: $$ Like Blue Willow, a nice spot for a lazy weekend breakfast, albeit with less atmosphere.  Fare tends to lean towards the healthy side, for example their pancakes are whole wheat.  Otherwise it's pretty standard and reasonably well done. 

University Eats
[Note: This section is listed alphabetically, and all places are $$ for lunch.  On University Ave. unless otherwise noted]

Asian Sandwich Deli:  In the underfrequented Nob Hill Plaza on Speedway is this new authentic Vietnamese deli, offering asian subs, buns, boba drinks, and other tasty on-the-go treats.  It's the sort of place you usually only find in ethnic areas of big cities.  A nice change of pace from the usual University lunch fare.  Update:  Reports are this has closed.  Sad day.

Bentley's:  A little slice of Santa Cruz right here in Tucson (Nob Hill Plaza), this communal-feeling coffee house offers sprout-based sandwiches and fresh-made simple and healthy dishes.  The coffee is pretty good, and the tea selection is extensive.

Chipotle: Plump burritos prepared line-style feature nicely seasoned rice and some interesting salsa choices.  Barbacoa is a must-try if you can handle the spice; other fillings are good as well, but they have no seafood option.
Fat Greek:  Souvlakis with home fries or a greek salad are made to order by the restaurant's namesake.  Check the specials board for occasional treats like dolmas and spanakopita.

Frog & Firkin:  Best option for the "life's too short for bad beer" crowd, this hip hangout features a wide selection of plus-quality menu items and beers.  A single slice of their deep dish pizza makes for a hearty lunch, or you can go Austin Powers with fish&chips and an Old Peculiar.

Gentle Ben's: This local brew pub serves up solid pub fare such as burgers, sandwiches and quesadillas.  Lunchtime homebrew pint is $2.25, in case you have a light work load for the afternoon.

Joel's Bistro:  An upscale but high-quality addition to the University Ave scene, offering gourmet sandwiches, superb soups and delicious salads.  Sure it costs a bit more, but as the ad goes, I'm worth it.

Kababeque:  Cozy place with nouveau-Mogul furniture and Bollywood posters features Indian food served in crispy paratha wraps.  The fillings and bread are no doubt tasty albeit smallish.  Nice option if you aren't that hungry or don't feel like driving to one of the Indian lunch buffets.

The Local Dough:  Taking over from the iconic Eric's Fine Foods and Ice Cream is this pizza and sandwich joint in Nob Hill Plaza.  After selling the businesss, Eric has re-purchased it but thankfully has retained the brew pub motif with a nice range of lesser-known microbrews. 

No Anchovies:  Decent pizza served by the slice, nice variety of toppings.  Beats Papa John's at the student union.

Pei Wei:  Fast-food version of P. F. Chang's serves great noodle/rice bowls and inventive Chinese-esque dishes. 

Sinbad's:  Best falafel in town, along with a wide range of great pita sandwiches and full Middle Eastern meals.   Sadly, in recent times they've gone Alice in Wonderland on us, with larger prices and smaller portions every time we go.  Next time we go we fully expect to pay $20 for an empty plate.  Strangely, we haven't been back. 

Sultan Palace:  You don't find an Afghan restaurant too often period, let alone as a campus chowhouse.  The novelty itself makes it worth a visit, but the food will not leave you disappointed.  The lunch buffet is pricey but tasty, and reports are the dinner is even better.

Vila Thai: 
Fancier than you would expect, this sit-down spot upstairs from the Fat Greek draws crowds for its rich curries and well-done Thai standards.  Lunch specials aren't the cheapest around but well worth it.  Also offers an upscale dinner menu, though we haven't yet sampled.

Romeel Davé
Last update 9/2/2009