You may only know of Tucson as that place Halsey beat that Blink 182 song to death, but this little city in Arizona deserves to be well known outside of just those who attended the University of Arizona. With amazing hiking, spectacular mountain views no matter which direction you face, and a surprisingly developed food scene, Tucson is as worthy of a trip as the usual hot spots like Phoenix and Scottsdale.
I could go into a whole spiel about where to hike and what to see, but most importantly I need you all to know where to eat. Because that’s what matters.
There are even six restaurants that I found to be worth trying twice (sometimes even thrice). In no particular order, here they are:
1. El Charro is one of many Mexican restaurants worth trying in Tucson, but this spot has been reigning from downtown Tucson since 1922 – and that might not seem like that long ago but don’t freak out when you realize that’s nearly 100 years ago. They even have clearly designated vegan and vegetarian options that are all awesome and elaborate. I tried a vegetarian combination of tamales, enchiladas, and rellenos (stuffed chile pepper). I’m still thinking about the tamales in particular… Also, don’t get excited about ordering prickly pear margaritas here. Their house marg is pure gold, so don’t stray from the classic.
2. Wildflower for new American fare that is consistent and delicious. This spot is a Tucson favorite with great atmosphere and a quality-over-quantity wine list that I love (few options makes it easy to decide, but still interesting variety to branch out from the “six noble grapes”). My favorite dish on the menu is their smoked mozzarella pansotti. My coworker would agree; over the course of a month, she ordered it all three times we ate here.
3. Senae Thai Bistro is possibly the best Thai you’ll be able to find in the South/Southwest area of the US. Likely thanks to Tucson’s collegiate population, Senae has taken a strong hold downtown as the highest rated Thai for miles. Apart from the food, the service is genuinely noteworthy (shoutout to Amir for being the best server any of us have ever had).
4. Tumerico is a casual spot for tacos. Mindblowingly yummy, vegan, and believe it or not – the highest rated restaurant on Yelp in all of Tucson. Yes. A vegan restaurant takes the cake (though they do offer cheese for those who ask for it). Get the cuban taco – they season the jackfruit to perfection. I would honestly say it’s better than most tacos I have ever had. Another fun perk at Tumerico is free unlimited coffee with your order. Seriously, try to find a reason not to fall in love with this place.
5. Renee’s Organic Oven is this possibly the most flexible restaurant I’ve been to in a while. If you want Italian but you also want vegan options, and you want to try some local Arizona wine (love the winery Sand Reckoner featured on their menu) but maybe dabble with some cool cocktails as well – or maybe even keep your Whole30 going and settle for something innocent like a prickly pear lemonade – Renee’s is it. Their menu is perfect for a back & forth gal like me who is super into trying a vegan pesto on my zucchini-noodle pasta primavera but also is not-gonna-not order the goat cheese cheesecake for dessert. They also did this cool thing where they mixed honey and olive oil for your bread, rather than a traditional balsamic and oil situation. Innovative fare, yet maintains a hold on the classic Italian items.
6. Baja Cafe will always leave a pleasant memory in my mind. A wildly large menu with pancake flavors from snickerdoodle (my favorite) to pineapple express, and dozens of styles of eggs benedict (let’s just say there is even a version that involves a waffle made of mac and cheese…). This is one of those Tucson favorites where you can expect a line out the door and a bit of wait but it is 1000% worth it. You will leave in a food coma, so be prepared.