Our Top Restaurant Recommendations
Tucson is experiencing a boom in great restaurants getting excellent reviews. In 2016 it was first city in the country to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. I am always glad to try new spots on my annual trips to the area. My top recommendations include:
Maynards Market and Kitchen: I highly recommend the attractive restaurant and the attached market featuring over 40 Arizona vendors of quality food products. I had a great brunch in the restaurant. It is located in an historic railroad depot on the East side of Downtown. The Tucson Farmer’s Market is held on the plaza every Saturday.
Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails: Located at 135 S. 6th Street, this is a perfect spot for dinner downtown. I had a great meal and great service. Chef Janos Wilder received The James Beard Foundation award as the top chef in the Southwest in 2000. This restaurant is his most recent addition to the Tucson restaurant scene.
Playground: After dinner checkout the rooftop bar at Playground at 278 East Congress, across from the Historic Hotel Congress.
Café Poca Cosa, 110 E Pennington: I had a great meal in this restaurant recommended by The New York Times. The chef, Suzana Davilia, prepares innovative Mexican cuisine in a chic, contemporary space.
La Cocina, at Old Town Artisans downtown, is a fun spot for Mexican and Southwestern specialties.
El Charro, 311 N. Court St.: This is America’s oldest Mexican restaurant, operated by the same family since 1922.
Epic Café, 745 N 4th: I tried the café for a mid-afternoon snack at the suggestion of the New York Times. It had a fun vibe. The staff was very helpful in helping me find some other Tucson areas to explore. It is located on the street car line of 4th Street.
Mercado San Agustin: My new favorite is the popular, public market at 100. S. Avenida del Convento, at the corner of W. Congress west of the interstate and downtown. Here you will find 12 locally owned shops and restaurants. There is a Thursday Farmer’s Market, a weekend brunch and other special events and concerts. There is La Estrella Bakery for traditional Mexican pastries and pan dulce, San Agustin Trading Company featuring Native American crafts and jewelry, Dolce Pastello featuring Mexican home-made cakes and tamales. Sonoran Sno-Cones, Presta Coffee Roasters for coffee drinks, La Cabana for furniture and home decor, Mast a local boutique specializing in accessories, jewelry and home goods and Seis Kitchen for Mexican street food. There is also Transit Cycles, a local bike shop.
The highlight is Agustin Kitchen at 100 S Avenida Del Convento Suite 200, where I had dinner with a local friend. It has a warm, contemporary design and has very good food.
Feast: Recommended by the Chef at the Curious Kumkuat in Silver City NM, this is 3719 E. Speedway. Feast and Feast’s chef/owner, Doug Levy, have been positively featured in The New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Arizona Daily Star, Phoenix Magazine, Arizona Highways, The Tucson Citizen, The Tucson Weekly, and The Desert Leaf.
I had a really excellent meal at this popular Tucson restaurant and wine store. My scallop entree with lobster served over a shrimp and cauliflower hash with a coconut milk reduction, tat soi and vadouvan, was perfectly prepared. My friends enjoyed their entrees as well. Chef/Owner Doug Levy was delightful and spent time talking to every table and describing the creative menu.
Penca, 50 E. Broadway Blvd.: This fun spot in downtown Tucson, perfect for Mexican City street food and cuisine, has received good press and reviews. I loved the decor and food.
5 Points Market & Restaurant: Located just south of downtown, this is a casual market and restaurant serving coffee, excellent baked goods, a great selection of breakfast items from huevos rancheros to a smoked salmon benedict and a good selection of salads and sandwiches for lunch. 756 S. Stone Ave.
Next door, at 758 S. Stone Ave., is Café Desta for Ethopian Cuisine and Coffee and Bon which is a really lovely boutique featuring clothing, accessories plus home furnishings and accessories, owned by a Mother and Daughter team. 760 S. Stone.
Hub Restaurant & Ice Creamery: At 266 E Congress, this is a popular restaurant and ice creamery. They recently opened a store across the street at 245 E. Congress just for their great ice cream. I always have to go back when I am in town!
Exo Coffee: Locals recommend Exco at 403 N. 6th Ave. near the Warehouse Arts District. I tried it and enjoyed the coffee and the atmosphere. Stop in as you explore the galleries.
Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market: This is a fun new addition to downtown Tucson. In addition to grocery, deli and take out items, you can select from coffee drinks, sandwiches, salads and breakfast items. 11. St. 6th Ave.
Caffe Luce: Sparkroot Coffee, at 245 E. Congress is now Caffe Luce. It is a great spot for coffee downtown in an attractive two level store.
47 Scott, has been a popular spot downtown since 2010. I enjoyed dinner with a local friend. I thought the kale salad and the pan seared salmon with rice and asparagus were excellent along with a great rose on a hot summer night. 47 N. Scott. After dinner I really enjoyed Batch Cafe & Bar at 118 E. Congress. This is a brick-walled spot known for whiskey, craft beer, snacks, gourmet grilled cheese and decadent donuts. I loved trying the Classic Unsmoked Aged Single Malt whiskey, from Whiskey del Bac, a local distiller that I had toured that afternoon.
My growing list of places to try based on recommendations and recent articles includes:
Elvira’s: This Tubac institution has opened a Tucson location at E. Congress. They feature contemporary Mexican cuisine including a mole menu. I can’t wait to try it on my next trip. I also want to try the Owls Club at 236 S. Scott. It is a bar/cocktail lounge in a former funeral home. The original pews are used as seating throughout.
Zinburger, a wine and burger bar, Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine, Blancos Tacos + Tequila and Wild Garlic Grill are on other lists. Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink downtown is good for pasta, pizza and beer, according to a local friend, “Foodie” and chef. He also loves Inca’s, Contigo Cocina and Wild Garlic.
Public Brewhouse: This is a micro-brewery at 209 N. Hoff Ave.
Little Poco Cosa: A part of Cafe Poco Cosa, this is a casual breakfast and lunch spot that also serves coffee. 151 N. Stone.
Cartel Coffee Lab, 210 E. Broadway: With other locations in Scottsdale, Phoenix and in Tucson at 2516 N. Campbell. They are known for sourcing, roasting and brewing good coffee.
There is also Presta Coffee Roasters at 2502 N. 1st Ave.
Distilleries and Microbreweries
Tucson has a growing number of local distilleries and microbreweries that you can visit. Make sure to try:
Thunder Canyon Brewery & Distillery: This local microbrewery and distillery has a restaurant and pub downtown. They brew their beers locally and are adding spirits in the near future. 220 E. Broadway. They feature ales, stouts and porters.
The Independent Distillery: Located in a most attractive facility downtown, this is a local distillery that is soon releasing its new gins, rums, vodkas, whiskeys, bourbons, absinthe and bitters. 30 S. Arizona Ave.
Hamilton Distillers/Whiskey del Bac: This is a small local distillery, located at 2106 Forbes Blvd. #103, in an industrial area just west of I-10 off of Grant. They produce an excellent single malt aged whiskey called the Classic, a single malt mesquite smoked aged whiskey and a clear, mesquite smoked unaged whiskey similar to mezcal. My favorite was the aged single malt. You can sign up in advance online for a tour and tasting.
Nearby is the Dragoon Brewing Company at 1859 W Grant Rd #111. Here you can visit their tasting room and try one of their year-round beers, specialty beers and seasonal beers. I enjoyed the Pony Express Pale Ale. I had to try it since I am from St. Joseph, MO, the start of the Pony Express.