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Posted by on Jan 17, 2016 | 93 comments

Eating Tucson on a Food Tour

I love when plans that pop up at the last minute work like a charm.

Case in point:  a food tour we did in Tucson the day after Christmas.

The origins of this idea go back to December 23, a Wednesday.  I was still looking for ideas on what to see and do in the Southern Arizona area.  My husband and I had to work till the 24th. Therefore, we decided to drive to Tucson on the 25th and stay in the area for five days.

I remember seeing a food tour ad in the visitor’s guide.   My love for food made me check the tour’s website.  The price was right.  The food descriptions were right.  Even the reviews were right!

But, I knew they were probably not operating tours because of the season.  I clicked on the reservations link anyway.  My jaw dropped when I saw 4 available spots for the 26th (the only day we kind of had free).  I reserved without thinking about it twice.

Let’s now fast forward to that beautiful Saturday morning when we met with the tour guide and the rest of the group behind the Congress Hotel.  It was chilly but things started right since we were standing next to a bacon smoker. I felt like everybody was ready to eat up the town.

Tucson turned out to be one of those food paradises you never want to leave. Like many people, I was expecting a wide array of Mexican delicacies.  And, do not get me wrong, I got plenty of those.  The surprising thing is that the city has a considerable number of restaurants specializing in Italian, Asian, New American and International cuisine.  All of them are done well.  Plus, you wallet is not going to suffer as it would be in big cities.

Our guide, Brad, surely passed his love for Tucson to all of the tour participants.  He has worked in the service industry for more than 15 years and he seems to know everybody in town.  What I liked the most was his contagious passion for food.  Yes, he gave us insight into Tucson’s past.  He also talked about the current food scene.  However, my favorite moments were when he was describing what he likes to eat at each of the restaurant we visited.  He described everything from where he takes his out of town guests to how the cuts his favorite burrito.

If you ever stop by Tucson (and you should if you love food), consider taking this tour.  I do not think your will be able to try as many places if you do not go on an activity like this.  If you are not able to go on the tour, please, make sure to stop by one of the establishments described below.

The Hub Ice Cream Factory

Tucson’s favorite ice cream debuted in the dessert menu of The Hub Restaurant.  The frozen treats gained such notoriety that an establishment devoted only to ice cream and handmade sweets was opened across the restaurant.

The Hub Ice Cream Factoy, Tucson, Arizona

The Hub Ice Cream Factoy, Tucson, Arizona

The menu is composed of 300 rotating flavors with 24 available at a time.  We tried the Bourbon Almond Brittle and the Pistachio flavors.  They were creamy, intense and balanced.  Nobody seemed to care that it was 50 degrees outside.

The Hub Ice Cream Factoy, Tucson, Arizona

The Hub Ice Cream Factoy, Tucson, Arizona

In addition, the store is gorgeous.  I can see my office decorated like it.

The Hub Ice Cream Factoy, Tucson, Arizona

Empire Pizza

This place serves New York Style pizza at rock bottom prices.  I loved the garlic taste in their tomato sauce.  Check out their weekend specials.

Empire Pizza, Tucson, Arizona

Empire Pizza, Tucson, Arizona


This restaurant offers modern Italian food in a casual urban setting.  The menu features artisan hand-made pizzas, sandwiches and hand-made pastas.

Reilly, Tucson, Arizona

We tried the prosciutto with fresh burrata, balsamic vinegar and pears.  It was served with bread made in house.

Reilly, Tucson, Arizona

In addition, we tried the Brussels sprouts prepared with hot sauce, sherry vinegar and pecan brittle crumb. That was the single best thing I ate in the entire trip.

Reilly, Tucson, Arizona

We walked around town before hitting our next stop.

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

La Cocina & Old Town Artisan Shops

Since the name of this restaurant is in Spanish, it gives the impression that it serves only Mexican and other Latin food.  In fact, the menu reads like a spin around the world in 80 dishes.

La Cocina, Tucson, Arizona

We had the quinoa served with roasted vegetables and Thai peanut sauce.  We were so pleased with the dish that we bought two bottles of the sauce as a souvenir (it is bottled in house).

La Cocina, Tucson, Arizona

I also had the caramel hot cider I needed something to warm up.

La Cocina, Tucson, Arizona

The venue is surrounded by stores housed in an area constructed in the 1850’s.  There is a huge selection of colorful, local crafts. Watch your wallet because there are a lot of cute things in here.

La Cocina, Tucson, Arizona

El Charro Café

A visit to Tucson would not be complete if you do not stop to eat at El Charro.  This is the oldest family operated Mexican restaurant in the United States.

El Charro Cafe, Tucson, Arizona

There are many locations around the city but the original one in Downtown is the most atmospheric.  Our group occupied a room known as “The Library.” We were surrounded by bookcases and all sorts of Mexican memorabilia.

El Charro Cafe, Tucson, Arizona

In there we tried four types of tamales.  All were delicious.  Pardon my frankness but I just wanted to lick the remaining sauces from the serving plate.

El Charro Cafe, Tucson, Arizona

I am still banging my head against the wall since we didn’t have time to go back to El Charro. They have the best machaca (dry meat that is reconstituted at the moment of cooking) in town.

We did another short walk before making it to our final stop.

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson, Arizona

The Hub Restaurant & Creamery

This restaurant serves classic American cuisine.  We had the house-made pastrami and corned beef.  I devoured the samples and I do not even like pastrami. We also had a bit of the fried cheese curds.

The Hub, Tucson, Arizona

The Hub, Tucson, Arizona

What do you think of Tucson’s food scene?

Pin it for later?

Taste the best Tucson has to offer on a food tour around the Downtown district.



  1. Joining a food tour is something I had been planning on doing for years and haven’t just yet. This year perhaps. I haven’t been in Tucson but I think I’m going to enjoy it. How is the weather in December? I just can’t tolerate the heat.
    Photo cache recently posted..Genoa: At First SightMy Profile

    • You should consider doing a food tour. I would love to do a tour in every city a visit. To be honest, it is not always within my budget. I check any way and sometimes I get a pleasant surprise. The weather is in the 60s in Tucson during winter. When I visited, it was in the 50s but that is considered unusual.

  2. Hey! What a wonderful food tour. So used to NYC getting small bites but you actually got to experience the food with large amounts.

    • The portions on this tour were very generous. I went to another tour in Los Angeles and they have a balance of three big samples with three small samples. I would be annoyed if I only get small samples (unless it is like 10 samples).

    • Good! I like that attitude!

  3. That was a wonderful food tour!

    • Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Everything looks amazing! I haven’t visited Tucson since I was a little girl, but I’d revisit to try these places! Reilly’s looks amazing.
    Brooke of Passport Couture recently posted..Ecotourism QuotesMy Profile

    • I liked the variety. Shows how diverse is the food scene in Southern Arizona.

  5. I love your photos – what great places, and some mouthwatering food. Food tours are my new favourite thing when I visit new cities. As you say, you get to visit so many places, and often ones you’d never hear about otherwise, plus you discover a whole different side of the city. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..City Tripping #10My Profile

    • Cathy, I love food tour too. I hope I can do many more this year. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I love food tours! this one is right up my alley with 300 (!!) ice cream flavours and great Mexican food. I didn’t even know that ice cream came in that many flavours. My world will now never be the same.
    Shobha recently posted..Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes ExhibitMy Profile

    • Talking about ice cream, I just read there is a place in San Diego where you can sample 30 flavors at once. They serve the flavors in little cones. Guess where I want togo now?

  7. My husband and I spent a long weekend in Tucson several years ago and we are still talking about how great the food was (Poca Cosa, was one of our favorite spots), so this brought back many great memories and reminded me that we’re long overdue for a return trip!
    Joy @ Joy Love Food recently posted..What’d You Do This Weekend? #52My Profile

    • Yes, the samples are very generous. That is why they are so popular.

  8. Everything looks so delicious! My favorite type of food is Italian and that prosciutto with fresh burrata, balsamic vinegar and pears looks to die for! Awesome food tour (:

    • I think it is not easy to find good Italian food. A lot of places are pure hype. The place we visited on the tour was great. Even my husband, which is not that fond of Italian food,loved it.

  9. Wow, who knew that Tucson had such a cool food scene?! The tamales look amazing… I could really use some Mexican food now, it’s been far too long! And same with the pizza. And that candy and ice cream shop just looks like pure sugar paradise!
    Anna recently posted..Travel plans for 2016 revealed!My Profile

    • That is why I love to travel. Discovering Tucson’s food scene felt so good (and tasted better). I cannot get the ice cream store out of my mind.

    • That’s right. I think you would love food tours. Starting one is a great idea too. The owner of Tucson’s Food Tours were just a couple who loved to eat. Now, they have a business based on their passion.

  10. As always Ruth, you’ve got my belly rumbling! This all looks amazing! Food tours are my favorite and in my opinion the best way to get to know a place and it’s culture! I’ve been on a Brussel Sprout kick lately, and these look amazing!
    Lauren recently posted..2015 Highlight ReelMy Profile

    • I am crazy about Brussel sprouts too. They are so good, especially when you mix them with bacon ;0)

  11. I really enjoy your food posts Ruth – always makes me so hungry though! Looks like a fantastic way to explore Tucson…and anywhere which makes Brussel sprouts deserves a medal in my book! Thanks for linking up to #citytripping

    • Thanks! Those Brussels Sprouts were delicious. I would love to replicate the recipe but not sure it is going to come right.

  12. *Makes Brussels sprouts taste good!* that should say … It doesn’t happen very often.

    • Well, you know, in California we have lots of people who get Brussels sprouts right. We even have nachos made with them (weird but tastes good).

    • You should consider it. First, it is just plain fun. Second, you really get a good grasp of the food scene in an area or neighborhood. Third, you try lots of establishments in a short period of time. Plus, you make new friends and connections. I think it is a win-win situation.

  13. We love to take food tours or cooking classes when we travel. I may be in the minority here but I adore brussel sprouts and a version of those ones in hot sauce with the crunch crumb are definitely going on my experimentation list when winter vege is in season this year.
    Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers recently posted..Mary Cairncross Scenic ReserveMy Profile

    • I will need to come up with a Brussels sprouts post. I know some very good recipes.

    • The tamales were dreaming. The bad part is that other tour participants almost devour them before they got to me. I am telling you, I do not know why I didn’t go back to El Charro.

  14. A great collection of photos, well except for the Brussel Sprouts GAAK!!! Really love the brightly coloured yellow exterior wall of the El Charro Cafe & the photo of the Blue Door is especially eye catching, great shot.

    P.S. Your Submit Comment button is very hard to see. I ticked the GASP checkbox then couldn’t find the Submit button. After a lot of searching I eventually spotted it. Maybe it’s just my old man’s eyes that’s the problem.
    Tony McGurk recently posted..Grassy PolesMy Profile

    • Tony, I am almost sure that you would have enjoyed those Brussels sprouts. Thanks for your insightful comments. I am working on redesigning the site. Hopefully, everything will be easier in the future.

    • It was my kind of tour too since there was tons of food ;0)

  15. Wow – you just made me both very, very hungry and suddenly lusting for Tucson 🙂 Every single food you took pictures of looks so good. And the establishments look very unique.

    • So great! Tucson and Southern Arizona deserve a visit. There are so many things to do there!

  16. Arizona is famous for good food. My sister lives in Scottsdale and every time I visit her she takes me to a new restaurant. However, I’ve never been in Tucson, so it’s good to know they have such great eating places too.
    Anda recently posted..The Weekly Postcard: Florence Through My LensMy Profile

    • I have never been to Phoenix or Scottdale. Now, Tucsonans were loud and clear about one thing: their food is better than the one that can be found in Phoenix. I have to go and check if that is true.

    • There are so many ways to eat Brussels sprouts. If I do not have a lot of time I put them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and lemon. I then sprinkle them with Parmesan cheese.

    • Lauren, I love food tours too. Fingers cross I can go on several ones this year.

  17. Ruth, I love Arizona and especially the great Mexican food you can get there. I would have been just as thrilled to take this tour. How fun!
    Corinne recently posted..Searching for TreasureMy Profile

    • I still feel like I have not explored well the wide offerings of Mexican food in Arizona. The one found in there is different from the one in California. I want to discover more.

  18. I would have been done at the ice cream factory! WOW! 😀 I’ve never thought of going on a food tour since I’m the pickiest eater anyone knows, but this makes me reconsider. 😀
    Trekking with Becky recently posted..Japan’s Biggest Sand DuneMy Profile

    • Well, I guess it depends on what you like to eat. I have noticed tours are able to accommodate different diets or eating styles. A little bit research will tell you if the tour is a fit for you. But, let me tell you, in this particular tour, there were people saying they didn’t like certain things but really enjoyed the version of those things served in the tour.

  19. Food tours are fun, aren’t they? But I’m glad I finished breakfast before following you along so I’m not as hungry as I would have been. Those Brussels sprouts look yummy! I’m going to see if there’s a recipe online, would love to try making it!
    Wonder how the New York-style pizza stacks up against the real New York pizza. I’d love to visit Tuscon and check out this tour. Thanks, Ruth!
    Marcia recently posted..The Secret Cottage Tour of The Cotswolds, IIMy Profile

    • I am not a person who craves pizza since my Dad worked in a pizzeria when I was a kid. I think I have had my share of pizza for life. Even in that situation, I liked the pizza served in the tour.

    • We were full after the tour but ate something a bit later.

  20. Looks delicious, you go on so many great food tours:) Laurence hates brussel sprouts and believes there is no way to make them taste good, so I’d love to have him on this tour to see if he would like the ones you tried!

    • All those grounds were covered here. The balance was perfect since there was not a dull moment. The tour owners are always collecting feedback and trying to learn from other companies.

    • As a kid, I remember eating Brussels sprouts once. I hated them. But, really, I do not think a lot of Puerto Ricans know how to cook them properly? Now, here in the United States, people prepare them in many delicious ways. I have learned to love them.

  21. I read your headline as ‘Tuscany’ and spent the first paragraph or so totally confused until I realised my mistake. I have never been on a food tour but it sounds like a great way to see (taste?) the sights in Tuscon.
    Lyn aka TheTravellingLindfields recently posted..The Truth about the Icefields ParkwayMy Profile

    • I think that happen to me too. I was looking at the title of the post in social media channel and I saw Tuscany when I was scrolling. So funny!

    • I can understand why! I even feel hungry after looking at these pictures.

  22. Like you I expected only tex-mex eateries, so it was surprising to see all of the different restaurants on the tour. I’ve never done a food tour but we have done a few pub tours – with food- and enjoyed those.

    • Actually, I do not think the food in Southern Arizona is considered Tex-Mex. It is Sonora style (since Tucson was part of Sonora, even after the Mexican American War, it passed to the hands of the United States because of the Gadsen Purchase).

  23. Everything looks yummy. Love the ice cream shop decor. And the Italian urban cafe. Very cool.

    • I was surprised at the decor of the establishments. The cool thing is that these places were designed by local firms.

  24. My parents live in Tucson now, so this is a great guide! I can’t wait to check some of these out.

    • You have a good excuse to go and explore now! I am sure you will enjoy the Tucson gastronomic scene.

  25. Yum!!! I have never done a food tour on any of my travels. Although I do plenty of eating hehe. Maybe I should actually book on for a coming trip 😉
    Paige recently posted..A whirlwind 3 day trip through Prague!My Profile

    • I like to eat a lot and I like food tours ;0) Like I mentioned in a previous comment, I am not able to afford food tours all the time. However, it is great when I can do it.

  26. I enjoyed visiting Tuscan as a kid on our summer road trips and plan to drive there with my husband on a future trip back to the US. The food looks great! I think we would enjoy this food tour.
    Karen recently posted..Two Picky Eaters in Tokyo: A Dining ReviewMy Profile

    • This is a great place to visit on a road trip. There is so much to see and do. I enjoyed my time there a lot.

  27. Great pictures, as usual, and your blog is so interesting with all the details and info. Hmm, am really thinking I need to do a food tour 🙂
    Ruth Daly recently posted..A lazy Sunday afternoon drive.My Profile

    • Thanks Ruth. I think everybody should enjoy a food tour at least once. It is a really nice activity and it can be done with the entire family.

    • I bet you there is one in New Orleans. I mean there has to be one since that is one of the best food places in the US.

    • Thanks for stopping by Amanda. It is always fun to share food pictures.

  28. Oh my, the Hub Ice cream factory would probably be my first and only stop if Monkey were with me! 🙂 I really need to do a food tour – I love reading about the different ones you go on! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes
    Ting at My Travel Monkey recently posted..Holiday Snapshots #44 Duinrell, HollandMy Profile

  29. Very nice! I really like your food tour.

    • Thanks a lot Birgitta. Glad to know you liked it.

  30. Hi Ruth – Catching up on #WeekendWanderlust and just LOVED this post! You’ve managed to make me both hungry and homesick at the same time. 😉 El Charro is awesome, and not to be missed. Interesting assortment of places – some that I’ll have to try out the next time I make it “back home”. Thanks for sharing!
    RobRob@TravelLatte(.net) recently posted..ICYMI – This week in Travel News (29 January 2016)My Profile

    • Good to know you are a Tucson native. Now, I know who to consult if I have questions. I love Arizona! And, need to go back to El Charro.

  31. Hello Ruth, it is interesting to see your food menu. I am learning new things through your blog. I am following you and I am inviting you to follow me too. Thank you and have a beautiful day!

    • Thanks a lot Nancie! I have started to follow you thru several social media channels.

  32. Hello, the food tour sounds like fun. I am always up to trying new restaurants and food. My hubby is always stuck to his favorite foods. Thanks for sharing the food looks delicious.

    Enjoy your day and the week ahead!
    Eileen recently posted..Throwback visit Bear Lake Wildlife RefugeMy Profile

    • Eileen, good for you. What does your husband likes?


  1. Arm Chair Travel #1 - Toddlers on Tour - […] Ruth from Tanama Tales is often showing off her gastronomic tours.  This month she was Eating Tucson on a…

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