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 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.
In addition, the store is gorgeous. I can see my office decorated like it.
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.
This restaurant offers modern Italian food in a casual urban setting. The menu features artisan hand-made pizzas, sandwiches and hand-made pastas.
We tried the prosciutto with fresh burrata, balsamic vinegar and pears. It was served with bread made in house.
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.
We walked around town before hitting our next stop.
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.
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).
I also had the caramel hot cider I needed something to warm up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you think of Tucson’s food scene?
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