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A verde pizza on a round metal pan with green swirls of sauce on the top and white plated sides of seasonal vegetables.
A “verde pizza” pairs with seasonal vegetables at Anello.
Jackie Tran

18 Essential Tucson Restaurants

Where to eat in the Old Pueblo, from neighborhood cafes and taco shops to seasonal pizzerias

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A “verde pizza” pairs with seasonal vegetables at Anello.
| Jackie Tran

With Tucson just over an hour away from Nogales, Mexico, Sonoran cuisine shines. Don’t get caught up exclusively with the mesquite smoke and paper-thin flour tortillas, however. With the first UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Gastronomy in the United States, Tucson stands out on the map with a deep agricultural history, and now, a wide range of culinary perks. Even humble taquerias and pizzerias feature locally grown produce, down to the I’itoi onions, heritage White Sonora wheat, and Green Valley pecan wood.

Although several treasured restaurants closed with the arrival of the pandemic, many are back to thriving with the return of dine-in services, continuing the city’s prior momentum in the culinary scene. Here are the 18 absolutely essential spots to check out in Tucson.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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The Parish

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Chef Travis Peters showcases his distinct Tucson flair with Southern specialties and upbeat Mardi Gras energy at the Parish. Although classics such as gumbo and hush puppies are easy picks, regulars don’t hesitate to try Peters’s experimental weekly specials. Also, check out the evolving line of house-made hot sauces and infused spirits as well.

Aqui Con El Nene

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Owner Salvador Gastelum hails from Ciudad Obregón, which shows on the menu’s regional specialties. The Papancha, popular in Obregón, is a baked potato topped with mesquite-grilled carne asada, mushrooms, and melted cheese. The Lorenza is a similar to a tostada, but the tortilla is grilled until crunchy and topped with meat and shredded cabbage.

Noodleholics

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This Chinese noodle shop offers a variety of dishes with rice noodles and freshly made wheat noodles in a modern fast-casual environment. The small dishes are also key to the full experience; don’t miss out on the salt and pepper wings, spicy chaoshou dumplings, and cooling garlic cucumber.

Kingfisher

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Some of the staff at Kingfisher has been with the restaurant for decades. While the restaurant is a local’s top pick for traditional seafood and expertly shucked oysters, the menu expands biweekly in the summer with dishes from various American regions such as the Great Plains, California, and Hawaii.

El Taco Rustico

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A former swap-meet stand, chef Juan Almanza signed the lease to open his restaurant mere weeks before the pandemic. Regardless, the spot is now thriving with regulars enjoying slow-grilled costillas and crunchy tacos of tender tripas. The trendy quesabirrias have also become a popular must-have.

Zemam's Too

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Zemam’s began as a five-seat restaurant almost 30 years ago. While the original Broadway location is temporarily closed, the secondary Speedway location still offers the icon’s Ethiopian cuisine with dishes such as beef simmered in spicy berbere sauce and spiced cauliflower roasted with peppers and garbanzo flour.

Tito & Pep

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Chef John Martinez fully embraces his mesquite grill with nearly every dish in his full-service, midcentury modern restaurant, which was a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist. While Tito and Pep’s queso fundido is easily one of its most popular dishes, must-haves include the sea bass crudo, grilled octopus, and seasonal pozole.

Barista Del Barrio

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Barista del Barrio offers a simple but well-executed breakfast menu with marvelously friendly service. Rather than serving one massive burrito, the restaurant serves two smaller, grilled breakfast burritos in an order. The lattes feature distinctly Mexican flavors such as horchata and mazapan.

Anita Street Market

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Use a map to locate this treasure tucked away in a residential neighborhood. The pillowy flour tortillas make every burro memorable, whether stuffed with luscious red chile beef or machaca and eggs. Take a pack of warm tortillas to go and try not to eat them all in the car.

BOCA Tacos Y Tequila

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A 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist and previous contestant on Top Chef, Maria Mazon has earned an honorary title as Tucson’s salsa queen. Diners receive a variety of creative salsas that rotate daily, which can include unconventional ingredients such as raspberries and bananas. Just a few doors down, Mazon also operates Sonas tortillas, a small market and tortilleria.

Tumerico

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Vegetables steal the show at chef Wendy Garcia’s restaurant. Although cheese and eggs are offered, most of the restaurant’s ever-changing menu is vegan with options such as jackfruit carnitas and cochinita pibil. Garcia isn’t scared of spice, so adventurous palates will never be bored.

Savor the Neapolitan pizza with a side of vegetables kissed with char from the wood-fired pizza oven at Anello. Pizzeria Bianco alumnus Scott Girod showcases seasonal, local ingredients beautifully in a minimalist fashion, matching the minimalist interior. The building doesn’t have any sign or window decal, but keep an eye out for the red bar of light above the window.

Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink

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A downtown staple, Reilly serves Italian favorites in a laid-back yet elegant environment suitable for both business lunches and romantic dates. Share some of the fresh pasta and Brussels sprouts with pecan brittle crumbs. Downtown parking is easily available in the garage across the street.

Charro Steak & Del Rey

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Although the Flores family is best known for chimichangas at their iconic El Charro Cafe, their downtown steak restaurant steps it up with premium steaks and seafood. The restaurant’s signature lobster tamalada features a split lobster stuffed with masa and green and red salsas.

Kukai serves its Japanese comfort classics out of a modified shipping container kitchen. While onigiri was originally the focal point, the menu has since evolved to offer a selection of rice bowls, ramen, and sushi rolls. Diners can enjoy their meals in the courtyard with libations from Westbound next door.

Five Points Market & Restaurant

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American and Mexican breakfast and lunch shine in this neighborhood eatery. Dishes such as the smoked salmon Benedict gracefully juggle elements of comfort food with “conscious eating,” utilizing stellar produce from local farms. The dessert cases display tantalizing options such as cookies with toffee, chocolate chips, sea salt, and brown butter.

Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones

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In a town specializing in Sonoran hot dogs, Ruiz stands out with toasted buns and an optimal topping ratio. The slightly sweet bun cradles the toppings for a less-messy bite, while the savory and tangy grilled pepper on the side provides a fiery contrast.

PY Steakhouse

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One of Tucson’s lesser-known treasures, PY Steakhouse is located at the southwestern edge of town at Casino Del Sol. While steak is in the name, the restaurant truly stands out with its sophisticated use of seasonal local ingredients with components such as house-made beef garum and Whiskey Del Bac barrel-aged white balsamic.

The Parish

Chef Travis Peters showcases his distinct Tucson flair with Southern specialties and upbeat Mardi Gras energy at the Parish. Although classics such as gumbo and hush puppies are easy picks, regulars don’t hesitate to try Peters’s experimental weekly specials. Also, check out the evolving line of house-made hot sauces and infused spirits as well.

Aqui Con El Nene

Owner Salvador Gastelum hails from Ciudad Obregón, which shows on the menu’s regional specialties. The Papancha, popular in Obregón, is a baked potato topped with mesquite-grilled carne asada, mushrooms, and melted cheese. The Lorenza is a similar to a tostada, but the tortilla is grilled until crunchy and topped with meat and shredded cabbage.

Noodleholics

This Chinese noodle shop offers a variety of dishes with rice noodles and freshly made wheat noodles in a modern fast-casual environment. The small dishes are also key to the full experience; don’t miss out on the salt and pepper wings, spicy chaoshou dumplings, and cooling garlic cucumber.

Kingfisher

Some of the staff at Kingfisher has been with the restaurant for decades. While the restaurant is a local’s top pick for traditional seafood and expertly shucked oysters, the menu expands biweekly in the summer with dishes from various American regions such as the Great Plains, California, and Hawaii.

El Taco Rustico

A former swap-meet stand, chef Juan Almanza signed the lease to open his restaurant mere weeks before the pandemic. Regardless, the spot is now thriving with regulars enjoying slow-grilled costillas and crunchy tacos of tender tripas. The trendy quesabirrias have also become a popular must-have.

Zemam's Too

Zemam’s began as a five-seat restaurant almost 30 years ago. While the original Broadway location is temporarily closed, the secondary Speedway location still offers the icon’s Ethiopian cuisine with dishes such as beef simmered in spicy berbere sauce and spiced cauliflower roasted with peppers and garbanzo flour.

Tito & Pep

Chef John Martinez fully embraces his mesquite grill with nearly every dish in his full-service, midcentury modern restaurant, which was a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist. While Tito and Pep’s queso fundido is easily one of its most popular dishes, must-haves include the sea bass crudo, grilled octopus, and seasonal pozole.

Barista Del Barrio

Barista del Barrio offers a simple but well-executed breakfast menu with marvelously friendly service. Rather than serving one massive burrito, the restaurant serves two smaller, grilled breakfast burritos in an order. The lattes feature distinctly Mexican flavors such as horchata and mazapan.

Anita Street Market

Use a map to locate this treasure tucked away in a residential neighborhood. The pillowy flour tortillas make every burro memorable, whether stuffed with luscious red chile beef or machaca and eggs. Take a pack of warm tortillas to go and try not to eat them all in the car.

BOCA Tacos Y Tequila

A 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist and previous contestant on Top Chef, Maria Mazon has earned an honorary title as Tucson’s salsa queen. Diners receive a variety of creative salsas that rotate daily, which can include unconventional ingredients such as raspberries and bananas. Just a few doors down, Mazon also operates Sonas tortillas, a small market and tortilleria.

Tumerico

Vegetables steal the show at chef Wendy Garcia’s restaurant. Although cheese and eggs are offered, most of the restaurant’s ever-changing menu is vegan with options such as jackfruit carnitas and cochinita pibil. Garcia isn’t scared of spice, so adventurous palates will never be bored.

Anello

Savor the Neapolitan pizza with a side of vegetables kissed with char from the wood-fired pizza oven at Anello. Pizzeria Bianco alumnus Scott Girod showcases seasonal, local ingredients beautifully in a minimalist fashion, matching the minimalist interior. The building doesn’t have any sign or window decal, but keep an eye out for the red bar of light above the window.

Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink

A downtown staple, Reilly serves Italian favorites in a laid-back yet elegant environment suitable for both business lunches and romantic dates. Share some of the fresh pasta and Brussels sprouts with pecan brittle crumbs. Downtown parking is easily available in the garage across the street.

Charro Steak & Del Rey

Although the Flores family is best known for chimichangas at their iconic El Charro Cafe, their downtown steak restaurant steps it up with premium steaks and seafood. The restaurant’s signature lobster tamalada features a split lobster stuffed with masa and green and red salsas.

Kukai

Kukai serves its Japanese comfort classics out of a modified shipping container kitchen. While onigiri was originally the focal point, the menu has since evolved to offer a selection of rice bowls, ramen, and sushi rolls. Diners can enjoy their meals in the courtyard with libations from Westbound next door.

Related Maps

Five Points Market & Restaurant

American and Mexican breakfast and lunch shine in this neighborhood eatery. Dishes such as the smoked salmon Benedict gracefully juggle elements of comfort food with “conscious eating,” utilizing stellar produce from local farms. The dessert cases display tantalizing options such as cookies with toffee, chocolate chips, sea salt, and brown butter.

Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones

In a town specializing in Sonoran hot dogs, Ruiz stands out with toasted buns and an optimal topping ratio. The slightly sweet bun cradles the toppings for a less-messy bite, while the savory and tangy grilled pepper on the side provides a fiery contrast.

PY Steakhouse

One of Tucson’s lesser-known treasures, PY Steakhouse is located at the southwestern edge of town at Casino Del Sol. While steak is in the name, the restaurant truly stands out with its sophisticated use of seasonal local ingredients with components such as house-made beef garum and Whiskey Del Bac barrel-aged white balsamic.

Related Maps