Tucson is more than just margaritas, Sonoran hot dogs and 2 a.m. burritos stuffed with juicy nuggets of carne asada. But if that’s all you manage here, you’re still doing pretty well! This small desert city near the United States-Mexico border has the highest concentration of Sonoran food in the United States. But the university town also has a bohemian energy and an active food scene that got it a UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation in 2015. Here’s where to go while you’re eating through the Old Pueblo.
5 Points Market and Restaurant (756 S. Stone Ave., 520-623-3888, 5pointstucson.com) will give you all the Tucson vibes with its eclectic dining room and vibrant brunch plates. Go for the saucy huevos rancheros, and then shop for local goods in the market.
Breakfast burritos are a Tucson tradition. A local favorite is at the homey Anita Street Market (849 N. Anita Ave., 520-882-5280, facebook.com), in the historic Barrio Anita neighborhood. The housemade flour tortillas might bring on a mystical experience.
It’s worth taking a trip down to South Twelfth Avenue for a taco tour, starting at Tacos Apson (3501 S. 12th Ave., 520-670-1248, tacosapson.com). You’ll know it by the smoke coming off the mesquite grill, which produces all manner of grilled beef including costillas, or beef ribs that come directly on a flour tortilla.
Rollies Mexican Patio (4573 S. 12th Ave., 520-300-6289, rolliestucson.com) is a hip open-air restaurant just down the street. Flautas are the main game here, but there’s also an ice cream sandwich made with a concha pastry. Enough said.
On the higher end, head downtown for a glitzy dinner and cocktails at Elvira’s (256 E. Congress St., 520-499-2302, elvirasrestaurant.com). The mole is excellent, but you’ve got to try the Chile Poblano Frida Kahlo stuffed with squash blossoms.
On the casual side, the rowdy BK Tacos (choose the 2680 N. First Ave. location for dinner, 520-207-2245, bktacos.com) is open late, has the iconic Sonoran hot dog and makes absurdly good micheladas.
You can’t leave the desert heat without trying raspados, the Mexican version of shaved ice with fresh fruit, ice cream and more. Hit up the west side stand Oasis Fruit Cones (4126 S. 12th Ave., 1002 W. St. Mary’s Rd., 3419 N. First Ave., facebook.com).
GOOD TO KNOW
Getting there: Tucson International Airport no longer does direct flights to New York, so if you’re traveling from JFK or LaGuardia, you’re most likely going to have to make a stop in Phoenix. To save money, savvy travelers might rent a car at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and make the 100-mile drive down to Tucson.
Getting around: The downtown and University areas are walkable and connected by the Sun Link streetcar. But you’re going to need to use a ride-share or rent a car if you’d like to experience the city’s desert resorts or iconic Mexican neighborhoods.
Where to stay: Most travelers will stay at one of the many resorts up in the stunning Foothills area. A favorite is the laid-back Ventana Canyon (7000 N. Resort Dr., 520-299-2020, loewshotels.com/ventana-canyon), which features a naturalistic design inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. To really experience the city though, you should stay downtown at the chic new AC Marriott (151 E. Broadway Blvd., 520-385-7111, achotels.marriott.com) or the boutique Western motel The Downtown Clifton (485 S. Stone Ave., 520-623-3163, downtowntucsonhotel.com).