The Getaway
15 Best Mexican Food Spots in Tucson

Tucson isn't just one of America's best food cities. This Southern Arizona town claims to serve America's Best Mexican Food. Located across the border from Sonora, Mexico, Tucson's Mexican cuisine is distinctly Sonora-influenced but doesn't shy away from bold, new ideas. The result is a local cuisine that fuses regional flavors, traditional techniques, and cultural influences with a Tucson flavor. In fact, the city's reliance on local indigenous farmers to grow native ingredients using age-old farming practices is one reason why it was named the U.S.' first City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. From iconic eateries serving classic dishes to pop-ups dropping jaws with flavorful street foods, a taste of Tucson's best Mexican dishes will satisfy even the pickiest of palates.

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01 A Taste of Sonora in Tucson

Homemade Sonoran Hot Dogs with Bacon Mustard Mayo

Tucson has a lot going for it, but few things come close to the infamous Sonoran Hot Dog. A Sonoran-style dog is distinct: bacon-wrapped and grilled, served on a steamed bolillo roll with pinto beans, pico de gallo, and avocado with mustard and mayo topping. A Tucson staple, you'll see this delicious concoction on menus across the city. For a truly authentic taste of this classic Mexican street food, head for El Guero Canelo, a modest eatery that was once a food cart. The restaurant's Estilo Sonora Hotdog is a James Beard Award recipient. Other menu must-tries are the caramelo, a flour tortilla quesadilla stuffed with grilled meat or chicken, or the carne asada tacos.

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02 Seafood with a Mexican Twist

Tucson might not be near the sea, but vendors on the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean provide a bounty of fresh seafood for traditional Mexican mariscos. At Mariscos Chihuahua, you can experience Mexican cuisine with a distinctly coastal feel. Start with an appetizer of ceviche tostada or a seafood combination cocktail. Then dig into their most famous dish, the Culichi, which comes with sauteed fish or shrimp in a creamy green sauce. At El Berraco, owner Benjamin Galaz has a passion for finding quality ingredients for the food and cocktails. Try the toritos, bacon-wrapped yellow peppers stuffed with shrimp and swordfish, or La Berraca Tostada, a fusion of mariscos and sushi. If you're feeling brave, don't hesitate to order El Octopus, a whole grilled octopus served with cilantro rice and salsas.

03 Family-Owned Gem

El Charro Cafe is a Tucson institution. Founded in 1922, it is the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. Their time-honored recipes are Sonoran-style cuisine with a Tucson twist, in what Gourmet Magazine calls a 'taste explosion." Menu highlights include the plant-based tamales and the "Charro Style" beef tacos. If this is your first visit to Tucson, however, make sure you order the chimichanga. The restaurant's owner, Tia Monica Flin, invented the crispy concoction when she accidentally dropped a burrito into a vat of frying oil. The rest, as they say, is history. Order yours enchilada style — smothered in red or green sauce.

04 Street Food Delights

Mexican street food isn't just a tasty genre of meals, it's also a way of life. Chefs like Magdalena Alvarez grew up eating delicious handheld meals like tacos de al pastor and quesadillas every day. With her restaurant, Ensenada Street Food, Alvarez is recreating some authentic street food dishes — including a recipe for carne al pastor that she refuses to share. The restaurant also serves updated classics, like a keto-friendly cheesy taco, which uses cheese instead of a flour tortilla to hold the fillings. In your quest for delicious street foods, don't hesitate to stop at the food trucks and carts along the way. Many of Tucson's best restaurants had humble beginnings as a cart on the side of the road. Try browsing the food trucks at Comida Park for a quick snack.

05 Upscale Mexican Dining

No visit to a City of Gastronomy is complete without a fine dining experience, and Tucson has its share of fancy restaurants. Downtown Tucson is home to Penca, a lovely eatery serving traditional Central Mexican cuisine with local ingredients. Savor the richness of the mole poblano, or the smokiness of grilled nopales with caramelized onions. Penca is also home to Tucson's first agave bar, so feel free to enjoy a mezcal tasting after dinner. If you liked the chimichanga at El Charro Cafe, you may soon find yourself at Charro Steak, a steak house from the same family. The restaurant takes traditional recipes made with ingredients from the family ranch to create one of the best surf and turf menus in Arizona. Highlights include the Tucson's T-Bone steak and the lobster tamales.

06 Authentic Flavors of the South

Taqueria Pico de Gallo is the go-to restaurant for authentic Sonoran cuisine. Since 1991, this modest eatery has highlighted Mexican food classics like tacos, burros, and tostadas made the old-fashioned way. Instead of fancy sauces or unique toppings, Pico de Gallo's tacos come garnished with cabbage and pico de gallo with a bowl of the house salsa on the table — mouthwatering simplicity. The shrimp tacos are also a favorite among the locals, but perhaps the most authentic aspect of the menu is the prices. This isn't overpriced gourmet food, it's affordable and leaves you satisfied.

07 Iconic Dishes You Must Try

In 1999, then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, arrived at Mi Nidito restaurant with an appetite and an open mind. The restaurant fixed him a plate of their best offerings in what is now affectionately known as the President's Plate. It's the perfect sampler of the restaurant's most popular menu options: a bean tostada, birria taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, and beef tamale. Locals swear by this place, so any wait is sure to be worth your time. El Charro Cafe is already on this list, their menu deserves another shout-out for their famous carne seca. Chefs make it the old-fashioned way by marinating Angus beef and then drying it in the Sonoran Desert sun. The process gives it a unique texture and a rich, beefy flavor. Try the carne seca tacos, or the carne seca chile relleno.

08 Vegetarian and Vegan Options

Whether you're living the meatless lifestyle or simply in the mood for lighter fare, add the restaurant Tumerico to your itinerary. Chef Wendy Garcia starts with locally-sourced ingredients and adds a comfortable vibe to create a space that feeds the mind, body, and soul. Tumerico's menu changes daily to accommodate the fresh ingredients, so feel free to visit more than once for a variety of healthy options. If you like Tumerico, you'll love La Chaiteria. The restaurant, vegan market, and yoga studio hybrid is Garcia's second restaurant concept, and was named one of the best vegan Mexican eateries in the U.S. by Yelp.

09 The Best Tacos in Town

In a city that claims to be the home of America's Best Mexican Food, it's not easy to make a taco that stands out from the competition. Nonetheless, Tacos Apson rises to the occasion with their menu of authentic and affordable street foods, including the iconic costilla taco. Grab a front row seat at the counter and watch as cooks take a massive beef rib from the mesquite grill and serve it on two thick corn tortillas. Pile on the salsas and condiments, and grab some extra napkins because you'll need them. Another can't-miss taco spot is the beloved El Taco Rustico for the quesabirria tacos. As if stewed Mexican beef and melted cheese on a crispy corn tortilla weren't enough, these tacos come with a side of stew for dipping.

10 Traditional Drinks to Complement Your Meal

Mexican cuisine has its share of famous foods, but aguas frescas also deserve their spot on Tucson's must-eat list. These refreshing juice beverages are a blend of fresh fruit puree, sugar, and cold water. The recipe sounds simple enough, but the right flavor combinations and proper ratio of ingresients make all the difference. Seis Kitchen is a casual eatery with a daily rotating menu of house made aguas frescas. From classics like horchata and hibiscus to prickly pear and tamarind pineapple, a refreshing beverage on the dining patio is a great way to relax. If you prefer to go the plant-based route, stop by Charro Vida for the rice and almond milk horchata.

11 A Fusion of Cultures

Rollie's Mexican Patio is known for its flavorful combinations — Sonoran Tucson food with a modern twist, as chef Mateo Otero calls it. The Birria Ramen is a favorite, but the menu includes other creative fusions like the birria pizzadilla and the birria cheese crisp burger. The Mission San Xavier del Bac often invites vendors from the Tohono O'odham Nation to sell food outside the church on weekends. If you're lucky enough to be there, order a frybread taco. This distinctly delicious food is a taco that uses native American frybread as the shell. Served with a spread of refried beans, chili sauce, and vegetables, this fusion of flavors is to die for.

12 Sweet Mexican Treats

Life is sweet in Tucson, especially after sampling some of the tastiest Mexican treats this side of the border. Raspados, or snow cones, aren't distinctly Mexican, but the toppings set this dessert aside from other cultures. These fruit and ice mixtures often come seasoned with chamoy syrup, chili powder, and tangy tamarind candy. The Carrizosa family has served authentic raspados since the early 1980s, so stop by Oasis Fruit Raspados for a genuine taste. If you're craving something with a few more carbs, look no further than La Estrella Bakery. From conchas to cookies to sponge cake jelly rolls, the sweet breads will satisfy your craving for comfort pastries. Give yourself some time to wait in line, and don't forget to order the pumpkin empanada — La Estrella's top seller.

13 Breakfast the Mexican Way

Some of the best food you'll eat in Tucson is bound to come wrapped in a tortilla, so start your morning properly with Anita Street Market's house-made chorizo burrito. Their tortillas are so good that locals say they're perfect with only butter and salt. The burritos at Barista del Barrio are nothing to scoff at either. These breakfast beauties come in duos: two smaller burritos that pair perfectly with the excellent coffee. Buendia Breakfast and Lunch Cafe recently found itself on Yelp's Top 100 Places to Eat in 2023. With such dishes as the machaca with eggs and nopales, it's worth a trip to see what all the fuss is about.

14 A Guide to Tucson's Salsa Scene

Boca Tacos and Tequila's rotating flight of salsas brings a taste of Sonora to Tucson. Chef Maria's dishes are as attractive as they are incredible, but her flavorful salsas are the stars of the show. With flavors ranging from smoky chipotle to tangy tomatillo, and heat levels from mildly warm to "hotter than your wife" a meal at Boca is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Each flight comes with five salsas and flavor profiles to eat with chips or to drizzle over your tacos.

15 Dining with a View

Whether you're looking for the perfect date night restaurant or simply in the mood for some ambiance, try snagging a table at Tito and Pep. This bright Midtown restaurant features modern decor in a bright and open dining room. Enjoy views of passersby while savoring a locally brewed beer or a delicious cocktail, like the Cactus Cooler, which comes with vodka and fruit juices. The Guadalajara Mexican grill serves your favorite Mexican dishes in a warm atmosphere. Enjoy dinner surrounded by original art, or sit on the patio for stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

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