With the uptick in popularity of the fast casual style of service, restaurants that focus on a high level of service, food, wine, libations, and ambience, seem to be a dying breed. Between food, a large inventory of wine, buildout, and an exemplary training program, it’s often cost-prohibitive. On top of that, demand is dropping.
Although a handful of local restaurants such as Kingfisher, Agustin Kitchen, and Proper are excellent and common destinations it sometimes seems little else exists. Not true.
Tucson is fortunate to be home to a plethora of elegant and delicious resort and hotel restaurants with super-talented chefs. Located inside some of Tucson’s finest resorts, hotels, lodges, and inns, the restaurants range from fine dining to casual upscale, but all offer some of the best experiences found in and around the city. And, if you plan it right, you can even stay the night.
Arizona Inn, 2200 E Elm St, Tucson, AZ 85719
Founded by Isabella Greenway in 1930, the historic Arizona Inn provides a high level of service. With awards and recognition aplenty, including AAA four diamond status, Conde Nast’s Traveler Gold List, and Travel and Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels in the World, the Arizona Inn transports its visitors back to a time when classic, personal service and white linen table cloths were the norm in a nice restaurant.
While the inn offers a couple of options for eating – including the Audubon Bar which serves until midnight – the Main Dining room is where the magic happens. Elegant, upscale, spacious, and classic historic Tucson, Arizona Inn is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The menu is a delicate blend of classic items with a touch of international influence. A selection of dinner highlights include:
- Pork Tenderloin – Pecan polenta cake, vegetable sauté green chile tomatillo sauce, mango salsa
- Diver Scallops – Carrot risotto, sugar snap pea sauté, caramelized fennel, Beurre blanc, fennel slaw
- Vegetable Paella – Citrus risotto, vegan chorizo, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, peas, corn, peppers and onions
Cocktail highlights include:
- Tres Agaves Old Fashioned – Tres Agaves anejo, Angostura bitters, orange and luxardo maraschino cherries
- Pink Negroni – Hendricks gin, aperol, lillet,
A great option for those that have trouble deciding, or simply prefer a variety of tastes, is Arizona Inn’s tasting menu with or without the wine pairing. At $55 and $75 per person respectively, you’ll be able to taste 12 different items, including three starters, four entrees, and five desserts. It’s impeccably served and a phenomenal value.
For more information, visit arizonainn.com.
Westin La Paloma, 3800 E Sunrise Dr, Tucson, AZ 857
Located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, The Westin La Paloma features a number of outstanding amenities, such as a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, and a delightful restaurant called AZul.
Executive Chef Russell Michel routinely makes his way from table to table, ensuring every guest is enjoying the fresh flavors and locally sourced menu. Meeting him, you can’t help but fall in love with his energy. That energy and dedication translates flawlessly onto each plate. His philosophy of feeding the body instead of filling it comes across strongly at AZul, where a farm to fork experience is guaranteed.
AZuL’s menu offerings change seasonally. For summer, flavors skew towards bright fruits, colorful heirloom tomatoes and proteins that spotlight the freshness of this time of year. Throughout the menu, select items are designated “Super Foods RX”, indicating dishes that are packed with nutrients and lower in calories without sacrificing taste. Several dishes are also gluten free and vegan.
Chef Michel’s classic French background shines through notably with his special attention to dressings in two salads:
- Heirloom Tomato Caprese – Watercress, watermelon, watermelon vinaigrette, basil oil, panela cheese, Himalayan salt
- Summer Stonefruit Salad – Endive varietals, nectarine, peach, toasted pistachio, goat cheese, peach balsamic vinaigrette
The Large Plates portion of the menu also features many choices, all of which show a thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Standout items include:
- Roasted Pork Tenderloin Carrot – Sweet potato puree, apple-jicama slaw, sugar snap peas, sour cherry glaze
- Pan Seared Scallops – Served atop corn pudding, crispy bacon, sugar snap peas, and topped lightly with a habanero oil
Be sure to save room for dessert. Pastry Chef Marcos Castro also creates many delicious and seasonal options that honor the flavors of the ingredients. His desserts focus fruit at the peak of ripeness. The Stone Fruit Tart Tatin has to be one of the best desserts offered in Tucson right now. The caramelized stone fruit fills a puff pastry and is topped with house-made almond ice cream.
For more information, visit westinlapalomaresort.com.
Bob’s Steak & Chop House
Omni Tucson National Resort, 2727 W Club Dr, Tucson, AZ 85742
While Tucson offers a number of lodging options for visitors and for summer staycations, only a small handful are in the luxury category. Omni Tucson National is one of them. Now home to the Tucson leg of the PGA’s Champions Tour, Omni Tucson National features four dining options: Fiesta Cafe, Legends Bar & Grill, Sweetwater Cabana Bar, and the flagship, Bob’s Steak & Chop House.
With locations in California, Tennessee, and Texas, Bob’s began in Dallas in 1993. The Omni Tucson location, opened in 2008, is the only Bob’s in Arizona. Meats are sourced directly from the Chicago Stockyards and all side, sauces, and dressings are made from scratch daily.
Standout steak items include:
- Prime Ribeye – 12 or 16oz
- Cote de Boeuf – 22oz
- Tenderloin Tails in Gorgonzola Creme
A steakhouse to the core and the primary reason to visit, Bob’s does offers a number of no-steak options such as lamb, duck, pork chops, and seafood. Highlights include:
- Maryland Style Crab Cakes – With Maitre’d butter
- Rack of Lamb – Full rack
“It’s not just steak, its an experience,” says Omni Tucson National Director of Outlets Andrea Bravo. “It’s a treat to your senses. We are a group of people that truly love what we do. The culinary staff takes a lot of pride in what they prepare and how they do it and the service staff truly loves to show it off.”
For a limited time during the summer, Bob’s is offering a three course menu for $39.99 per person. The Prime Time Summer Menu includes a choice of soup, Wedge or Chop House Salad; Petite Prime Filet or Broiled Salmon; and a choice of Key Lime Pie or Creme Brulee for dessert.
For more information, visit omnihotels.com/hotels/tucson-national.
CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar
The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, 15000 N Secret Springs Dr, Marana, AZ 85658
Out of all the resort experiences available to visitors – as well as to Tucsonans seeking a staycation or memorable night out – the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain is in a class all its own.
While a handful of dining options are available at the Ritz to match the occasion, such as Ignite Lounge for sushi, sake, or a whiskey flight, or Cayton’s Burger Bistro at the Golf Club, for a truly divine experience, CORE is the place to visit.
With its Gold Standard of service combined with a beautiful and breathtaking ambience and delicious food, dining at CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar, the resort’s main restaurant leaves little to be desired, other than a room.
Sous Chef Devin Pinto has crafted a marvel of a menu with a number of standout dishes that keep pace with the current trend of ‘in season.’ Must try starters include:
- Beef Carpaccio – dijon & capers, quail egg yolk, roquefort, chive, smoked aioli
- Hass Avocado Tartare – Organic hass avocado, summer asian pear, wasabi
- Chef’s Specialty Board – Artisanal cheeses, cured meats, accompaniments, such as truffle honey
Chef Pinto’s deep passion for food shines bright with a number of standout entrees, as well, including:
- Crispy Skinned Rainbow Trout – Citrus orzo risotto style, frisee fennel citrus salad
- Achiote 140z Rubbed Pork Chop – Standing straight up and rubbed with achiote, served with roasted corn salsa, cotija, tomatillo sauce
- Pinto’s Cast Iron Jambalaya – Laughing bird shrimp, andouille sausage, salt springs mussels, fire rice, sweet & smoked paprika pulled chicken
CORE also features an extensive (2,800 bottles) and magnificently curated wine program with sommelier Michael West at the helm. Most regions are represented and West is an expert at suggesting a great pairing for any dish.
If you’re looking for a small taste of CORE, every Friday from 5-6pm, West leads a guided pairing of notable wine regions with charcuterie for $20 per person.
For more information, visit ritzcarlton.com.
Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails
Hilton El Conquistador, 10000 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85704
One of the more beautifully designed resort restaurants is Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails at the Hilton El Conquistador. A castle-like interior lends itself to the royal feel, but it’s modern cuisine all the way. According to Epazote, it’s “fine dining designed around the Southwest’s finest ingredients,” to be more exact.
Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Kupper changes things up often. Whether it’s a simple dish, such as Chorizo Fries (candied jalapeno, Chihuahua cheese) or a Wedge salad (mesquite bacon, corn, cucumber, local tomato, cotija cheese, chipotle ranch), or a more formal entree, such as Smokey Beef Short Ribs (goat milk mashed potatoes, roasted carrots) or Pan Seared Mountain Trout (organic quinoa, apples, smoked almond salsa), Kupper has a knack for adding ingredients that make a typically ordinary dish extraordinary.
For summer 2015, Epazote features a number of standout dishes, including:
- Crab Tower – Avocado, pico de gallo, tortilla chips
- Chipotle Hummus – Grilled flat bread, goat cheese, vegetables, olive oil
- Roast Pork Tenderloin – Sundried cherry barbeque, poblano corn, apple, jicama
- Ibarra Chocolate Torta – Cinnamon ice cream, raspberry sauce, sopapilla strips, candied jalapeño
Epazote is open for dinner every night of the week until 10pm.
For more information, visit epazotekitchen.com.
Flying V Bar & Grill
Loews Ventana Canyon,7000 N. Resort Drive, Tucson, AZ, 85750
Nestled among the Catalina Mountains with breathtaking views in every direction is Loews Ventana Canyon. With close to 400 guest rooms, two championship golf courses, a world class spa, and two relaxing pools, Ventana Canyon has earned the title as one of Travel + Leisure’s 2014 top 50 hotels for World’s Best Family Travel.
Among one of the resort’s most noted amenities is The Flying V Bar & Grill. Comfortable, elegant and inviting, Executive Chef Eric Sutter has created a seasonal menu for the summer months full of composed dishes from beginning to end. The food offers simple flavors that build to a unique dining experience.
After deciding which margarita to enjoy (there are 10 options), your next step should be to order the Tiger Prawn Escabeche. Other standout starters include:
- Heirloom Tomato Salad – Served with a burrata that melts in your mouth and contrasts beautifully with the freshness of the produce.
- Rabbit Leg Chile Relleno – Mole verde, Oaxaca cheese, pickled red onion
- Grilled Quail Couscous Salad – Pepitas, kumquats, agave citrus vinaigrette
For the main entrée, Chef Sutter has taken great care in selecting high quality meats and has fresh seafood flown in daily. Standout dishes include:
- Chili Rubbed Ahi Tuna – Scallion rice cakes, vanilla roasted fennel, ponzu
- Brandt Farms Prime Rib Eye – Served with hand-cut fries and toasted horseradish
Both showcase the ingredients and flavors that make this restaurant a place you will want to keep coming back to. Finish off with one of the many sweet dessert options and relax, watching the sun set behind the mountains.
For more information, visit loewshotels.com.
The Grill at Hacienda del Sol
Hacienda del Sol, 5501 N Hacienda Del Sol Rd, Tucson, AZ 85718
Ask any number of Tucsonans about a favorite nice restaurant and you can be sure to hear “The Grill at Hacienda del Sol.”
Originally built in 1929 as a ranch school for daughters of society’s elite, Hacienda del Sol was converted into a guest ranch in 1948. But, it wasn’t until 1995 when a group of local investors purchased the property and returned it to the shining example of a historic and iconic Tucson destination for dining, lodging, and refuge away from the bustle of the city.
The Grill features an extensive wine list and an impressive menu with Chef Bruce Yim at the helm. Chef Yim is truly an incredible chef and The Grill has garnered a number of awards over the years. In addition, Hacienda del Sol features one of the more impressive cocktail lists, crafted by Beverage Director John Kulikowski, who has been steadily reintroducing classic cocktails regularly.
With an expert chef such as Bruce Yim, there’s not much to go wrong with ordering, but a selection of standout starters are as follows:
- Grilled Octopus – Pickled sun chokes, roasted rutabaga, cured Ham, tatsoi, lemon juice, olive oil
- Lamb Belly – Mushrooms, cured grapefruit, artichoke, cherry tomato, grapefruit vinaigrette
- Herb Gnocchi & Mushroom Salad – Frisee, tatsoi, apples, brown butter vinaigrette
The entree selection is equally impressive. In fact, it’s often that many chefs are able to push the creativity a bit more with starters and appetizers than the main entrees. While The Grill’s starters leave little to be desired, the entrees are the true stars:
- Market Fresh Fish – Roasted parsnip, fried brussel leaves, gnocchi a la parisienne, dashi butter, lemon tomato jam
- Rack of Lamb – Red bliss mashed potatoes, ratatouille, pomegranate glaze, mint peppercorn salsa verde
- Roasted Harissa Chicken – Rice stick noodles, peanuts, mint, lime, tamarind, garlic, Thai chile
Hacienda del Sol is truly a special place. While all of the hotels and resorts listed here are special, Hacienda captures an older image of Tucson with a sense of charm unrivaled. Reservations recommended.
For more information, visit haciendadelsol.com.
Westward Look Resort, 245 East Ina Road, Tucson, AZ 85704
With panoramic views of the city, top-notch service, and a finely tuned menu, Westward Look’s GOLD is an excellent choice for a romantic dinner. Westward Look also provides a more casual restaurant for guests and visitors called Lookout Grill, but if you’re looking for artfully prepared, regionally inspired cuisine, look no further than GOLD.
What most guests dining at GOLD won’t see is the extensive garden in which many dinner ingredients originate. The Westward Look is also home to one of Tucson’s few known fruiting avocado trees. Although you won’t find local avocado on the menu due to low yield, the tree’s presence is indicative of the passion that even the resort’s long time gardener and groundskeeper portray for their craft.
For starters, GOLD keeps things simple, relying on quality ingredients perfectly prepared. Standout starters, soups, and salads include:
- Schmaltz Fried Potato Latke – Sockeye smoked salmon, fried quail eggs, citrus-herb crema, grated horseradish
- Deconstructed Ahi Tuna Niçoise – Willcox mixed greens, rare seared tuna, quail eggs, grape tomatoes, French green beans, fingerling potatoes kalamata olives, red wine mustard vinaigrette
- Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad – House made burrata mozzarella, garden heirloom tomatoes, 25 year old balsamic vinegar, Chilean extra virgin olive oil, baguette crostini
Chef Antonio Rodriguez’s main entree offerings provide a well-rounded variety of beef, pork, chicken, and seafood with little surprise ingredients to liven thigns up, such as a prickly pear chipotle demi-glace for the Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, and saffron curry foam for the Pan Seared European Sea Bass. Entree highlights include:
- Thai Coconut Lemon Shrimp – Forbidden rice, Asian spices
- Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin – White bean ragout, prickly pear-chipotle demi-glace
- Five Rivers Arizona Delmonico Ribeye – Arizona raised and aged a minimum of 29 days. Served with truffle butter, cognac demi-glace, elephant garlic confit, chef’s choice of potatoes and seasonal vegetables. (For an additional charge, guests may opt to add seared foie gras, cold water butter poached lobster tail, or butter poached lump crab meat.
GOLD features a number of well crafted desserts, such as:
- White Chocolate Bread Pudding – Topped with a Kentucky Bourbon Crème Anglaise
- Silky Belgium Chocolate Crème Brûlée – Garnished with Seasonal Berries and Mandarin Oranges
If a fancy dinner isn’t in the cards any time soon, the GOLD also serves breakfast daily. Lunch, however is limited to Monday through Friday, while dinner is only available Wednesday through Saturday.
For more information, visit westwardlook.com.
Lodge On the Desert Restaurant
Lodge On The Desert, 306 N Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85711
Lodge on the Desert is a true Tucson classic. This boutique hotel in the heart of mid-town Tucson appeals to all types of travelers and locals. The hacienda style rooms and lush landscape make it the perfect place to escape for a weekend away or to enjoy a nice dinner at a tucked away spot.
Executive Chef Eric Catalano has taken on the role of bringing back the original tastes of the Old Pueblo in a simple, fresh and recognizable fashion. Infusing European techniques with local favorites and an approachable classic menu, Chef Catalano changes things up with the season. He uses local meat and has seafood flown in six days a week to ensure all of the proteins are fresh and flavorful.
Highlighted starters include:
- Tucson Caprese – Burrata, Tomato, Basil, Balsamic Prickly Pear Reduction, Olive Oil
- Little Neck Clams & Chorizo – Garlic, Wine, Herbs, Sourdough Bread
- Spinach Salad – Almond Encrusted Goat Cheese, Orange Segments, Strawberries, Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
For entrées, the Lodge’s signature dish is the Arizona Gunslinger Baby Rack Ribs found on the bar menu. In addition, the following dishes are recommended:
- Portobello Enchiladas – Portobello, Squash, Zucchini, Chipotle, Cilantro, Cream
- Double Check Ranch Grilled Ribeye – Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, Garlic Herb Butter
- Peach Barbeque Half Chicken – Corn on the Cob, Green Beans, Poblano & Agave Cornbread, Peach BBQ Glaze
If you’re looking for something sweet to end your meal with, try the Dark Chocolate Bar with toasted marshmallows and graham cracker crust. Chef Catalano also recommends the Crème Brulee or the Arizona Apple and Blackberry Crisp.
For more information, visit lodgeonthedesert.com.
JW Marriott Star Pass Resort, 3800 W Starr Pass Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85745
We sure are lucky to have a Primo here in Tucson. Two time James Beard Award winning chef Melissa Kelly opened the original Primo in Rockland, Maine in 2000 after mentoring under Alice Waters at the famed Chez Panisse.
With farm fresh herbs, ingredients sourced from a garden on the grounds, as well as from local farmers markets and growers, and classic Italian, Spanish, and French cooking methods inspired regionally, the JW Marriott Star Pass’s flagship restaurant offers an experience like none other.
Set amidst Tucson Mountain Park’s rolling hills, JW Marriott Star Pass is to the west side what the Ritz-Carlton is to Dove Mountain.
Primo’s simply formatted, one page, and extensive menu, takes some time to peruse. Broken into Italian course sections, including Antipasti, Pasta, Pesce, Carne, and Contorni, highlights are aplenty:
- Cast Iron Caciocavallo – Arugula pesto, salbitxada, baguette crostini
- Grilled Spanish Octopus – Black rice, saffron aioli, greens, pancetta, radish, fiddleheads
- Antipasti Misti – Cured meats, artisan cheeses, marinated olives, house pickled vegetables, grissini and whole grain mustard
The entrees are the star of the menu, and include fresh interpretations of classics such as:
- Spaghetti Carbonara – Chitarra-made pasta, pancetta, peas, ramps, poached egg
- Niman Ranch Pork “Saltimbocca” – Roasted garlic mashed potato, spinach, prosciutto, mushroom sage jus
- Butter Basted Scallops – Arugula risotto, white asparagus, shaved carrot, shishito peppers
For dessert, Primo leaves nothing to be desired. In fact, out of all the restaurants mentioned here, they just might take the cake. Highlights include:
- Budino – Warm chocolate cake, mint stracciatella gelato
- Cannoli Siciliana – Hand-rolled pistachio and chocolate-dipped tuiles, filled with sweet ricotta, Amarena cherries
- Profiteroles – Salted caramel gelato, bitter chocolate sauce, caramel sauce
Primo also features an extensive cocktail and wine list with major regions represented.
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 9pm, Primo features happy hour from 5 to 7pm. Reservations recommended.
For more information, visit marriott.com.
Casino del Sol, 5655 W Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85757
Casino del Sol has assembled an all star cast for it’s flagship restaurant, including master mixologist Aaron Defeo, who also oversees the Casino’s entire beverage program, General Manager Kevin Brady, who formerly ran Loews’ famed Ventana Room, and culinary veteran Executive Chef Eric Savin.
A number of dining options are available to Casino del Sol gamblers, guests, and visitors, and a full day – admittedly, a debaucherous one – could easily be had when the full gamut of offerings, which also include a number of bars, gambling, lodging, swimming, and the world class AVA Amphitheater, are taken advantage of.
PY, which stands for Pascua Yaqui, offers a surprisingly massive and well-crafted menu with something for everyone. And, Chef Savin truly pushes the boundaries. Highlighted starters include:
- Seared Ahi – Compressed melon, serrano chile, soy pearls, micro wasabi, and balsamic teriyaki
- Mesquite Smoked Pork Belly – Pickled peaches, spiced local pecan, petite arugula
- Roasted Beet & House Made Truffle Ricotta – Watercress, citrus supreme, honey tangerine vinaigrette
For entrees, which are definitely share-worthy, PY offers a number of items that aren’t typically found anywhere else. Highlights include:
- 28 Day Dry Aged Cowboy Ribeye
- Niman Ranch Tomahawk Pork Chop – Whole grain mustard and herb crust, braised Tuscan kale with pork belly, creamy polenta, dragon carrots, pomegranate reduction, micro dijon mustard
- Pan Seared Mexican Seabass – Gnocchi, morels, favas, beurre blanc, chive oil, petite fava leaves
PY Steakhouse is open for dinner only, Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10pm, and on Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11pm. Reservations are recommended.
For more information, visit casinodelsolresort.com.
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch Restaurant
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, 14301 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85748
Situated adjacent to Saguaro National Park East and Coronado National Forest is one of Arizona’s oldest dude ranches, the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. Guests are invited to enjoy the rich history and variety of activities offered, including miles of horse trails, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and La Sonora Spa. But the activities and views aren’t the only reason to venture out as the onsite restaurant is a hidden gem.
Executive Chef Sergio Rocha and his team of ranch cooks have worked hard to create a menu that represents the spirit of the Southwest. Serving three meals a day, each features local produce and meat. The restaurant draws a regular following for the Sunday Lunch buffet. Fresh salads, seafood, and cheese platters are among the staples offered, while the prime rib is by far the most popular meat served. Other entrees rotate with the seasons and are typically a collaboration of everyone in the kitchen.
A sweet finish to your meal can be found among the variety of dessert options. The Ranch also hosts weekly special events like the Old Homestead Breakfast Ride ($75 per person) and Cottonwood Grove Ranch Barbeque ($35 per person). Whatever it is that brings you out to Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, you will be sure to enjoy the experience.
For more information, visit tanqueverderanch.com.
Jennifer Stash contributed to this article.