Insider Recommendations: 18 Can’t-Miss Tucson Restaurants For Tourists & Visitors

November 5, 2015
By Theresa Delaney
By Theresa Delaney

There are a number of reasons tourists would choose Tucson for their weekend getaway, holiday trip, or family vacation.

The allure of warm temperatures during a northern winter, the uniquely Sonoran landscape and outdoor activities, and recently, a booming food scene that branches far beyond Sonoran dogs and chimichangas.

With all of the new options to choose from, we feel obligated to provide visitors with an informed list of 18 can’t-miss Tucson restaurants from a local perspective.

Blue Willow Cafe

2616 N Campbell Ave

Blue Willow Cafe

Blue Willow is a longtime local favorite for the stocked gift shop, atmospheric patio hidden from Campbell Avenue, and all-day breakfast menu.

Though the restaurant advertises American cuisine, and lives up to the title, a number of the dishes incorporate a Sonoran spin with fresh salsa and Lerua’s tamales.

Recommended dishes:

  • Chorizo Scramble
  • French Toast
  • Salmon Cakes

For more information, visit

Cafe a la Cart

150 N Main Ave

Cafe A La Cart
Cafe A La Cart

Even if a visit to the Tucson Museum of Art wasn’t in your pre-scheduled itinerary, you’ll want to head over for lunch. Café à la C’Art and Carte Blanche Catering have been serving Tucson for 18 years.

The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch Monday and Tuesday, then tacks on happy hour, dinner and weekend brunch Wednesday through Sunday.

Recommended dishes:

  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • The Rothschild Sandwich
  • Spice-Rubbed Ribeye

For more information, visit

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Cafe Poca Cosa

110 E Pennington St

Cafe Poca Cosa (Photo Credit: Cafe Poca Cosa)
Cafe Poca Cosa (Photo Credit: Cafe Poca Cosa)

Suzana Davila’s Cafe Poca Cosa prides itself on taking an imaginative approach to traditional Mexican cuisine.

The small but flavorful menu changes twice daily and is presented on a portable chalkboard at each table.

For more information, visit

Cup Cafe

311 E Congress St

Branzino at Cup Cafe in Tucson
Branzino at Cup Cafe in Tucson (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

The Hotel Congress, one of Tucson’s oldest and most famous buildings, is worth a visit for the baked eggs alone. Lucky for tourists, they’ll be killing two birds with one stone by opting for a meal at the Cup Cafe. On one hand, there’s the architecture, rich history, John Dillinger affiliations, and outdoor patio to enjoy. In the other hand, you should have a fork.

Recommended dishes:

  • Cast Iron Baked Eggs
  • Ancho Pork Tenderloin
  • Hotel Salad

For more information, visit

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

135 6th Ave

Downtown Kitchen Spring 2015
(Credit: Downtown Kitchen)

Suffice to say, Tucson is a lucky city to have a James Beard award-winning chef like Janos Wilder. The happy hour is wildly popular, the special “Around the World” tour each summer never disappoints, and the eclectic globally-inspired menu offers something for everyone.

Wilder makes a concentrated effort to source ingredients locally, including from a community garden just down the street, to create fresh, seasonal cuisine.

Recommended dishes:

  • The Downtown Burger
  • Crisp Griddled Porchetta
  • Oaxacan Fries with Mole

For more information, visit

El Charro Cafe

Multiple Locations

Carne Seca Burro at El Charro on Court Avenue (Credit: Adam Lehrman)
Carne Seca Burro at El Charro on Court Avenue (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

It’s not a Tucson restaurants roundup without El Charro. The eatery, referred to as “The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant,” has been serving up authentic Sonoran cuisine in Tucson since 1922. Unlike many modern Mexican restaurants, they still make their carne seca by drying angus beef on the roof of their Court Avenue location.

El Charro also claims the honor of mistakenly inventing the chimichanga, a deep fried burrito best served smothered in enchilada sauce.

Recommended dishes:

  • Chimichanga
  • Carne Seca Platter
  • Ground Beef Tacos

For more information, visit


3719 E Speedway Blvd

Beef Tenderloin at Feast (Credit: Adam Lehrman)
Beef Tenderloin at Feast (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

When a restaurant has a pet name for its raving followers, you know it has to be good. Executive Chef Doug Levy’s “Feastlings” have invested their faith, and money, in Levy’s ever-changing seasonal menu, and understandably so.

Don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you, inside you will find an array of fresh, detailed and high-quality dishes to please the pickiest of guests.

Recommended dishes (from October 2015 menu):

  • Coconut-Almond Crusted Goat Cheese
  • Seared Sea Scallops
  • Roast Half Duck with Potato-Turnip Purée

For more information, visit

Flying V Bar & Grill

7000 N Resort Dr

Baby Back Ribs at Flying V Bar & Grill (Credit: Jennifer Stash)
Baby Back Ribs at Flying V Bar & Grill (Credit: Jennifer Stash)

Located at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, the Flying V Bar & Grill is tucked away in the Catalina Foothills north of town. The seasonal menu selection highlights simple, upscale flavors from the indulgent appetizers to the extensive margarita menu.

Recommended dishes:

  • Tiger Prawn Escabeche
  • Chili Rubbed Ahi Tuna
  • Brandt Farms Prime Rib Eye

For more information, visit

Jonathan’s Cork

6320 E Tanque Verde Rd

Shrimp Entree at Jonathan's Cork (Credit: Jonathan's Cork)
Shrimp Entree at Jonathan’s Cork (Credit: Jonathan’s Cork)

Jonathan Landeen, former chef at The Solarium, a Tucson classic, opened Jonathan’s Cork on the Northeast side of town in 1994. Since then, he has crafted a menu of unique dishes including steaks, seafood, fresh fish and wild game.

The traditional Southwestern setting is complete with De Grazia prints, Native American art and beehive fireplaces.

Recommended dishes:

  • Jalapeno Bacon-Wrapped Bison Filet
  • Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops
  • Baseball Teriyaki Sirloin

For more information, visit


2564 E Grant Rd

House-Made Fries At Kingfisher (Credit: Theresa Delaney)
House-Made Fries At Kingfisher (Credit: Theresa Delaney)

For years, Kingfisher has been acknowledged as the best seafood restaurant in Tucson. They live up to this title with an extensive oyster-bar menu, over 11 variations of fish and shellfish on their main menu, and annual events like Oysterfest.

Recommended dishes:

  • Bay Scallop Ceviche
  • Kingfisher’s Lobster Roll
  • Macadamia Nut Crusted Hawaiian Fish

For more information, visit

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Mi Nidito

1813 S 4th Ave

Tamales at Mi Nidito (Credit: Mi Nidito)
Tamales at Mi Nidito (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Mi Nidito has been South Tucson’s premiere Sonoran-style eatery since former President Bill Clinton dropped in during a visit to Tucson in 1999.

When they originally opened in 1952, guests had four tables to choose from, but they have since expanded to accommodate the crowds the flock to South Tucson for shredded beef, fresh tortillas and chimichangas.

Recommended dishes:

  • President’s Plate (as seen on Man vs. Food)
  • Chile Relleno Combo
  • Birria Tacos

For more information, visit

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse

6541 E Tanque Verde Rd

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse (Credit: Flickr/Raul)
Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse (Credit: Flickr/Raul)

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse is the kind of place fathers tell their children about years later, whether because of the famous cowboy steaks or because an employee cut their silk tie off as soon as they walked in the door. The “No Ties Allowed” policy has been in effect since the steakhouse opened in 1962.

Pinnacle Peak’s location in Trail Dust Town warrants a day trip. Bring your family and build up an appetite as you enjoy the shops, amusement rides, stunt shows, and Museum of the Horse Soldier.

Recommended dishes:

  • Mesquite Grilled Cowboy Steak
  • Bucket of Ribs
  • Wrangler Burger

For more information, visit

Pizzeria Bianco

272 E Congress St

Margherita Pizza at Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson
Margherita Pizza at Pizzeria Bianco (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

After Chris Bianco’s original pizzeria reached wild success in Phoenix, with a loyal celebrity following that includes Oprah and Martha Stewart, the culinary world waited patiently to see where Bianco would make his mark next.

Downtown Tucson has welcomed the pizzeria with open arms. Nearly all of the ingredients are made fresh in house or locally-sourced, with the exception of the tomatoes that he brings in from the Bianco DiNapoli farm in California’s Central Valley. The menu consists of six pizzas, and a few seasonal salads and small plates.

Recommended dishes:

  • Biancoverde Pizza
  • Wiseguy Pizza
  • Sonny Boy Pizza

For more information, visit

Primo at J.W. Marriott Starr Pass

3800 W Starr Pass Blvd

Spaghetti Carbonara at Primo, JW Marriott Star Pass
Spaghetti Carbonara at Primo, JW Marriott Star Pass (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Tucson certainly makes fine dining convenient for tourists, with such talented chefs overseeing the city’s various resort restaurants. Chef Danny Perez, the current Tucson Iron Chef, does not disappoint at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass, located west of downtown in the Tucson Mountain Park.

The menu, inspired by local, farm fresh ingredients and classic European cooking methods, is broken into five Italian course sections: Antipasti, Pasta, Pesce, Carne, and Contort.

Head downstairs early for the nightly tequila toast on the patio and retelling of the legend of Arriba, Abajo. Oh, and be sure to order dessert to end your meal.

Recommended dishes:

  • Grilled Spanish Octopus
  • Spaghetti Carbonara
  • Niman Ranch Pork “Saltimbocca”

For more information, visit

Renee’s Organic Oven

7065 E Tanque Verde Rd

Renee's Organic Oven pizza
Renee’s Organic Oven (Credit: Renee’s)

Renee’s Organic Oven offers the perfect opportunity for a healthy meal after a hike in Sabino Canyon, due to its convenient location on Tanque Verde Road.

With fresh bread and in-house mozzarella, locally-sourced meat, plenty of gluten-free alternatives, and a multitude of vegetarian options, it’s easy to see why Renee’s is so popular.

Recommended dishes:

  • Shroomy Goat Pizza
  • Meatballs with Jalapeño Cream Sauce
  • Caprese Board

For more information, visit

The Coronet

402 E 9th St

The Coronet Steelhead Salmon Salad
Steelhead Salmon Salad at The Coronet (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Located in the historic Coronado Hotel, The Coronet has lit the way for bringing high-quality, creative cuisine to Fourth Avenue. The restaurant offers rustic, local cuisine and eclectic craft cocktails in an impeccably styled, old-world setting.

Recommended dishes:

  • Dragoon Session Sausage
  • Venison Osso Bucco
  • Steelhead Gravlax & Rillettes Plate

For more information, visit

The Grill at Hacienda del Sol

5501 N Hacienda Del Sol Rd

Grilled Octopus at The Grill at Hacienda del Sol (Credit: Adam Lehrman)
Grilled Octopus at The Grill at Hacienda del Sol (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Originally built in 1929, Hacienda del Sol has a rich history. The elite boarding school turned Old Hollywood getaway became a high-end resort and dining destination in 1995.

Since taking over the helm, Executive Chef Bruce Yim has taken the menu and dining experience at The Grill to new heights.

Recommended dishes:

  • Grilled Octopus
  • Rack of Lamb
  • Roasted Harissa Chicken

For more information, visit

Vivace Restaurant

6440 N Campbell Ave

(Credit: Vivace Restaurant)
(Credit: Vivace Restaurant)

Arguably the most popular Italian restaurant in town, Daniel Scordato’s Vivace is a testament to old-school service and traditional Italian cuisine.

The venue, nestled in the Catalina Foothills, provides an upscale dining experience that is only topped by the quality of the food.

Recommended dishes:

  • Artichoke-Goat Cheese Cannelloni
  • Seafood Lasagnette
  • Pork Sorrentino

For more information, visit

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