Aside from the common three items that are often overlooked as actual fermented foods – bread, cheese, and wine – fermentation has been steadily growing in popularity. And pickled and fermented food in Tucson is becoming more and more prevalent.
An ancient preservation technique that requires a surprising amount of knowledge to execute properly, perfecting the process requires an astute attention to detail.
Pickling and fermentation runs the gamut of foods fit for it. From the most ubiquitous of the bunch, pickles – which begin as cucumbers – to less common items such as kimchi (less common in Tucson, that is), the alteration of flavor can be drastic.
While it’s common culinary knowledge to wash your hands and avoid using the same tongs for raw and cooked foods, do you know what pH you need to pickle garlic at to minimize the risk of developing botulism toxins? Do you know the mineral content of the water you’re using?
Thankfully, the health department allows professional kitchens to pickle and ferment safely so we can eat and drink these timeless delicacies without a worry.
Below are 20 places for pickled and fermented items in Tucson. Most of the items listed are aged in house, but some are not.
Since Agustin Kitchen has such strong relationships with local farmers, the assortment of produced used for Our Pickles will vary seasonally. For now, you can enjoy pickled beets, carrots, loquats, and grapes.
For more information, visit agustinkitchen.com.
For a pickle adventure, browse the aisles at Babylon Market. The countless varieties of imported pickles with regional variances are sure to deliver new and exciting flavors.
For more information, visit babylonmarkettucson.com.
For a pickly beverage, the Commoner “Dirty” Martini features vodka, house pickle juice, house pickle, and bleu cheese olives.
For a more conventional pickle delivery vessel, order The Suit featuring a housemade sesame brioche bun, two beef patties, American cheese, horseradish pickles, thick cut bacon, shaved yellow onion, and dijonnaise.
More info at commonertucson.com.
Sharing the same owner as Agustin Kitchen, The Coronet also has outstanding seasonal pickles. Though you can get the pickles on their own, spoil yourself with the platter with Paté de Campagne, our pickles, and toast made out of Barrio Bread.
In Our Nod to the Niçoise, a pickled egg is featured amoung roasted steelhead trout, green beans, fennel, and sauce verte roasted roots.
For more information, visit cafecoronet.com.
Ermanos isn’t shy about incorporating local beer into their dishes. You’ll find it in the Barrio Rojo White Truffle Swiss Cheese Beer Fondue, the Beer Fish ‘N Chips, and the beer gastrique used in their Fig Bruschetta and Veggie Sandwich. They’ll also occasionally marinate their Taco Tuesday meats with local beer.
Their creativity isn’t limited there, however. Chef Matt Kraiss has a passion for fermentation, pickling, and beer-inspired foods, while co-owner Eric Erman has a background as a commercial brewer. Together, they possess a foundation of knowledge on delicious fermentation microbiology applicable beyond beer.
Their Sonoran Cheese Board features seasonal vegetables pickled with Borderlands Citrana Wild Ale (a sour beer) and traditional kosher-style pickling spices adapted from the Erman brothers family recipe.
Lastly, the Korean Ahi Poke Salad summer special features avocado, house kimchi, and cilantro served on a fried wonton. After months of meticulous adjustments and pH measurements, they’ve found the right ratio of kimchi ingredients for a balance of lactic acid tang and effervescence.
For more information, visit ermanosbrew.com.
While kombucha is often consumed for its supposed health benefits, it also tastes great. The local Fermented Tea Company harvests sooner than other kombucha producers, making its product slightly sweeter and less sour. Additional carbonation is used at just the right time to halt the fermentation process, but those extra bubbles also makes the kombucha an interesting beverage mixer.
For more information, visit fermentedteacompany.com.
Even if you don’t like pickles, the fried pickles at Good Oak Bar might convert you. The combination of salty, spicy, and sour make a great snack before catching a show next door at the Rialto Theatre.
For more information, visit goodoakbar.com.
Kimchi is a must with Korean cuisine. You’ll find it cooked into entrees, as a garnish, or on the side. The spicy, funky version of kimchi with napa cabbage is most common, but the varieties are countless.
Delve into the world of kimchi with banchan, the small dishes that come to your table at the start of your meal at most Korean restaurants. Though the selection of banchan varies at Kimchi Time, you’ll often find bean sprout kimchi, radish kimchi, and cucumber kimchi.
For more information, visit Kimchi Time on Yelp.
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The Cutting Board features rotating meats and cheeses, chili-lime cashews, Lodge pickles, marinated olives, and slices of toasted baguette. The house-made Lodge pickle and pickled fiddlehead ferns cut through the richness of the meats and cheeses while managing to keep a fair amount of their innate vegetal crispness. Chef Andrew Larkin just started a batch of pickled Fresno and sweet peppers that will make an appearance on lunch plates.
With all that house-pickling comes pickling brine, but it doesn’t go to waste. Chef Larkin uses it to brine Andrew’s Pickled Hot Wings, which helps tenderize the wings and season them evenly.
For more information, visit lodgeonthedesert.com.
Banh mi, also known as the Vietnamese sandwich, doesn’t have any lettuce. It gets that crunch from cucumbers and do chua, which is pickled carrot and daikon. The tanginess pairs with the bright cucumber and grassy cilantro and jalapeño to cut through the richness of the Vietnamese deli meats and mayonnaise.
Keep up with Nhu Lan Vietnamese Food Truck on Facebook.
While Pasco presents their fresh produce with utmost respect, they also excel at preserving seasonal bounty. Walk around the restaurant and you’ll stumble across one of various types of vegetables fermenting.
For more information, visit pascokitchen.com.
While Penca’s cocktails are superb, make sure to try their lightly fermented beverages as well.
Tesgüino is a thick fermented corn beer, while tepache is fermented from pineapple rind, Mexican spices, and piloncillo, which is an unrefined whole cane sugar. In the Bourbon and Tepache cocktail, you’ll find the titular beverages with sweet vermouth, Velvet Falernum, and lemon.
For more information, visit pencarestaurante.com.
Pickle soup, known as zupa ogórkowa in Polish, is tastier than it sounds. Dill pickles, potatoes, onions, and sour cream make a comforting soup traditionally served during the winter.
For more information, visit polishcottageaz.com.
At PY Steakhouse, Chef Ryan Clark created Salt-Fermented Covilli Habanero Sauce that’s been aging since January, providing increasingly deep flavors. It’s served with all of PY’s chilled seafood dishes including oysters, shrimp, lobster, and king crab.
Other pickled and fermented projects in the works at PY include:
For more information, visit casinodelsol.com.
How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper eat? If it was at Roma Imports, probably all of them. While the deli has a selection of antipasti that makes any picnic delightful, the pickled Peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese are an irresistible combination of tangy and creamy.
For more information, visit romaimports.com.
With Sausage Shop’s outstanding sandwiches and house-cured meats, it’s a given that they make their hot pickles in-house too. Order some sausages to grill at home with a side of pickles and you’ll be in heaven.
Keep up with Sausage Shop Meat Market and Deli on Facebook.
The kitchen at Stray Dogs is obsessed with creating dishes from scratch, which includes fermenting their own sauerkraut and pickling cucumbers and jalapeños. It’s a natural pair with their house-made bratwursts.
For more information, visit straydogsgrill.com.
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The ubiquitous taco joint blend of pickles is available via carrot, jalapeño, onion, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf. At Taqueria Pico de Gallo, it comes on every plate. Aside from providing that tart contrast, the red onion makes your taco plate that much more Instagram-able.
For more information, visit Taqueria Pico de Gallo on Yelp.
For sharing, order the Mason Jar. Assorted vegetables and olives are pickled in a traditional brine including coriander seeds, mustard, and cumin.
For more information, visit uniontucson.com.
We’re not saying you should get this pickled egg – the pickled egg – from Tucson’s most iconic and historic dive bar. But then, we’re not saying you shouldn’t either.
Where are your favorite eateries to find pickled and fermented goodies? Let us know in the comments.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...