Mama Louisa's has been rolling out fresh pasta and Italian-American cuisine since 1956. Their signature dish, Joe's Special, has appeared on the menu ever since.
A dish so timeless doesn't have any gimmicks. Like an In-N-Out burger, there's no substitute when you're craving it.
It all starts with a base of the house tomato sauce with a gratuitous amount of fresh garlic and hot pepper seeds, topped with house-made linguine. Next, it's brushed with garlic oil and topped with a couple slices of cheese. A trip to the salamander melts the cheese, then another ladle of the garlicky tomato sauce is slathered on top.
The delicate, fresh linguine has more body thanks to the abundance of egg yolk in the dough. The house sauce is as comforting as a red sauce gets with the right balance of acidity and mild sweetness. Although the garlic is abundant, it's not overpowering. There's a bit of that raw garlic kick but it's cooked enough to keep the kick subtle.
Executive chef Michael Elefante wouldn't share what type of cheese is used, just that it's an "ancient Italian secret." However, it's creamy and has a photogenic melted stringiness that you have to wrap around your fork to keep yourself from making a mess.
For $10.50 at lunch and $12 at dinner, Joe's Special is an affordable plate of love and an iconic local dish.
For more information, visit mamalouisas.com.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...