La Indita: Mexican Favorites, Tarascan Tacos & Indian Fry Bread

La Indita is a Tucson classic specializing in Mexican, Tarascan, and Tohono O’odham food.

Just up the street from Fourth Avenue’s cluster of trendy restaurants is La Indita, a Tucson classic specializing in Mexican, Tarascan, and Tohono O’odham food.

Since 1985, Maria Garcia and her family have served affordable and delicious meals in the restaurant’s cozy dining room, decorated with scenes of rural indigenous life and outfitted with wooden chairs and tables.

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LOVE THIS PLACE!!!

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Meals at La Indita begin with hand-fried chips and a carafe of incredibly fresh, slightly spicy red salsa, offering something to munch on while you peruse the menu. This is helpful because choosing among the wide range of burros, chimichangas, tacos, tamales, tostadas, and more can be difficult.

Appetizer options

You can also buy time by ordering an appetizer — choose from a selection of Cheese Crisps ($6.95-9.25), a quesadilla ($7.50), Guacamole ($4.95-8.95), or the La Indita Super Nachos ($8.95), which comes with jalapeños, guacamole, sour cream, and a choice of veggies, chicken, or beef.

Popular full-flavored dishes

Dishes such as the Chile Relleno ($6.95), Beef With Red Chile Burro ($7.50), and Chicken Enchilada With Green Sauce ($11.95), will be familiar to diners in Tucson, where regionally-varied Mexican food is widely available. The Chicken Tamales House Special ($11.95), served with rice and beans, are more manageable and similarly delicious — moist masa is wrapped around tender meat and topped with enchilada sauce and cheese.

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I've eaten Mexican 2 of 3 meals for 3 days. 2 more days to go.

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Other dishes like the Tarascan Taco ($6.95+) are unique to La Indita. Garcia brought the recipe from the indigenous Tarascan community she hails from in Michoacán, a central Mexican state famous for the monarch butterflies that winter there.

Tarascan tacos, made of corn masa sealed around a filling, are reminiscent of empanadas or large dumplings. They’re available with a variety of fillings, including cheese, beef, carne seca, chicken, bean, or spinach, and are served with enchilada sauce, cheese, cabbage, beans, and rice.

After leaving Michoacán, Garcia lived in the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Another popular entrée at La Indita is the Indian Taco ($9.95), a Tohono O’odham dish that consists of fry bread topped with beans, beef, chile, salad, and cheese. It’s huge and extremely filling, so either arrive ravenous or be prepared to box up leftovers.

Fry Bread at La Indita (Credit: Wren Awry)

Fry Bread at La Indita (Credit: Wren Awry)

Lighter bites

Smaller bites are also available — the Lite Eaters menu offers downsized portions of their entrées and house specials, served with either rice or beans. The à la carte menu features tacos, tostadas, and tamales among other items. The Carne Seca Taco ($4.25) is served in a crisp shell and the carne seca, a type of dried beef popular in the ranchlands of northern Mexico and southern Arizona, is flavorful. The Guacamole Tostada ($4.25) features fresh avocados, lime zing, and shredded cabbage that works particularly well on the tostada with its crisp texture contrasting beautifully with the smooth guacamole.

Veggie options

Vegetarians also have a range of options from the Green Corn Tamale ($8.95), which aren’t made with usual lard, to Calabacitas ($10.95), a Mexican dish of squash prepared with chiles, tomatoes, onions, and corn. The Nopalitos ($10.95), or chopped prickly pear cactus paddles, are tangy and filling with a taste similar to green beans.

Sweeten the meal with these simple dessert options

Dessert options include Flan ($4.50) and a Popover With Honey ($3.95). The flan is solid, but the popover is a stand-out. The dish is deceptively simple, but the savory, crisp, hand-stretched fry bread pairs well with the sweet honey and powdered sugar — it’s a little like the fried dough available at county fairs, except lighter and less sweet.

Drinks and Sunday specials to note

Beverages include tea, coffee (both $2.50), orange juice ($3.50), soda ($3), and traditional Mexican beverages such as horchata, jamaica, and tamarindo (all $3.25). Additionally, La Indita offers breakfast on Sundays with dishes such as Machaca Ranchero ($10.50), Chilaquiles and Eggs ($9.25), and a daily special.

Part of the pleasure of dining at La Indita is the restaurant’s commitment to social justice, embodied in its decor.

The restaurant boasts a painting of the Zapatistas, an indigenous movement based in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas that fights for social and agrarian reform.

The second dining room features an image of Pancho Villa, one of the heroes of the Mexican revolution, accompanied by his most oft-repeated quote: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”

La Indita is located at 622 N. Fourth Ave. For more information, visit lainditarestauranttucson.com.

Wren Awry is a journalist, essayist, and poet who--when they aren't writing about, making or eating food--studies folklore and fairy tales.

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