27 November, 2021, 23:47

Café Santa Rosa fries up chile popovers you’ll want again

Indian fry bread topped with with beans, half green and half red chile pork and and and.

In the sea of Mexican food restaurants in South Tucson, finding an eatery with another focus is refreshing — and delicious.

As a child, Sylvia Gonzales learned how to make fry bread from her mother. This skill, among others, lead to the opening of Cafe Santa Rosa in April 2013. The restaurant is named after her Sylvia Gonzales’ mother’s native village.

Cafe Santa Rosa specializes in Native foods, including various types of popovers, also known as Indian fry bread. Because it’s not a traditional Native food, one thing you won’t see at Cafe Santa Rosa is chips and salsa.

The business is a family affair. Gonzales employs upwards of 18, which have included a couple of nieces, daughter-in-law, and nephew. Her husband, Michael, built the shutters for the expansive picture windows in front and the wood doorways inside the restaurant.

Popovers at Cafe Santa Rosa (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Popovers at Cafe Santa Rosa (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

“I go to places where I really enjoy the atmosphere,” said the 54-year-old Gonzales. “I like to enjoy myself and relax.”

Gonzales, who is half-Tohono O’odham and half-Mexican, works to create authentic foods.  

“We’ve tried to stay true to the Native American cuisine,” said Gonzales, noting that some of her employees start their days early, making flour tortillas in an open mesquite pit beginning at 3 a.m. 

The thing to order

An example of the cafe’s authentic cuisine is the red or green chile and beans popover. The fry bread flowed over the plate’s circumference. The melt-in-your-mouth bread, which was topped with beans and half green and half red chile pork, was piled high with shredded lettuce, cheese, and diced tomatoes and looked like a delightful pizza.

Lunch Specials

Lunch specials run from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and cost $8.95. Choices include mini Indian tacos; two ground beef and potato tacos with beans; and a red chile burro. All specials come with a beverage.

Breakfast Specials

About two years ago, Gonzales introduced distinctly non-Native yet utterly tasty pancakes on the South Tucson breakfast menu. Choices include banana and pecan and blueberry. A combo plate ($10.99) comes with two eggs; bacon; potatoes; and two pancakes.

Other breakfast items include a $6.95 special from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. The special includes two eggs; potatoes; beans; orange juice; and a choice of popover or cemait, which is a flour tortilla.

“People like our food. It’s authentic,” said Gonzales, who said the venues do a brisk catering business as well. “And it’s nice that we have no competition.”

2019 additions

Cafe Santa Rosa moved from its original location in South Tucson to 2615 S. Sixth Ave. The current location features a bar with happy hour specials and First Friday DJs.

Operating hours are 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesdays – Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sundays.

Cafe Santa Rosa is located at 2615 S. Sixth Ave. For more information, call (520) 203-7569 or visit cafesantarosa.net.

[The article was originally written on July 12, 2017 and recently updated on September 19, 2019].

Valerie Vinyard has written for newspapers and magazines for over 20 years, including a stint as a food writer and critic for the Arizona Daily Star. The Cleveland native has lived in Tucson more than 15 years, and still dines out daily.

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