Locally-focused food court American Eat Co. is near completion and it's stunning. With Mi Nidito, Saint Charles Tavern, Birrieria Guadalajara, Le Cave's Bakery, and Monsoon Chocolate all within walking distance, this south side gem might be Tucson's next hot spot.
"From a restaurant and service standpoint, the south side is probably the most under-served area in southern Arizona that has a strong demand," said Jesus Bonillas, operating partner with developer the Common Group. "If you watch the natural growth of coffee shops and restaurants, [other sides of Tucson] always have first pick, then they open a small location on the south side. Then the south side ends up being the strongest in terms of sales."
The Common Group has been converting buildings in Tucson's south side into restaurants and retail establishments. With American Eat Co., they wanted to bring a unique experience to enjoy with family and friends.
"It started as just an idea of being able to give food trucks an opportunity to sell food when the weather was bad outside," said Guillermo Gallegos, another operating partner with the Common Group. "From there, the idea kept growing to what you see today. We wanted to make sure everyone was local. No chains, no corporations, nothing like that."
During a visit at the end of 2016, the 10,000-square-foot space at 1439 S. Fourth Ave. was a concrete shell with a few hanging light bulbs.
"The hardest part was getting the vision across," Gallegos said. "Getting people to see the vision when it was just a shell. To see that vision come to life is amazing."
Now over a year later, the concrete and masonry block space features dozens of Edison bulbs scattered throughout the building, cozy tufted booths, vibrant neon signs, and sugar skull mariachi murals from local artist Jonny Bubonik. The inside seats approximately 250, while the patio seats about 60.
With ten different concepts within the building, customers are likely to find something to tickle their fancy. Once this location is up and running, similar projects will hopefully begin for Tucson's south side.
"Our plan is to perfect this model, work out the operational bugs," Bonillas said. "Just work this out and open a few more in town. That's definitely our goal."
Chef Aaron Cornejo's background ranges from baking at the Green Halo Dispensary to Italian-inspired New American with chef David Bull at Bolla Restaurant in Texas. At his concept Avenues, he will serve his take on what he calls "Chicano comfort food."
"One of our signatures is gonna be a weenie taco," Cornejo said. "It's basically a seared hot dog wrapped in a corn tortilla and deep fried and top it as if it was a flauta. A rojo salsa, a verde salsa, shredded cabbage, radish, and pickled onion."
Avenues will also offer deep-fried hamburger patty tacos.
"Very simple," Cornejo said. "No fermentations or molecular gastronomy, just down-to-earth, like meat and potatoes."
"It's going to be a super simple menu," said Daniel Gutierrez, opening manager at American Eat Co. His wife Marcela Gutierrez will operate AZ Rib House.
Diners will choose from ribs, handmade chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, and elotes with their choice of toppings. Ribs can be mesquite-smoked, char-broiled, or baked, then glazed with a sweet and sour, medium, hot, or super-hot sauce.
Chef Larry Salinas will serve sliders ranging from conventional burgers to under-explored options such as seafood.
Co-owners Sam Waters and Joseph Ontiveros met while they were immersed in San Francisco's coffee culture. Having been in Tucson for a year-and-a-half now, they're embracing local culture by offering traditional Mexican pastries. Café con Leche will also offer avocado toast, bagels, horchata, cold brew, and decorative coffees.
Coffee beans will be sourced from local Hermosa Coffee Roasters.
Keep up with Café con Leche on Instagram.
After 29 years, he original Dos Amigos Meat Market on West Drexel Road and South Cardinal Avenue closed two years ago.
While the original duo of Armando Arias and his brother-in-law Hector Pizano won't be working this incarnation, Armando's son Andy Arias will bring the traditional Mexican meat market back to life with carne asada, chorizo, menudo packages, and premium cuts of beef.
"I intend to continue the tradition that my father and uncle started and continue to adapt to a changing market," Andy said.
A house concept for American Eat Co., Dumb Fish will offer poke and rice bowls. Five poke bowls are served cold, while the five rice bowls are served hot. While the Asian fusion is still in the works, diners can expect bulgogi, poke, spam musubi, sriracha chicken, and vegan options.
"Isabella's is really excited to be part of it," said Kristel Johnson, owner of Isabella's Ice Cream. "It will be our second location and smaller. Nine flavors opposed to eighteen, but we will still have the shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and all that fun stuff."
Additionally, this satellite location might add some exclusive custom flavors. They're also looking into a device for diners to mix in their choice of toppings in the manner of a Dairy Queen Blizzard or McDonald's McFlurry.
Keep up with Isabella's Ice Cream on Facebook.
Another house concept for American Eat Co., Market Bar will emphasize Tucson craft brews and Southern Arizona wines — a few bottles from other wine regions will be offered as well, however.
The bar will feature 16 beer taps. 10-12 red wines by the glass, and 10-12 white wines by glass. Mimosas will also be available.
Happy hour will be 3 - 6 p.m. daily.
Operated by partners Chris Pavlov and Nicholas Heddings, this location of Upper Crust Pizza will specialize in pizza slices out of the case.
Diners can also order 20-inch whole pizzas, calzones, garlic knots, stromboli.
The original Upper Crust Pizza opened in 1988.
Keep up with Upper Crust Pizza on Facebook.
While Opa! Greek Cuisine & Fun is a standalone restaurant, Opa! Time Gyros & Chopped Salads will keep it fast and casual.
"It would be like a new challenge," said Andreas Andoniadis, owner of both Opa restaurants. "I like the new owners. I like the environment."
Opa's menu will include gyros, salads, low-carb plates.
American Eat Co. is located at 1439 S. 4th Ave. Keep up with American Eat Co. & Market on Facebook. For more information, visit americaneatco.com.
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...