20 January, 2022, 22:11

Benny’s Brings Comforting Central Mexican Cuisine to Tucson

For the ultimate contentment, order up a plate of enchiladas Potosinas and wash it down with the house-made horchata.

Homely nostalgia, the vibrant tortillas, house-made drinks, and family values all fuse together in this place.

Benny’s gives the feeling of going to your aunt’s house for a party. The TV is on playing ranchera music, and Irma Palomo de Garcia greets you warmly wearing an apron and her hair tied back in a ponytail.

Soon after being seated, you’re presented with crisp tortilla chips. They’re still hot and sparkling with salt, along with two kinds of salsa — creamy green and crushed red, both carrying a gentle heat.

Palomo, her husband, and her brother opened Benny’s to offer traditional dishes from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

Where It All Started

Benny is a family name, the name of Palomo’s grandfather and brother. It’s short for Benigno, which means “born good,” or “goodwill.” She says she chose the name Benny to honor the family name.

Palomo says she wanted “to provide variety to what we know in Tucson as Mexican food.” A lot of what is offered in Tucson is from Sonora.

The state of San Luis Potosi is Southeast of Sonora and has its own specialties. Some ingredients are not typically seen in Sonoran cuisine. “There are people from different parts of Mexico and we feel nostalgic for the homemade food that we grew up with. Benny’s offers that kind of food,” Palomo says.

“In my family, the most important thing of any celebration is the food. It is the union, it is the joy, it is the way to show appreciation.”

Tortilla Soup (Photo courtesy of Benny's Restaurant on Facebook.)

Tortilla Soup (Photo courtesy of Benny’s Restaurant on Facebook.)

Drink influences

Potosi cuisine is known for using different parts of cactus in their cuisine.

Barrel cactus flowers are a common ingredient as well as the prickly pear fruit — queso de tuna — which is candied. In addition, the crushed cactus fruit is fermented with unrefined sugar — this results in a bright purple fizzy drink known as colonche.

Benny’s sticks to non-alcoholic drinks. Their house-made horchata is particularly creamy and worth ordering. Even the lemonade, Jamaica, and iced tea are made in-house.

How the tortillas got their color

Red masa is traditionally used to make Potosi tortillas. The corn is given its hue from red chiles.

The story is that a batch of corn was brought to a mill in the village of Soledad in San Luis Potosi in the early 1900s. The intention was to grind it into masa.

The mill, however, was contaminated with ground red chilis. The masa turned red by mistake. Since that batch of masa, traditional Potosi tortillas were made with red masa.

Benny’s makes their masa in-house. The result is tender tortillas that taste like fresh corn and add to the colorful plate. They are a bit thicker and coarser in texture than ready-made tortillas.

The house masa recipe was a fusion of recipes from Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Sonora.

Tacos Rojos and enchiladas Potosinas are both made with the red tortillas. The tacos are stuffed with creamy, lightly spicy cheese. The Enchiladas Potosinas with melted cheese.

Taco rojo at Benny's Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Taco Rojo at Benny’s Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The style of food offered at Benny’s is not just from the state of Potosi, however. It’s “homemade,” offers Palomo, and prepared with fresh ingredients.

Noted Specialties

Aside from the enchiladas Potosinas and the tacos Rojo, are the pambazos, milanesa empanizada, tortilla soup, sopes, meatballs, and caldos.

Pambazo is Mexican white bread dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce and filled with spicy chorizo and potatoes.

Milanesa is a breaded beef dish, and caldos are broths – Benny’s offers Caldo de Res (beef), or Caldo de Queso (cheese). These are dishes that are usually hard to find in Tucson but can be found at Benny’s.

Many plates come with a large dollop of guacamole, shredded lettuce, and plenty of buttery refried beans. Everything is peppered with queso fresco. The food is not particularly spicy or hot, so it is safe for sensitive palates.

Highly recommended

If you are visiting Benny’s for the first time, the enchiladas Potosinas are highly suggested. The use of the red masa to make the tortillas is emblematic and specific to Potosi cuisine.

This specific style is folded and pinched closed. They look like something between a taco and an empanada, rather than rolled enchiladas.

Each tortilla is filled with creamy mild cheese and topped with queso fresco that slowly runs over the warm tortilla. Dip them in the salsas or have bites between forkfuls of pinto beans.

The Fusion Menu

The Potosi recipes are highly influenced by the seven neighboring states around it.

Pozole and birria are from Jalisco, pambazos and tortilla soup from Mexico City, and the mole recipe is from Puebla. Just like the masa recipe is a fusion of recipes from other states, so too is the menu.

“I’m lucky that I have in my team people from these states that enrich with their experience the flavor of the dishes we offer at Benny’s,” Palomo enthuses.

Not only are the recipes from different states of Mexico, but they have also been passed on for generations. “Our recipes are the same as the recipes of our grandmothers,” she says.


Cooking Influences

Palomo learned to cook at home from her mother and grandmother. She followed recipes from cookbooks, then decided to pursue a career in the food industry, working in restaurants.

“Cooking I think is a talent that is inherited,” she says. “My grandmother allowed me to use her masa to learn how to make tortillas. I was about seven years old and she taught me how to do them. In my family, the most important thing of any celebration is the food. It is the union, it is the joy, it is the way to show appreciation.”

“Palomo wants to provide variety to what we know in Tucson as Mexican food.”

Looking to the Future

Although Benny’s relies on classic recipes that are generations old, there are some things Palomo wants to change.

In an effort to serve customers with dietary restrictions and preferences, she wants to add low carb and vegetarian options. She also wants to expand the menu to include more recipes from central Mexico.

Benny’s offers an important contribution to the Tucson food scene, opening up our understanding of what Mexican food could taste like. The recipes from central Mexico have years of nourishment behind them and are still made with good will.

Benny’s welcomes guests with big appetites since portions are large. It’s a great place to invite friends to and split multiple dishes.

Hours of operation are Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Benny’s Mexican Restaurant is located on 2702 E. Grant Rd. For more information or to make reservations, call (520) 881-8841 or visit bennystucson.com.

Meredith O'Neil is a barista and radio host who likes to ride bikes and spend time with her spaniel, George.