Before opening, Tito & Pep had no hype. They had no social media presence. They were humble.
Having been officially open for less than a month, they're already growing into one of the most beloved restaurants in Tucson.
I arrived at opening time, 5 p.m., on my first visit to dine. The person in front of me in line admitted it was their sixth time visiting so far.
The restaurant proudly features a mid-century modern aesthetic with mid-century cookbook-inspired paintings, teal booths, and warm pendant lamps. The space is inviting enough to show up for a casual dinner but nice enough to visit for a special occasion.
Even though they've only been open a few weeks, they've demonstrated seamless service and created a menu locals are already raving about.
While the restaurant aims to serve as a neighborhood bistro, the service is high-end restaurant worthy. The staff works smoothly as a team, paying full attention to half-full water glasses needing to be filled and will fold napkins left from guests temporarily away from the table. They all seem like they truly care.
Menu items show global influence with a respect for the southwestern pantry. Every element of every dish I've eaten there so far has been prepared properly, highlighting the quality of the ingredients.
Roasted Carrots ($8) are served cold and spiced on creamy lebne, topped with fresh herbs, crunchy sunflower seeds, and pomegranate. Kampachi Aguachile ($14) highlights chunks of the raw amberjack with crunchy tiny cubes of tart apple, accentuated by coriander and serrano.
Grilled Salmon ($22) features perfectly crispy skin, accompanied by tender-yet-fully-intact white beans and a refreshing tarragon chimichurri. Grilled Lamb Chops ($22) feature an earthy, slightly tart pistachio-tomatillo salsa with an assortment of charred vegetables. The charred zucchini was the best I've ever had — tender and smoky, yet neither dry nor mushy.
Desserts here deserve attention as well — the Panna Cotta, Olive Oil Cake, and Chocolate Ganache were the available options during our most recent visits. The table was silent as we ferociously gobbled them down.
The quality of the dishes is harder to take for granted if you're lucky enough to take a glimpse into the kitchen. Tito & Pep describes the restaurant as a "mesquite-fired neighborhood bistro," and it's neither a hyperbole nor gimmick.
From the Queso Fundido ($9) in a cast iron skillet heated over charcoal to the charred orange halves used for the vinaigrette in the Striped Bass ($23), the kitchen displays exceptional talent managing mesquite logs, charcoal, and flames.
While mesquite is crucial to the menu, the bold wood is never overpowering and manages to stay balanced with other layers of flavor.
Considering how well Tito & Pep hit the ground running, we're already excited to see the menu for the next season.
Operating hours are 5 - 10 p.m. (bar open until 11 p.m.) Sunday and Tuesday - Thursday, and 5 - 11 p.m. (bar open until midnight) Friday - Saturday. Expanded hours, brunch and lunch are already plans on the horizon.
Tito & Pep is located at 4122 E. Speedway Blvd. For more information, call (520) 207-0116 or visit titoandpep.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...