Jackie Tran has been Tucson Foodie's lead writer and photographer since 2016. He has written over 800 articles about Tucson's food scene, ranging from food trucks and hole-in-the-wall joints to exclusive chef's table dinners.
Here are his picks for the 10 best new restaurants in Tucson in 2018.
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.
On my first visit to dine, I arrived at 5 p.m. — opening time. 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 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 for mere 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 worthy of a high-end restaurant — staff works smoothly as a team, paying full attention to fill half-full water glasses and 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.
Keep up with Tito & Pep on Instagram.
I've eaten at Noodleholics three days in a row without remorse. I still make any excuse I can to visit Noodleholics. I can't resist.
The vibe is relaxed and casual, the service is friendly, and the wheat noodles are house-made. But I can't get enough of the entire menu.
At this point, about three percent of my blood is chili oil from their insanely addictive pork Chaoshou Dumplings.
The interior has a modern sleek Hong Kong feel, but the vibe is just a bonus. If it was a run-down hole-in-the-wall joint next door to the Wal-Mart on Grant and Alvernon, I'd still be a regular.
Noodleholics is affordable and appeals to both adventurous and casual eaters, making it an easy choice any time for anyone. Additionally, portions are generous. Lines can get long during peak hours, so visit at 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. for the swiftest noodle satisfaction. Though they offer takeout, noodle soups are best enjoyed fresh on site.
For more information, visit noodleholics.com.
While Monsoon Chocolate specializes in chocolate, they make exceptional cafe food with quality ingredients. Although the chocolate is stellar, it would be a shame to miss out on the house-made Old World style bread and pastry program.
Most of the favorite items from the plant-forward menu happen to be vegetarian.
If you're committed to chocolate, don't forget about the chocolate beverages. Frozen Hot Chocolate, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Cocoa Nib Horchata, and Cacao Fruit Juice all beautifully highlight the diversity of theobroma cacao.
They also have solid coffee options and Wi-Fi, so you can get cozy in the mid-century dining room.
For more information, visit monsoonchocolate.com.
... and while Pizza Luna specializes in pizza, their salads and cheese board are already among the best in town.
Don't look past the minimalist logo in the strip mall parking lot. Peek inside for a sleek, warm interior with welcoming service.
The "neo-Neapolitan" crust features leopard spot charring and a delicate crisp. Toppings are either house-made or premium — highlights include the house-made Merguez sausage and house-pulled fior di latte.
Garlic lovers, don't miss out on the Radicchio Caesar Salad. The raw garlic bite is pleasantly assertive without being overpowering. The savory dressing and fresh wisps of Grana Padano take this salad to the next level, even though it's so simple.
For more information, visit pizza-luna.com.
While Rollies opened December 30, 2017, we couldn't possibly have published a "best restaurants of 2017" on December 31. So here it is.
In a stretch of 12th Avenue immersed in tradition, Rollies opened as a modern, hip, fun joint. In the land of 1,000 tacos, they still manage to stand out with their fresh take and upbeat vibe. They also manage to keep prices affordable. The Sunday happy hour deals are a steal.
Side note: if you're a bacon lover, order your burger, torta, or burro "cochi style."
For more information, visit rolliestucson.com.
One of the most anticipated openings of the year, Raijin maintained a line out the door for months after opening. Neighbors even filed complaints about ramen customers blocking their home driveways with parked cars.
Raijin earned the buzz with a small, well-researched menu and traditional options. Broths have their own type of noodle designed to pair with a specific viscosity. And of course, broths are tasty — the veggie version is worth a trip, too. Donburi, Takoyaki, and Karaage make fun snacks if a bowl of ramen isn't enough to fill you up.
The restaurant features a table and booths, but no ramen bar seating (please add it for us solo ramen slurpers to get an easy seat).
Keep up with Raijin Ramen on Facebook.
Opening a vegan burger joint sounds like an ambitious goal — and a difficult one at that. Frankly, many veggie patties don't taste good. Furthermore, even well-known establishments don't get fries right *cough* In-N-Out *cough*.
However, Beaut Burger gets it right. From the slow-fermented English muffin-style bun to the crispy fries with lemon zest and herbs, the restaurant elevates the classic American staples with simple artisanal elegance. But they're not too fancy for $2 Miller High Life.
The burger patties don't taste like meat, but they're satisfying in a way that meat-lovers will still find themselves craving.
Bonus tip: if you're drinking at neighbor Westbound, feel free to bring over food from Beaut Burger.
For more information, visit beautburger.com.
Don't get Queen Sheba mixed up with one of the Ethiopian restaurants.
While similar to its neighboring country, Eritrea has its own spice blends and more tomato due to its history with the Italian colony. For example, Spaghetti with Beef & Sauce features the addition of Eritrean spices for complex flavor beyond its deceivingly simple appearance.
Though, if you're already a fan of Ethiopian cuisine, you'll feel right at home with Eritrean dishes. The simmered stews and earthly flavors balance with the slightly acidic injera.
Bonus: the spongy injera bread and the entire food menu is gluten-free.
For more information, visit queenshebatucson.com.
In 2018, Ten55 made the big jump from industrial neighborhood brewery to downtown two-story sausage and beer hall.
The 3,880-square-foot space features large communal tables and a relaxing atmosphere. The menu features over a dozen locally-sourced sausages from Forbes Meat Company, Belgian-style fries, pimento cheese delights, and more.
For more information, visit 1055brewing.com.
While American Eat Co. is technically not a restaurant, it's a food hall with exclusively local restaurant vendors. We hope this catches fire as a trend around Tucson.
Concepts vary across the board with options for poke, tacos, ribs, gyros, pizza, sliders, coffee, ice cream, and more. With so many choices and communal seating, American Eat Co. is an easy pick for a group gathering.
For more information, visit americaneatco.com.
What was your favorite restaurant in 2018? Let us know in the comments below.
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...