Saguaro Corners: Hearty Comfort Food, Live Music & Mountain Views

Imagine very generous portions of some of your favorite Americana dishes, but with the ingredients and imagination you’d expect in a gourmet restaurant.

Nestled among the stately saguaro, just a cactus wren’s chirp away from the national park of that name, this east Tucson icon merits a visit (or a few).

Humble beginnings

Saguaro Corners first opened in 1956, when Bert and Florence Calvert launched an 8-seat hamburger stand with full-service gas pumps. Their son, Frank, later expanded the restaurant to include a dining room and ran it for about 45 years; his children sold it about eight years ago to the owners of the Sawmill Restaurant, who renovated and added the now-infamous patio dining area.

Four years ago, Kade Mislinski took over the business, then hired Dave Musso and CJ Hamm, who now operate Saguaro Corners.

Executive chef CJ Hamm at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Executive chef CJ Hamm at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Dave and CJ have also owned and operated Mulligan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill on Golf Links and Harrison for two years, which CJ describes as having a “Chef-driven, scratch pub menu.”

CJ Hamm explains that “every dish has a story behind it.” A one-time contestant on the culinary reality series, Chopped, Hamm describes Saguaro Corners cuisine as “comfort food, but not reminiscent of a diner.”

Imagine very generous portions of some of your favorite Americana dishes, but with the ingredients and imagination you’d expect in a gourmet restaurant. Death by food coma? Yes, please.

When you arrive at Saguaro Corners, choose between indoor seating or patio seating in the quaint glow of the Mid-Century neon cactus sign.

The list of craft beers, ales and ciders fill a page — with selections from a dozen states. On the flip side, you’ll find sublime cocktails and wine choices.

Creamy comfort in an appetizer, anyone?

The smoky Poppito Dip is a top choice for an appetizer. The creamy marriage of pulled pork in a cream cheese sauce, sprinkled with heavenly bacon, is served with house-made potato chips and tortillas as the delivery vehicles.

Poppito Dip at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Poppito Dip at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Much-loved dishes on repeat order

Speaking of comfort food, Saguaro’s Meatloaf will make you sing.

Served with a deep brown gravy infused with good wine on a bed of mashed potatoes and seasonal veggies, this meatloaf is deceptive. It looks like prime cuts of steak and although it cuts with the fork like meatloaf, it does indeed taste like gourmet beef. “Grandma’s pretty famous recipe,” will have you rethinking what you thought you knew and add craving to comfort.

The Pan-Seared Salmon speaks to CJ’s dedication to bringing truly fresh seafood to the desert. The salmon is not “fishy,” but that melt-in-the-mouth taste fish lovers seek. The light orange-colored lemon beurre blanc sauce is light and hints at tanginess; it complements the salmon, rather than overpowering it.

Pan Seared Salmon at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Pan Seared Salmon at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Other popular options to try, include the Ahi Poke Tacos (when available), the Mac-n-Cheese, and the John Wayne Burger — cowboy up with bacon, cheddar, tumbleweed fried onions, and BBQ sauce on a fresh, local beef patty.

Ahi Poke Tacos are a tasty, filling appetizer that will hook you — topped with fresh ahi, green onion, sliced avocado, green cabbage, toasted sesame seeds, and ponzu, wrapped up in a wonton taco shell.

If you’re aiming for comfort, choose from Classic Mac with white cheddar, cavatappi, and bread crumbs; Spicy Mac with smoked gouda and Sriracha; Cajun Mac with Andouille sausage, red bell peppers, and Cajun spices; and BBQ Pulled-Pork Mac. With large portions, creamy cheese sauce, and a variety of toppings to add, you’ll leave feeling satisfied.

Boasting a spacious outdoor area with mountain views and live music

The atmosphere at Saguaro Corners is fun, with a full bar dividing covered outdoor seating from a smaller indoor mixture of booths and tabletops between a rustic burnt ochre cement floor and a warm wood ceiling.

Live music is a regular feature here — lively and local without drowning out conversation. Wait staff is friendly and attentive and, while we were there, the chef circulated among the guests.

Balanced, hearty and nuanced; traditional with a gourmet flair, Saguaro Corners is like a lifelong romantic relationship: exciting and comforting all at once.

Meatloaf at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Meatloaf at Saguaro Corners (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Operating hours

Saguaro Corners is open from 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. on Fridays, 9 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Saguaro Corners is located at 3750 S. Old Spanish Trl. Keep up with Saguaro Corners on Facebook.

Kelly John Walker is a former marketing agency owner, creative strategist and senior copywriter with over 15 years in the industry. He continues as a freelance marketing consultant, copywriter and co-owner of Viva Coffee House in Tucson, Arizona.