Owned and operated by the Salazar family since 1978, St. Mary’s Mexican Food keeps its guests full and happy with an extensive menu of homestyle Sonoran dishes.
“Keep it simple, keep it good,” said restaurant operating manager, Luis Salazar when asked to describe his family’s cuisine. At St. Mary’s, the flavors and recipes speak for themselves. In fact, Salazar said none of their recipes require more than seven ingredients. “Our food is something we would eat at home, it’s comfort food.”
Growing up in the business, Salazar and his siblings absorbed lessons from grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. “We learned to work and appreciate what the food is,” he said.
This home-cooked tradition is apparent in their approach — St. Mary’s is one of the few restaurants of its kind where everything is still made in-house from scratch.
“Everything is made here. There [are] not many locations in town that still make their own tortillas,” said Salazar. “We’re here every morning making the masa, that’s one tradition we’ll keep going.”
And with all this history cooked right into the food, I wasn’t surprised to find a long line greeting me when I arrived.
Stepping into St. Mary’s, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. The extensive menu plays like a greatest hits of Tucson favorites.
Side one: Tacos, tostadas, flautas, enchiladas, tamales. Side two: combination plates, Sunday specials, and all-day breakfast burritos.
The selection left me wanting to order one of everything until I had no choice but to blurt out a string of items to a patient cashier.
In the end, I landed on a selection of tried and true classics: chips and salsa, a bean and cheese quesadilla, chilaquiles, refried beans, rice, and the legendary Red Chile Burro.
Lastly, before I left, I made sure to grab a dozen tortillas to-go for additional research at home.
When the food arrived, I got busy with the tortilla chips — scooping beans and rice for every bite.
I firmly believe a restaurant’s truest identity rests in its most elemental dishes — refried beans and rice with a small side of chips and salsa can tell you all you need to know about the character of your meal. After a few bites, I knew that I could dive in without any doubt or reservation.
The bean and cheese quesadilla was a pleasant warm-up. The soft tortilla exterior had been expertly crisped along the edges so that it was now delicate to the touch, as fragile and crackly as a paper boat. The melty inside was everything that you could want from pure homestyle comfort food.
I moved on to the chilaquiles, a deceptively complex mix of tortilla chips, red enchilada sauce, Monterey Jack, lettuce, and sour cream. The sensory overload from biting into a dish that is somehow totally crunchy and soft in equal measure was extremely satisfying.
Did I save the leftovers for house-made nachos the next day? Absolutely.
As a first timer, I knew I had to try their popular Red Chile Burro. I took my first bite and my reaction was something like this. The stretchy tortilla, the hunks of beef, and that sauce. I felt like I needed a cigarette after the cosmic high it left me with.
A moment on that sauce, if I may.
Personally, I’m a little scared when I even look at a red sauce. I can feel acid tingling in my esophagus and sweat forming on the tip of my nose. But this sauce is not that.
Part chile broth, part beef stock, with a thin jus consistency, the red chile sauce is an ideal flavor vehicle with the necessary heft to stand up to the beef but with a lightness that doesn’t overpower the experience.
Rarely, in my dining experience with homestyle Sonoran food, has a red sauce been so delicate and subtle without sacrificing overall flavor.
Bonus points: St. Mary’s doesn’t repurpose its sauce as your salsa, like so many other restaurants. There are no cutting corners here — and it shows.
Given that this is a family business, it’s not surprising that the Salazars and their homestyle cooking continue to win over a growing number of would-be relatives in the form of hungry diners. “We’re at it every day,” Salazar says. “We love our customers.”
St. Mary’s is open from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sundays and 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
St. Mary’s Mexican Food is located at 1030 W. St Mary’s Rd. For more information, visit stmarysmexicanfood.com.