Some of these dishes are here for their legacy, others are the most well-known, and a few have helped shape Tucson's modern food landscape.
When you think of Tucson food, what comes to mind first? Not the best dish or what you think other people want to hear; something that has been around for years.
These 31 dishes are among the most iconic in Tucson. Whether they have a local cult following or they end up being what tourists seek out, they’ve had a lasting impact on Tucson’s food culture.
Ranch Fries at Eegee’s
For a list of locations, click here.
The humble, inexpensive combination of crinkle-cut fries, proprietary ranch dressing, and “bacon bits” has been the source of nostalgic after-school memories for decades. For various reasons, this ends up being one of the most-missed dishes when people move out of Tucson.
Plus, what other Tucson dish can say they inspired anime fan art?
For more information, visit eegees.com.
Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe
311 N. Court Ave. • 7725 N. Oracle Rd. • 6910 E. Sunrise Dr.
Established a few years shy of a century ago, El Charro finally earned itself a James Beard nomination this year.
While the invention of the chimichanga is one of their main claims to fame, you can get chimichangas across the country now. However, other places don’t feature the cages of sun-dried carne seca. The technique was originally out of necessity for preservation but is still utilized, for its unique texture and intense beefy flavor, today.
For more information, visit elcharrocafe.com.
Green Corn Tamales at Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food
While their location at 2005 E. Broadway Blvd. recently closed after decades in business, they’re hoping to reopen somewhere else soon.
We certainly hope so, because their green corn tamales were easily some of the finest in the business; they had their own corn broker who supplies 250 dozen ears of corn every two days. The fresh corn flavor was unrivaled.
Sonoran Hot Dog at El Guero Canelo
5201 S. 12th Ave. • 2480 N. Oracle Rd. • 5802 E. 22nd St.
Even though Tucson offers a wide range of quality Sonoran hot dogs, El Guero Canelo received the James Beard Foundation 2018 “America’s Classics” award. They’ve expanded from one little cart to three locations in Tucson and one location in Phoenix.
For more information, visit elguerocanelo.com.
Steak Fingers at Lucky Wishbone
For a list of locations, click here.
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Strips of steak aren’t typically included in the fry-heavy menu of most restaurant bars. Lucky Wishbone has that market cornered with its zingy, cocktail sauce-like Lucky Wishbone Sauce.
For more information, visit luckywishbone.com.
Joe’s Special at Mama Louisa’s
2041 S. Craycroft Rd.
Mama Louisa’s has been rolling out fresh pasta and Joe’s Special since 1956. The linguine melds with the house sauce, cheese, red pepper, and a generous amount of garlic.
It’s also one of those dishes you’ll find yourself craving while you’re at home five hours after the restaurant has closed.
For more information, visit mamalouisas.com.
Spicy Chili Dogs at Pat’s Chili Dogs
1202 W. Niagara St.
These hot dogs ain’t Sonoran but they’ve pleased hordes of Tucsonans for over half a century. The recipe isn’t anything special, just straight-forward chili and onions on a hot dog that a high schooler can afford.
But maybe that maniacal mascot has something to do with the magic.
For more information, visit Pat’s Chili Dogs on Yelp.
Presidential Plate at Mi Nidito
1813 S. Fourth Ave.
Two decades ago, Bill Clinton visited Mi Nidito and ordered a big ol’ plate with a bean tostada, birria taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, and beef tamal. Now known as the President’s Plate, it serves as a sampler platter of homestyle Mexican cuisine.
Keep up with Mi Nidito on Facebook.
Macadamia Nut Crusted Hawaiian Fish at Kingfisher
2564 E. Grant Rd.
While Kingfisher has changed up their menu throughout its 25-year life cycle, the Macadamia Nut Crusted Hawaiian Fish has managed to hang on tight.
The dish features a lemongrass butter sauce, Texmati rice, sautéed spinach, and fried sweet potato chips.
For more information, visit kingfishertucson.com.
Eggs Provencal at Ghini’s French Caffe
1803 E. Prince Rd.
Locally sourced tomatoes are sautéed with fresh garlic and thyme and served with eggs for one of Tucson’s most iconic breakfast dishes.
Dipping the house-made bread into the yolk is a must.
For more information, visit ghiniscafe.com.
Plato Poca Cosa at Cafe Poca Cosa
110 E. Pennington St.
This iconic dish changes multiple times a day.
The Plato Poca Cosa offers a trio of entrees on one plate, making it ideal for adventurous eaters. If each person orders a Plato Poca Cosa, no two entrees will be repeated.
For more information, visit cafepocacosatucson.com.
Banana Pancakes at Bobo’s Restaurant
2938 E. Grant Rd.
The eye-catching banana pancakes at Bobo’s are monumental in size and too big for their plates but look in the open kitchen to catch an inevitable glimpse of a cook whipping up the colossus.
It starts with a pour of pancake batter on the flattop griddle. Slices of banana are scattered on top, followed by a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and a ladle of butter.
For more information, visit bobostucson.com.
Red Chile Burro at Anita Street Market
849 N. Anita Ave.
Anita’s fluffy flour tortillas are the star of their burros. You could eat the tortillas simply with butter or even on their own.
However, the red chile beef is also one of the best in town with its smoky, fruity, and slightly spicy depth. If you need more piquancy, then generously apply the side of fresh red salsa.
Keep up with Anita Street Market on Facebook.
Doughnuts at Le Cave’s Bakery & Donuts
3950 E. 22nd St.
Le Cave’s Bakery originally opened in 1935 and eventually won an award as a top vegan doughnut shop in the nation.
Although the business moved and changed owners, they still feature the same recipes that made them famous.
For more information, call (520) 624-2561 or visit lecaves.com.
Ugly Steak at Dickman’s Meat & Deli
7955 E. Broadway Blvd. • 6472 N. Oracle Rd.
Anything from Dickman’s will be great on a sandwich; especially the ugly steak.
The local favorite has a massive cult following and has made it onto restaurant menus as well; stay tuned for a special sandwich sneak peek.
Dickman’s Meat & Deli at 7955 E. Broadway Blvd. can be reached at (520) 885-8020. The location at 6472 N. Oracle Rd. can be reached at (520) 229-9777. Keep up with Dickman’s on Facebook.
Shrimp Culichi at Mariscos Chihuahua
1009 N. Grande Ave.
Although Mariscos Chihuahua has multiple locations, the location on North Grande Avenue is the one people consider OG.
The Camarones Culichi features sautéed shrimp in a creamy, slightly spicy green sauce that locals are mad about (in a good way).
For more information, call (520) 623-3563 or visit mariscoschihuahua.com.
Cast Iron Baked Eggs at Cup Cafe
311 E. Congress St.
At Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress, they serve some of the most iconic eggs in Tucson.
The Cast Iron Baked Eggs features a skillet filled with two poached eggs, ham, leeks, shallots, Gruyere cheese, cream, and fines herbes with a side of Hotel potatoes and toast.
For more information, visit hotelcongress.com.
Shrimp Tacos at Taqueria Pico de Gallo
2618 S. Sixth Ave.
In the town of a thousand tacos, the thick corn tortillas at Taqueria Pico de Gallo help lead the pack.
While they offer a solid selection of tacos, the shrimp tacos are the local favorite.
For more information, call (520) 623-8775.
Feast Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Feast
3719 E. Speedway Blvd.
Feast owner-chef Doug Levy had the following to say about this iconic dish:
“Our menu changes each month, but in Feast’s infancy, there was once a dockworkers’ strike in Los Angeles and we weren’t able to get the halloumi cheese we use for our Feast grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich — seared halloumi cheese with honey-roasted eggplant, shaved red onion, and roasted tomato — had been a favorite of our earlier regular guests and there was so much outcry that we promised that, once we were able to get the cheese again — a brined sheep’s milk cheese from Cypress — that we’d never take it off the menu again.”
For more information, visit eatatfeast.com.
OMFG Burger at Lindy’s on 4th
500 N. Fourth Ave.
This titan of a burger features three pounds of beef, one pound of cheddar and Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Lindy’s Sauce. Finish it in 20 minutes or less and it’s free.
While Tucson features other extreme eating challenges, this one gained fame through the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. Also, local competitive eater Michelle Lesco finished it in under 4 minutes.
For more information, visit lo4th.com.
Costilla Taco at Tacos Apson
3501 S. 12th Ave.
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IT IS TUESDAY… and our friends at @tacosapson offer this magnificent taco variant, the ‘Costilla de Res’, which is literally a big ol’ beef rib plucked sizzling from the grill and served atop two flour tortillas. This is just one of the MANY different variants they dish up daily! ??? @vamosatucsonoficial @this_is_tucson @whyilovewhereilive #visittucson #tucson #food #foodie #foodporn #mexico #mexicanfood #travel #foodiesofinstagram #best23milesofmexicanfood #cityofgastronomy #salsa #tacos #tacotuesday
Here’s what James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder has to say about the taco:
“They grill them over mesquite right in front of you, behind the counter, and season solely with sea salt. They’re meaty, sinewy, and chewy. Fat drips down your chin and gristle gets stuck between your teeth. It’s a commitment and well worth it. Get them with a couple of corn tortillas, pile on the salsas and condiments, a side of beans, Mexican Coke, and lots of extra napkins. Yummy! Don’t wimp out by having them chop your meat off the bone — it’s just not the same.”
For more information, call (520) 670-1248 or visit tacosapson.com.
Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen at Ikkyu
2040 W. Orange Grove Rd. Ste. 180
With how popular ramen is now in Tucson, it’s easy to take it for granted. Back in the day, only a few Japanese restaurants in town offered tonkotsu ramen.
Ikkyu only offers their signature Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen Thursday through Saturday but it has a reputation that spans years.
For more information, call (520) 297-9011 or visit ikkyutucson.com.
Osso Buco at Vivace
6440 N. Campbell Ave.
Vivace found balance on their menu early on. After all, it took them a decade to introduce just a few changes.
While the Osso Buco ($46.95) isn’t presented with any grand garnish, it comes with a tiny fork to scoop out the bone marrow. The menu description is charmingly concise: “veal shanks in a vegetable – tomato sauce over rice.”
For more information, visit vivacetucson.com.
Golden Hot Wings at Wings Over Broadway
5004 E. Broadway Blvd. • 8838 E. Broadway Blvd.
Wings Over Broadway has the wide sauce spectrum you’d expect from a wing joint but they found magic in their Golden Hot.
The signature sauce features a blend of honey mustard and spice for an addictive kick.
For more information, visit wobtucson.com.
Salsas at BOCA Tacos y Tequila
533 N. Fourth Ave.
Don’t fall into the binary salsa trap of red or green. BOCA chef-owner Maria Mazon’s salsa rainbow has ranged from barrel-aged habanero to Thin Mint.
Mazon makes multiple new salsas every single day, so even regulars will never get bored.
For more information, visit bocatacos.com.
Snickerdoodle Pancake at Baja Cafe
7002 E. Broadway Blvd. • 2970 N. Campbell Ave. • 3930 W. Ina Rd. Ste. 322
While the classic snickerdoodle is a cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar, the Snickerdoodle Pancake is topped with cinnamon sugar and a vanilla bean cream cheese glaze.
Baja Cafe’s menu is filled with complicated delightful dishes, but the Snickerdoodle Pancake manages to remain among the most popular.
For more information, visit bajacafetucson.com.
Brussels Sprouts at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink
101 E. Pennington St.
Executive chef Tyler Fenton had the following to say about the Brussels Sprouts:
“They are our top-selling non-pizza menu item. Nearly every table gets an order. We have converted a lot of haters to fans with our Brussels and people go pretty crazy over them. If we took them off the menu, people would freak out.”
Calamari at DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails
135 S. Sixth Ave.
While DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails features seasonally changing dishes from James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder, one dish has stayed on the menu for the regulars. The Crispy Calamari features candied ginger, watercress, Oaxacan peanuts and green chili vinaigrette.
For more information, visit downtownkitchen.com.
Cheese Crisp at Tanias 33
614 N. Grande Ave.
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Not sure I’ll ever get over this rice. And everything else. But especially the rice !! Fried cauliflower taco, nopalitos with green chile taco, potatos with green chile taco, vegan pork taco, soyrizo enchilada red sauce, spicy lentil tostada, flauta, and a queso covered fried tortilla ? I’ve missed nopales a lot #vegan
From massive burritos to hibiscus vegan tamales, Tanias 33 offers a wealth of unique options.
Strangely enough, one of its most famous dishes features a crispy tortilla with melted cheese (vegan options available). Go figure.
For more information, visit tanias33.com.
Heritage Loaves at Barrio Bread
18 S. Eastbourne Ave.
While you’re sure to be happy with any loaf from Barrio Bread, the saguaro stencil helps bring the signature Heritage Loaf into immediate superstardom.
Aesthetic aside, this loaf features a blend of locally grown heritage flours for fresh, local flavor.
For more information, visit barriobread.com.
Traditional Mexican Pastries at La Estrella Bakery Inc.
5266 S. 12th Ave. • 120 South Avenida del Convento, Ste 100
While pan dulce is more of a food group than a dish, we can’t choose just one. The Mexican pastries come in countless shapes and colors.
Although various local bakeries offer the sweets, La Estrella is far and away the most popular and well-known option.
For more information about La Estrella Bakery, visit laestrellabakeryincaz.com.
Did we miss any iconic dishes? Let us know in the comments.