Rollies Chef Mateo Otero: “What is Tucson’s Sonoran Chicano food to me?”

Rollies Mexican Patio chef Mateo Otero waxes come culinary poetic on his Tucson upbringing.

This is a guest post by Rollies Mexican Patio chef and owner, Mateo Otero.

I grew up as a fifth generation Tucsonan on my mother’s side and second generation on my father’s side. With that long of a presence in this region along with my background as a chef, I feel like I have strong roots to Sonoran food in Tucson.

Over the years and through countless conversations with family members and many of my friends that also grew up in this region, I realize we share many of the same culinary traditions.

We grew up eating ground beef patty tacos, or nana’s tacos topped with lettuce, yellow cheese, Cotija cheese & peas.  We ate rolled chicken tacos, chile con carne, chile con pollo, and ground beef with papas. There was always a pot of refried beans on the stove. A common snack was a tortilla covered in butter or jelly.  And Poblano Hot Sauce was a staple of every Tucson household.

Chicken Rollies Tacos at Rollies Mexican Patio (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chicken Rollies Tacos at Rollies Mexican Patio (Credit: Jackie Tran)

On Sundays, we’d eat white menudo and chorizo.  On the table, we’d find chopped green onion, cilantro, lime and lemons. Also on the table was a brown box from the Mexican bakery filled with pan birote, glazed donuts, conchas and cochitos.  We would toast the pan birote with Butter.

Carne asada, to us, was usually a family gathering. Typically it involved an open fire grill, a whole, unchopped, chuck steak, Spanish rice, fresh salsa, potato or macaroni salad, fresh homemade tortillas and sometimes tripas de leche.  We never made soft shell tacos; we would just tear off a piece of a large tortilla and go to town.

Special occasions were always the best. Holidays were for tamales. The red chile with green olives were my favorite. On birthdays, we either had nanas tacos, flat enchiladas topped with queso fresco, white onion, lettuce & green olives, and sometimes oxtail posole with beans. Quinceañeras, weddings, baptismals and graduation parties always had the same menu: birria, rice and beans. (And lots of Bud Light.)

We never had horchata or anything prickly pear in our homes. Just Kool-Aid, cinnamon sun tea and Tampico orange drink.

I am proud to say Tucson has its own style of Mexican, or Chicano food. To me, it’s the best food on the planet.

Find Chef Mateo Otero and many of his favorite classic Sonoran Chicano food dishes at Rollies Mexican Patio at 4573 S. 12th Avenue.

Tucson Foodie is the leading online source for all things food in Tucson, Arizona. Have an event, recipe, or piece of news we should know about? Send it to