10 December, 2019, 21:23

Guide to regional Mexican food from Baja California to Veracruz in Tucson

Explore the cuisine of Baja California, Central Mexico, Veracruz, and more

Now that we’ve finished our Sonoran guide, it’s time to explore the other regional Mexican food in Tucson.

Going to Puebla and expecting ‘Mexican food’ would be as naive as going to New Orleans and expecting ‘American food.’ It would take years to only scratch the surface of the astounding diversity in cuisine, technique, and ingredients of just one region of Mexico.

Since knowledge of every Mexican state isn’t commonplace in America, we’ve whipped up a guide to the Mexican culinary regions you can find in Tucson.

Central Mexico

Mexico City is one of the most populated cities on the planet with over 21 million residents. Naturally, this results in world-class culinary heritage.

Keep an eye out for mole, pipian, and adobo sauces. While ingredient complexity ranges from three to over 20 ingredients, the flavor for these sauces is incomparable to anything else you’ll find on earth.

In addition, keep an eye out for the prized delicacy huitlacoche during late summer and early fall. Also known by its unappealing English name corn smut, huitlacoche is a delicate fungus that grows on corn.

El Antojo Poblano, 1114 W. St. Mary’s Rd.
Chalupas and Cemita at El Antojo Poblano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chalupas and Cemita at El Antojo Poblano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

A food truck on St. Mary’s just west of the I-10, El Antojo Poblano focuses on the cuisine of Puebla.

Mole poblano is the most popular type of mole in the US with its prominent chocolate color and complex flavor profile.

Also try the cemita, a style of torta with a breaded fried beef cutlet, salty ham, stringy queso Oaxaca, cilantro-like papalo herb, caramelized onion, smoky chipotle peppers, cool avocado, and olive oil.

They also offer mixiote, which is chili-marinated meat wrapped in a membrane from the maguey plant and steamed.

Read our April 2019 article Newly Opened El Antojo Poblano Serves Tucson’s Best Mexican Sandwich.

Keep up with El Antojo Poblano on Facebook.

Cafe Poca Cosa, 110 E. Pennington St.
Plato Poca Cosa at Cafe Poca Cosa owner (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Plato Poca Cosa at Cafe Poca Cosa owner (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Although chef-owner Suzana Davila was born in Guaymas, she often travels to Mexico City for culinary inspiration.

Her mole is easily one of the most famous versions in Tucson, but you can never go wrong with the signature Plato Poca Cosa, which will be different every time you order it.

For more information, visit cafepocacosatucson.com.

Elvira’s Restaurant, 256 E. Congress St.
Mole tacos at Elvira's (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mole tacos at Elvira’s (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Elvira’s offers five moles negro, xiqueño, poblano, pipian rojo, and dos moles — a combination of poblano and pipian rojo.

They consider the mole negro “King of the Moles” with 34 ingredients — chile pasilla, banana, and almond to name a few — with “hints of sweetness, spice, and many other amazing flavors to enhance the palate.”

The xiqueño is unique with avocado leaf and a star anise-forward flavor. The poblano has a mix of peanuts, cacao, and dried chiles, while the pipian rojo sauce features only two ingredients — guajillo chiles and pumpkin seeds. Don’t be fooled by the short ingredient list — the sauce highlights the fruity and floral complexity of guajillo chiles.

If you look at the rest of the menu, you’ll see direct influences from other countries such as Italy and Spain as well.

Keep up with Elvira’s Restaurant on Facebook.

Penca, 50 E. Broadway Blvd.

Brussels sprouts and amaranth get the royal treatment in the Coles Con Mole Chilhuacle. The yellow mole utilizes the rare yellow chilhuacle pepper. Chef David Solorzano makes trips down to Mexico to stash up on rare peppers for the restaurant.

To experience the cuisine in a multi-course fine dining style, reserve seats for Noches de Penca.

Read our June 2019 article New Penca chef David Solorzano expands Central Mexico focus.

For more information, visit pencarestaurante.com.

Baja California

Ensenada Street Food, 1602 S. Park Ave.
Taco de Camarones (Shrimp) at Ensenada Street Food

Taco de Camarones (Shrimp) at Ensenada Street Food (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Ensenada might not be a familiar name to many Tucsonans, but it should be; they are a fellow UNESCO City of Gastronomy. At the food truck Ensenada Street Food, they feature the fried seafood tacos famous from the region along with their take on al pastor and birria.

Read our May 2019 article Women-run food truck Ensenada Street Food serves up superb secret recipe al pastor.

Keep up with Ensenadastreetfood on Facebook or follow them on Instagram.

Jalisco

Tequila and birria hail from the state of Jalisco. Mexican laws state tequila can only be produced in in Jalisco along with a few limited municipalities.

Since tequila bars aren’t necessarily restaurants, we’ll focus on birria. Jalisco specializes in various braised meats, but birria is the most popular among them in Tucson.

Birrieria Guadalajara, 304 E. 22nd St.
Birria tacos at Birrieria Guadalajara (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Birria tacos at Birrieria Guadalajara (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Birrieria Guadalajara serves up exceptional birria along with soups and stews such as pozole, menudo, and albondigas. Just remember to bring cash.

Keep up with Birrieria Guadalajara on Facebook

El Chivo de Oro, 457 W. Irvington Rd.
Taco de Birria at El Chivo de Oro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Taco de Birria at El Chivo de Oro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

This modest food truck serves birria made with goat. It’s not gamey, so don’t worry about that. The corn tortillas are handmade as well.

Just be careful with the red salsa; it’s hotter than it looks.

Read our September 2017 article #WeeklyDish (No. 26): Goat Birria Tacos at El Chivo de Oro.

Michoacán

The Mexican state of Michoacán is the birthplace of carnitas. The dish features pork is slowly simmered in its own fat, crisped before serving, and shredded into irresistibly porky bits.

Since carnitas is usually made with the whole hog, you’ll often find other parts such as simmered buche (stomach) and cueritos (skin).

Carnitas Estilo Michoacán Los Gordos, 4545 E. 22nd St.
Carnitas at Carnitas Estilo Michoacán Los Gordos

Carnitas at Carnitas Estilo Michoacán Los Gordos (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“Hidden” in a bright pink school bus, Carnitas Estilo Michoacán Los Gordos makes stellar carnitas. Put it on a fresh handmade corn tortilla, drizzle on some Michoacán-style chili oil and a spritz of lime, and oooooo weeeee you’ve got yourself a taste of pork heaven.

Keep up with Carnitas Estilo Michoacán Los Gordos on Instagram.

Carnitas La Yoca, 3530 S. Sixth Ave.
Assorted tacos at Carnitas La Yoca (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Assorted tacos at Carnitas La Yoca (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Puffy house-made tortillas and carnitas shine at Carnitas La Yoca. Adventurous eaters can try out rarer gelatinous options such as buche and cueritos.

Keep up with Carnitas La Yoca on Facebook.

Veracruz

Branzino Veracruz at Charro del Rey (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Branzino Veracruz at Charro del Rey (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While Tucson doesn’t offer a regional Mexican food restaurant dedicated to Veracruz, a handful of restaurants feature seafood prepared a la Veracruzana. The tomato-based sauce contains olives and capers, similar to the Italian puttanesca, but it features regional ingredients and spices.

Try the Branzino Veracruz at Charro Del Rey and the Shrimp Veracruz at El Torero.

Yucatán

Assorted tacos from Seis Kitchen

Assorted tacos from Seis Kitchen (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Tucson also lacks regional Mexican food restaurant dedicated to Yucatán — a shame, since we could surely appreciate the culinary combination of citrus, habanero, achiote, and smoke.

However, Seis Kitchen has two taco meats famous from Yucatán; cochinita pibil and poc chuc.

Honorable Mention

Foothills restaurant El Cisne features a regional Mexican food menu segmented into Sonora, Oaxaca, and Sea of Cortez regions. Try their Cecina en Mole, which features a grilled pork tenderloin covered in their Oaxacan chocolate mole.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com.

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