Comfort is the name of the game at these Tucson institutions.
For many foodies, the term “chain restaurant” evokes visions of cookie-cutter blandness, but there’s good news for fans of originality in Tucson. Several local chains embody everything locals love about the city’s casual dining scene while offering enough locations that you never have to go far to get your fix.
Comfort is the name of the game – not only in the (mostly) familiar fare but the fact that several of these places have been around for so long that they’ve become Tucson institutions.
Baggin’s sandwiches are everything you could hope for in a quick lunch—soft, homemade bread, fresh fillings, paired with a gooey chocolate chip cookie, gratis. While everyone has a favorite standby, the Sundown is arguably the most popular. Packed with turkey, herb stuffing, and cranberries, it’s a taste of the holidays all year round.
The business was started in 1984 by Cheree Garret, who was in part inspired by the fact that sandwiches were the only thing her husband would order when they went out to eat. With their vibrant colors, ristras, and saltillo tile floors, Baggin’s restaurants have a definite Southwest flair. This is evident on the menu in creative sandwiches such as Anasazi Chicken, served with green chiles on sourdough. The Baggin’s Cheesesteak, with its optional jalapeños, strays a bit from Philly, too.
For more information, visit bagginsgourmet.com.
When it comes to locally baked bread, it’s hard to beat the quality and variety at Beyond Bread. Daily flavors include baguette, pretzel, and cinnamon raisin, with weekly specials like pumpernickel, challah, and cranberry pecan available based on the day of the week. Freshly baked pastries such as key lime tarts, lemon bars, oatmeal cookies, and cheesecake brownies are crowd-pleasers too.
When Shelby Collier opened the first restaurant on Campbell Avenue in 1998—across the road from the larger space it now occupies—his choice of business name proclaimed that he was planning on more than a bakery. He just didn’t count on how much more it would turn out to be.
The sandwiches hop all around the globe, from Greece (Ollie’s Original includes feta, tomato, red onion, cucumber, olive paste, and vinaigrette on a baguette) to New Orleans (Max’s Muffalotta heaps Capicolla, ham, provolone, and red peppers on ciabatta). Creative salads (accompanied by fresh bread, of course ) and soups (optionally served in bread bowls) are menu staples, and beer and wine are now available at the Speedway and Campbell locations.
Read our October 2019 article 15 local bakeries serving fresh bread baked in house.
For more information, visit beyondbread.com.
Rated “Best Fast Food Restaurant in Arizona” by Food & Wine magazine, Eegee’s is best known for its refreshing fruit slushes. All of the flavors are made with natural, fruit-based juices—the evergreen options of Lemon, Pina Colada, and Strawberry are joined by a rotating monthly special. Pair your Eegee’s with a grinder sandwich, crinkle-cut fries, and their addictive ranch, and you have a true Tucson treat.
Opened in 1971 by Bob Greenberg and Ed Irving, two east coast friends who wanted to replicate the Italian ices of their youth, Eegee’s morphed into a uniquely Tucson experience — so much so that we can forgive the fact that it was bought out by a national investment firm in 2018.
Read our April 2019 article Your Guide to 31 of Tucson’s Most Iconic Dishes to find out which Eegee’s dish made the list.
For more information, visit eegees.com.
Want something comforting for breakfast—or breakfast until midday? Jerry Bob’s is the affordable down-home option that always delivers on flavor. With a classic diner menu of delicious omelettes—including the Chorizo, served with beans, salsa, and a tortilla—to their hearty Country Fried Steak and Eggs, there’s an option for everyone. Also necessary? Ordering a cinnamon roll to share.
Jerry Bob Filson opened his first restaurant in midtown in 1994 with fresh home-style cooking at prices that undercut the national chains where he had worked for two previous decades. He thought his own name sounded sufficiently down home and catchy to use for the new eatery—and the other local franchisees who subsequently bought up or opened other links in the far-flung chain agreed.
With multiple locations, search the closest on Facebook or Google if you’re looking for updates or delivery options.
Flipping the lid open on a container of crispy steak fingers, salty fries, and buttery Texas toast feels like winning the lottery. Arguably the town’s first fast-food restaurant, Lucky Wishbone has been serving Tucson since 1953—eight years before the first McDonald’s arrived. Although the steak fingers have become popular, it was the fried chicken, fried shrimp, and—for many—specialties like breaded liver and gizzards that has kept customers returning for decades.
For newcomers, it’s a retro-fest: Some of their locations have the original menu on the wall, as well as the original neon signs outside. As the old jingle, written by a local country singer, went: “Looking for a place to remember… you’ll find the Lucky Wishbone.”
Nico’s Mexican Food
There are few things better than a Nico’s overstuffed burrito after a night out. When hunger really strikes, however, it’s the Super Fries that hit the spot—piled high with carne asada, pico de gallo, sour cream, shredded cheese, and guacamole. For an even heartier option, you can’t go wrong with the Super Nachos—corn tortilla chips layered with carne asada, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, shredded cheese, and guacamole.
Nico’s didn’t get its start in Tucson— it began as a small southern California franchise—but the first one opened here in 1994. Any dining spot that’s been around long enough for former teenage patrons to wax nostalgic about it gets honorary Tucson status. That’s the rule.
Take note: The Campbell location is open 24 hours.
Read our 2019 article Our Short List of the Best Mexican Drive-Thru for more.
Have a favorite local chain? Let us know in the comments.