28 October, 2020, 16:23

Explore Tucson’s culinary depth with ethnic dishes from 34 different countries

There's no need to leave the city for a culinary adventure.

Tucson is more than Mexican food; the culinary cuisine benefits from influences and immigrants from around the world. You don’t need a passport to explore all the complex spice blends and unique cooking techniques.

You surely already have your local favorites for American and Mexican cuisine, so here’s a list of the other countries with ethnic food from each to try in Tucson.

Argentina: Parrillada from Contigo Latin Kitchen

3770 E. Sunrise Dr.
Parrillada at Contigo Latin Kitchen (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Parrillada at Contigo Latin Kitchen (Photo courtesy of Contigo Latin Kitchen)

Thank Argentina for chimichurri, one of the best sauces in the world. At Contigo, they serve the vibrant green sauce on their gorgeous Parrillada plate with picanha, lamb chops, rib eye, Argentinian chorizo, roast marrow, salsa verde, and seasonal vegetables.

Contigo features cuisine from a variety of Latin American countries not represented often in Tucson otherwise, so they’ll make more than one appearance on this list.

Read our January 2019 article Contigo Latin Kitchen charms locals with pan-Latin fare & stunning views.

For more information, visit eatatcontigo.com.

Belgium: Belgian fries from Graze Premium Burgers

2721 E. Speedway Blvd. • 5635 E. Broadway Blvd.
Burger and fries at Graze Premium Burgers (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Burger and fries at Graze Premium Burgers (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Graze is by no means a Belgian restaurant, but they do Belgian frites justice. The twice-cooked potato features a creamy, fluffy interior with an exterior that stays crispy even after sitting for a few minutes.

For more information, visit grazepremiumburgers.com.

Benin: Whole Tilapia Fish at Alafia West African Cuisine

1070 N. Swan Rd.
African grilled tilapia at Alafia West African Cuisine (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

African grilled tilapia at Alafia West African Cuisine (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

While tilapia is one of the most consumed fishes in America, its aquaculture history dates back to ancient Egypt.

At Alafia, the Benin-native owner-chef shares cuisine from West Africa. The Whole Tilapia Fish is grilled and served with stewed tomatoes and onions with your choice of aloko (fried sweet plantains) or salad.

Read our January 2020 article Alafia West African Cuisine back open under new management.

Keep up with Alafia on Facebook.

Bosnia: Cevapi from Chef Alisah’s Restaurant

5931 N. Oracle Rd.
Cevapi and Cockta at Chef Alisah's Restaurant (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Cevapi and Cockta at Chef Alisah’s Restaurant (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Don’t mind the simple appearance, Chef Alisah’s house-made Bosnian cevapi comes with chopped raw onion, tzatziki, and fresh house-made bread. The handmade quality is apparent in every bite, pleasing both picky eaters and gourmands.

For more information, visit alisahrestaurant.com.

Brasil: Picanha at Churrasco de Brasil

150 W. Wetmore Rd.

While Churrasco de Brasil also offers primo beef cuts such as rib-eye and filet mignon, you have to try the Brazilian favorite cut, picanha. The beefy cut is exceptionally tender and juicy with its fat cap. Wash it down with a cold caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.

Read our October 2019 article Brazilian steakhouse Churrasco de Brasil opens tonight at the Tucson Mall.

For more information, visit churrascodebrasil.com.

China: Dim Sum at Sushi Lounge

4802 S. Sixth Ave.
Dim sum at Sushi Lounge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Dim sum at Sushi Lounge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Since China is the most populated country in the world and the fourth largest by land, the diversity within the country is easily broken into several different categories. Tucson has a healthy amount of quality Sichuan restaurants, but let’s focus on an underrepresented category here: dim sum.

Sushi Lounge might also be a sushi restaurant, but the family behind it makes the best dim sum in town. Visit with a group of friends to enjoy some hot tea and a plethora of shareable dumplings, buns, and more.

Unlike dim sum restaurants with carts rolling around the restaurant, Sushi Lounge cooks their dim sum to order; arrive patient and not hangry.

Read our August 2018 article We found Tucson’s best dim sum at a sushi restaurant by the rodeo grounds.

Keep up with Sushi Lounge on Facebook.

For additional Chinese options, read our January 2020 article Guide to 14 Chinese Restaurants to Celebrate Lunar New Year in Tucson.

Egypt: Koshari at Alexandria’s Pearl

1535 N. Stone Ave.
Koshari at Alexandria's Pearl (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Koshari at Alexandria’s Pearl (Credit: Jackie Tran)

With Italian and Indian influence, the Koshari features chopped noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and crispy caramelized onions with vinegary garlic and tomato sauces. This was one of our favorite dishes from a recent visit.

Read our December 2019 article Egyptian restaurant Alexandria’s Pearl to open on North Stone Avenue.

Keep up with Alexandria’s Pearl on Facebook.

El Salvador: Pupusas at Selena’s Salvadorian Restaurant

2513 N. Campbell Ave.
Pupusa Regular at Selena's Salvadorian Food

Pupusa Regular at Selena’s Salvadorian Food (Credit: Jackie Tran)

A pupusa is a corn flatbread about the thickness of your finger. In El Salvador, they are stuffed with ingredients such as cheese, loroco buds, beans, and chicharrón (pork). At Selena’s, the are also topped with a lightly fermented slaw (curtido) and a spicy tomato salsa.

Read our February 2019 article Selena’s brings Salvadorian food to former Desert Island Eatery space.

Keep up with Selena’s Salvadorian Restaurant on Facebook.

England: Scotch Egg at The Canyon’s Crown

6958 E. Tanque Verde Rd.
Pub Footballs at the Canyon's Crown (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Scotch Egg at the Canyon’s Crown (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Originating in the Whitby area of Yorkshire, England, Scotch Eggs are one of the country’s most internationally famous dishes.

At The Canyon’s Crown, their take on the dish features hard-boiled eggs wrapped in breakfast sausage and bread crumbs, fried and served with your choice of spicy English mustard or honey mustard.

For more information, visit canyonscrown.com.

Ethiopia: Lunch Special at Cafe Desta

758 S. Stone Ave.
Lunch at Cafe Desta (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Lunch at Cafe Desta (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Injera, the star of Ethiopian cuisine, is a sourdough-risen flatbread with the texture similar to an American pancake. Tear off a palm-sized piece and use it to scoop up one of Cafe Desta’s countless braised dishes.

For a special treat, order the Lamb Tibs, which features seared lamb cubes with onion, jalapeños, and fresh rosemary.

If you can round up a group of friends, order The Works for a sampling of all of their vegan meat dishes, served with salad and injera or rice.

Read our December 2019 article Cafe Desta brings communities together over Ethiopian cuisine.

Keep up with Cafe Desta on Facebook.

Eritrea: Ga’at at Queen Sheba

5553 E. Grant Rd.
Combination of dishes from Queen Sheba (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Combination of dishes from Queen Sheba (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While Eritrean food is similar to Ethiopian food with injera playing a primary role, it has its own recipes and spices as well. Italian colonization also influenced the cuisine, resulting in dishes such as the Spaghetti with Beef & Sauce, which features the Ethiopian spice blend, berbere.

One of the most popular dishes in Eritrea, Ga’at is a porridge-like dome of mixed barley, teff, and corn served with Greek yogurt, spicy butter, and hot berbere sauce.

If variety is the spice of your life, you can also mix and match different braised dishes over injera.

For more information, visit queenshebatucson.com.

France: Eggs Provencal at Ghini’s French Caffe

1803 E. Prince Rd.
Eggs Provençal at Ghini's French Caffe (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Eggs Provençal at Ghini’s French Caffe (Credit: Jackie Tran)

For a French breakfast experience, visit the longtime Tucson staple Ghini’s French Cafe.

Their signature dish, Eggs Provencal, features tomatoes sauteed with fresh garlic and thyme, served with eggs. Dipping the house-made bread into the yolk is a must.

For more information, visit ghiniscafe.com.

Germany: Bratwurst at Ten55 Brewing Company

110 E. Congress St.
Bratwurst with Sauerkraut at Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Bratwurst with Sauerkraut at Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While Ten55 isn’t a German restaurant, they offer a Bavarian beer hall experience with a wide selection of sausages and beer. For lunch, you can’t go wrong with the classic Bratwurst. For a variety at dinner, get the Wurst Plate with two sausages, mustard, sauerkraut, seasonal veggies, and toasted bread.

Ten55, if you’re reading this, please add käsespätzle with crispy onions to the menu.

For more information, visit 1055brewing.com.

Greece: Gyros Dinner Plate at Pappoule’s

7475 N. La Cholla Blvd.
Pappoule's Famous Gyros Sandwich (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Gyros Dinner Plate at Pappoule’s (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Pappoule’s Gyros Dinner Plate piles the Greek lamb and beef blend high on pita bread served with a small Greek salad, rice pilaf, and a generous side of tzatziki.

Honorable mention goes to the simple but beautiful Grilled Lamb Chops.

Read our March 2019 article Pappoule’s: 30+ Years of Tender Gyros & Greek Flavors in Tucson.

For more information, visit pappoules.com.

Honduras: Bombolé Eatery

100 N. Stone Ave.
Paneer empanada, dahl, and rice at Bombolé Eatery (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Paneer empanada, dahl, and rice at Bombolé Eatery (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Although we don’t have a dedicated Honduras restaurant in Tucson, we have Honduras-Indian fusion at Bombolé. Enjoy a Paneer Empanada with a side of Honduras slaw and zesty green sauce.

For more information, call (520) 777-5501 or visit eatbombole.com.

India: Tandoori Mix at Tamarind

7265 N. La Cholla Blvd.
Tandoori Mix and Mango Lassi at Tamarind (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Tandoori Mix and Mango Lassi at Tamarind (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While Indian buffets are popular around Tucson, try something too nice to display on the buffet. At Tamarind, the Tandoori Mix features a combination of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, tandoori shrimp, sheek kabab, onions, and peppers.

For more information, visit tamarindoftucson.com.

Iran: Tour of Persia at Persian Room

9290 N. Thornydale Rd.
Tour of Persia platter, lavash bread, sabzi, Homemade Yogurt & Garlic Dip (Mast o Moosier), Kash O'Bademjan, and Gheimeh Bademjan at Persian Room

Tour of Persia platter, lavash bread, sabzi, Homemade Yogurt & Garlic Dip (Mast o Moosier), Kash O’Bademjan, and Gheimeh Bademjan at Persian Room (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Persian Room offers an extensive menu of Persian classics in an environment evocative of a luxurious Persian living room.

Make sure to bring a large group of friends so you can order the Tour of Persia and sample as many different pates as possible. Crispy garlic lovers will adore the Kash O’Bademjan as well.

Read our January 2020 article Feast like Royalty at Upscale “Persian Room Fine Dining.”

For more information, visit persianroom.com.

Italy: Cannoli alla Siciliana from Caffe Milano

46 W. Congress St.

Chef La Fufi only moved to Tucson in 2013, bringing decades of culinary experience from Italy with her.

For dessert, order her homemade Cannoli alla Siciliana, made with ricotta cheese, candied fruit, and chocolate chips.

Read our November 2019 article At Caffé Milano, Chef Fulvia Steffenone Brings a Taste of Italy to Tucson.

For more information, visit lafuficaffemilano.com.

Jamaica: Jerk Chicken at D’s Island Grill

3156 E. Fort Lowell Rd.
Jerk Chicken at D’s Island Grill JA (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Jerk Chicken at D’s Island Grill JA (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Jamaica makes fabulous use of the Scotch bonnet pepper, a fiery relative of the habanero pepper. Taste its tropical flavor with the smoky Jerk Chicken at D’s.

Read our April 2017 article D’s Island Grill JA: Spicy Stews & Cooling Caribbean Refreshments.

For more information, visit dsislandgrill.com.

Japan: Omakase at Yamato Japanese Restaurant

857 E. Grant Rd.
Owner-chef Noboru Nakajima at Yamato Japanese Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Owner-chef Noboru Nakajima at Yamato Japanese Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Sit at the sushi bar and ask for omakase. The Japanese phrase roughly translates to “I’ll leave it up to you,” and you can trust the chef here. Eat with an open mind and enjoy several courses of Japanese delights.

Read our September 2018 article I spent the last decade going to Yamato Japanese Restaurant for sushi.

Keep up with Yamato Japanese Restaurant on Facebook.

Jordan: Hummus with Meat at Shish Kebab House of Tucson

5855 E. Broadway Blvd.
Hummus With Lamb at Shish Kebab House (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Hummus With Lamb at Shish Kebab House (Credit: Mark Navarro)

A variety of techniques are used when preparing Jordanian cuisine, from sautéing to basting and grilling meat and vegetables. Shish Kebab House of Tucson showcases these techniques, incorporating popular snacks, in dishes on the menu.

Enter the Hummus with Meat. This simple dish is big on flavor, blending olive oil, lemon, and tahini with chickpeas to create a smooth and creamy base on which heaped lamb, sautéed onions, and pine nuts rest.

Don’t hesitate to explore the extensive menu; there are seemingly endless combinations from which to choose.

For more information, visit shishkebabhouseoftucson.com/5679.

Netherlands (informally known as Holland): Patat Oorlog at The Dutch Eatery & Refuge

943 E. University Blvd.
Patat Oorlog (War Fries) and Watermelon Fresca cocktail at the Dutch Eatery & Refuge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Patat Oorlog (War Fries) and Watermelon Fresca cocktail at the Dutch Eatery & Refuge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The Dutch features a criminally underrated potato dish in Patat Oorlog. Also known as “war fries,” the french fries are topped with a sambal peanut sauce, mayonnaise, and dice white onion.

Read our May 2019 article 10 fun facts about The Dutch Eatery & Refuge.

For more information, visit thedutchtucson.com.

Peru: Ceviche Mixto at Villa Peru

1745 E. River Rd., Ste. 165
Ceviche Mixto Afrodisiaco at Villa Peru (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Ceviche Mixto Afrodisiaco at Villa Peru (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Although Peru has incredible biodiversity and food, Tucson only has a few Peruvian restaurants. Thankfully, all of them do a mighty fine job representing ethnic food in Tucson.

At Villa Peru, the Ceviche Mixto features seasonal fish, octopus, shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, ají rocoto, red onion, Peruvan corn, sweet potato, and leche de tigre.

Read our January 2020 article Villa Peru: an elegant celebration of pisco, ceviche & delightful Peruvian staples.

For more information, visit villaperutucson.com

Philippines: Lechon Kawali at Nick’s Sari-Sari Store

2001 S. Craycroft Rd.
Lechon kawali, pancit, pinakbet, rice, and lumpia at Nick's Sari-Sari Store and Filipino Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Lechon kawali, pancit, pinakbet, rice, and lumpia at Nick’s Sari-Sari Store and Filipino Restaurant (Credit: Jackie Tran)

When grabbing a plate of homestyle food from Nick’s, make sure to include some Lechon Kawali. The deep-fried chunks of pork belly pack a serious crunch.

Keep up with Nick’s Sari-Sari Store on Facebook.

Poland: Pierogi at Polish Cottage

4520 E. Broadway Blvd.
Pierogi at Polish Cottage (Credit: Chelsey Wade)

Pierogi at Polish Cottage (Credit: Chelsey Wade)

What’s not to love about dumplings? Try the Polish classic, Pierogi, at Polish Cottage. They offer the following varieties: beef, potatoes and cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom, and sweet farmer’s cheese.

Read our December 2018 article Polish Cottage Brings Comfort with Authentic House-made Dishes.

For more information, visit polishcottageaz.com

Puerto Rico: Mofongo at Asian Sofrito

2530 N. First Ave.
Mofongo con carne frita, fried chicken, and French fries at Asian Sofrito (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mofongo con carne frita, fried chicken, and French fries at Asian Sofrito (Credit: Jackie Tran)

It might not be immediately clear in the name, but Asian Sofrito features a combination of Puerto Rican food with Puerto Rican-style Chinese food. Come here for the famous mashed fried plantain dish Mofongo with Shrimp Enchilado. They also happen to offer some of our favorite garlicky Fried Chicken in town; it is fried to order, so call ahead if you can.

Keep up with Asian Sofrito on Facebook.

Somalia: Sambusas at Nur Market & Restaurant

3565 E. Speedway Blvd. Ste. 171

Nur’s restaurant specializes in Somalian cuisine. While the signature Lamb Shank and Goat or Lamb Roast make hefty meals, try the Sambusas first as a snack. The triangular deep-fried pockets are filled with ground meat and a piquant sauce packed with spices. The spicy tomato sauce on the side is worth slurping directly from the container.

For more information, visit nurmarketaz.com.

South Korea: Duk Bok Ki at Kimchi Time

2900 E. Broadway Blvd., Ste. 186
Duk Bok Ki at Kimchi Time

Duk Bok Ki at Kimchi Time (Credit: Jackie Tran)

South Korea constructs seriously addictive chili sauces. Try the Duk Bok Ki, which features rice cakes, ramen noodles, and veggies swimming in a fiery gochugaru and gochujang sauce.

Read our November 2019 article Korean favorite Kimchi Time bold and flavorful, expansion in the works.

For more information, visit Kimchi Time on Yelp.

Spain: Paella Valencia at Contigo Latin Kitchen

3770 E. Sunrise Dr.
Paella Valencia at Contigo Latin Kitchen (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Paella Valencia at Contigo Latin Kitchen (Credit: Jackie Tran)

To impress a date, order the Paella Valencia for two. The famous Spanish dish features a luxurious blend of Bomba rice, shrimp, mussels, clams, chicken, and chorizo.

Read our January 2020 article Contigo Latin Kitchen charms locals with pan-Latin fare & stunning views.

For more information, visit eatatcontigo.com.

Sri Lanka: Samosas from The Curry Pot Sri Lankan Fusion

Food Truck
Samosas from The Curry Pot Sri Lankan Fusion (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Samosas from The Curry Pot Sri Lankan Fusion (Credit: Jackie Tran)

India’s neighbor Sri Lanka also features abundant rice and curry, but it stands out with some key differences. Coconut is a key ingredient, ranging from coconut milk used in curries to coconut flakes used in the coconut sambals that accompany many dishes.

Furthermore, Sri Lankan cuisine is generous with the spices; try a veggie Samosa with a combo plate.

Keep up with the Curry Pot on Facebook.

Syria: Cauliflower from Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant

1138 N. Belvedere Ave.

While Zayna’s food is indeed Mediterranean, the family running it is from Syria. As such, you can expect the Syrian versions of Mediterranean classics.

For one of the best cauliflower dishes in the world, get the fried Syrian Cauliflower served with a simple tahini sauce. It’s an ethnic food revelation.

Read our September 2019 article Zayna Mediterranean: 14 years of authentic Syrian cuisine in Tucson.

For more information, visit zaynamediterranean.com.

Turkey: Manti at Istanbul

2945 E. Speedway Blvd.
Manti at Istanbul

Manti at Istanbul (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Istanbul also offers Mediterranean food, but their Turkish specialties are the star. Dumpling fiends will fall in love with the Manti from their dinner menu. The meaty dumplings are topped with a red lentil tomato sauce and yogurt sauce worth sopping up.

Read our August 2019 article Turkish restaurant “Istanbul” to open in former May’s Counter, August 13.

For more information, visit istanbultucson.com.

Venezuela: Arepas from Ricuras de Venezuela

Food Truck

In Venezuela, Arepas are discs of corn dough stuffed like a sandwich. Food truck Ricuras de Venezuela features seven different kinds; Mechada and Jamón y Queso are our favorites.

If you love corn and cheese, don’t miss out on the Cachapas.

Keep up with Ricuras de Venezuela on Facebook.

Vietnam: Bun Bo Hue at Pho Can Tho

2746 N. Campbell Ave.
Bun Bo Hue at Pho Can Tho (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Bun Bo Hue at Pho Can Tho (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Vietnam is more than pho and banh mi (Vietnamese author bias here). Bun Bo Hue is for the adventurous eater. Like pho, it comes with a side of lime, bean sprouts, cilantro, jalapeño, and Thai basil. While it looks simply like a chili oil-laced pho at first glance, three distinct ingredients separate it drastically: deeply savory and funky fermented shrimp, a cube of soft tofu-like coagulated pork blood, and a tender but slightly chewy tendon-filled pork hock.

For more information, call (520) 881-8883 or keep up with Pho Can Tho on Facebook.

Honorable Mention: DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails

135 S. Sixth Ave.
Indonesian Style Fried Hamachi Collar at DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Indonesian Style Fried Hamachi Collar at DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While DTKC doesn’t focus on any one country, they highlight gastronomic cities from around the world. Their latest menu features countries ranging from Italy to Indonesia.

Read our June 2020 article Sneak peek at the DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails summer menu (PHOTOS).

For more information, call (520) 623-7700 or visit downtownkitchen.com.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.
[This article was originally written on July 18, 2019, and most recently updated on June 17, 2020].

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 and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.

X