Here are the best things the Tucson Foodie team tasted in February 2020

From pancakes to South African sausage, we've had a mouthful.

With the surge of visitors in Tucson this month, we did anything but shy away from eating out.

From new menus and meals at photoshoots to post-work dining, February brought some memorable food experiences. Here are the Tucson Foodie staff picks of the best things we tasted:

Jenn Teufel, Partner

Hotcakes de Elote at Penca Restaurante

Hotcakes de Elote at Penca Restaurante (Credit: Jenalyn Lazana)

February 25 is National Pancake Day, so I decided to make a month of it. 😉 Join me on my pancake journey.

Green Onion Pancake at Jewel’s Noodle Kitchen – Let’s start with a delicious, savory scallion pancake from Jewel’s Noodle Kitchen. Reminiscent of a Korean pancake in flavor, it was crisp, flaky, and large. It wraps around some of their tasty meats perfectly, but I just finished mine up dipping it in chili oil—a scrumptious meal for only $3.50.

Read our September 2019 article Jewel’s Noodle Kitchen showcases Chinese noodles, dumplings & pie.

Hotcakes de Elote at Penca Restaurante – Let’s head to Penca’s Mexican corn hotcake—thanks chef Solarzano. The whipped cream, strawberries, and agave-infused syrup were delicious. But ultimately, I just asked for the butter (I y’am who I y’am) and ate those tasty, moist corn-a-licous cakes naked.

Read our February 2020 article 5 Delightful Dishes to Try from Penca’s New Brunch Menu (PHOTOS).

Banana Griddlecakes at Nook – My final pancake comes from Nook. Owner-chefs Matt and Nikki Thompson, always slaying with the breakfast and brunch crowd, hit a home run with their luscious banana griddlecakes. It was the right balance of sweet and fluffy and didn’t need anything on it to make it a perfect brunch treat.

Read our November 2019 article Nook serves up creative brunch, lunch & dinner fare to downtown Tucson.

Falafel at Alexandria's Pearl (Credit: Jackie Tran)

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

Falafel at Alexandria’s Pearl – Just to prove that I didn’t just eat pancakes this month, I need to mention the delicious falafels from Alexandria’s Pearl. Crunchy on the outside with a very fresh, herbal-nutty flavor, these are by far my new favorite falafels in town. The Bamya Okra was also terrific and tasty. I’ve had a hard time finding great local dishes with okra in them, so this was a happy find. Also, hit up their sexy, low couches for late-night tea and dessert!

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

Side of Potato Salad at Copper Rock Craft Eatery – Lastly, we dropped by Copper Rock to check out their sandwiches and I have to include their side of potato salad here. I was blown away by the perfectly cooked potatoes dressed in an abundance of dill and a light mustard-mayonnaise.

Read our December 2019 article Copper Rock Craft Eatery now open at DoubleTree on Alvernon (PHOTOS).

Kate Severino, Editor

Mixed Veg and Meat Sampler at Zemam’s – A too-long wait line at an eatery on University influenced a sudden change of dinner plans one busy Friday night in the city. While the unassuming facade at Zemam’s doesn’t exactly draw you in, a friend of mine had mentioned his experience a few too many times to pass it up. While the menu features a variety of traditional Ethiopian dishes, just get the sampler and share.

The large plate (platter) is lined with injera—a spongy, pancake-like flatbread—along with mounds of flavorful meat and veg. No utensils needed here; use the injera to scoop up your choice vegetables and/or meats. We went for Shiro, pureed chickpeas blended with Ethiopian spices, Spinach, stewed in a mild blend of spices with a side of cottage cheese, and Kay Watt Zigni, tender beef strips simmered in a hot, spicy berbere sauce. The berbere—a piquant signature Ethiopian spice blend—includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and basil, among others.

If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, this one’s for you; each bite was packed with flavor (and communal eating, with your hands, is a refreshing icebreaker).

Boerewors from Forbes Meat Company – Praise be, three-pounds of boerewors made its way into my patriotic South African hands! If you’ve heard of this type of sausage, I’ll be impressed. If not, that’s about to change.

The South African sausage, translated from Afrikaans to mean “farmer’s sausage,” is usually made from coarsely minced beef (or pork or lamb or a combination) and a heavenly assortment of spices (including, but not limited to, coriander seed, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice). According to Ben Forbes, this particular coil of sausage was made with “salt, beef, and love.” And, admittedly, “brandy, malt vinegar, and coriander.”

Slap it on the grill and cook it for roughly ten minutes each side. It’s best served on a buttered bread roll with a tomato-onion relish. Beer and friends improve the experience dramatically.

Head to 5 Points Farmers Market on Sunday mornings for other delightful Forbes treasures.

Foccacia at CERES – Already having eaten lunch downtown, I’m still unsure as to why I stepped into this to-go bread and pasta spot. I didn’t plan on eating there, I just went to… look (at the daily specials, of course). As I walked off with a square of perfectly oiled, airy, lightly salted Foccacia, I chuckled wondering if the bread would make its way back to the Tucson Foodie office. I guess you’ll all have to try it to understand why it didn’t. 😉

Read our October 2019 article “CERES” brings fresh hand-made pasta & bread to El Presidio.

Cauliflower and Avocado Tacos at Sonoran Brunch Company

Cauliflower and Avocado Tacos at Sonoran Brunch Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Cauliflower and Avocado Taco at Sonoran Brunch Company – When you witness Kenny King, chef-partner at Sonoran Brunch Company, make his way to each table to greet customers and share insight into the menu, you know that you made the right decision to walk through the doors at the former Poco & Mom’s. And it isn’t just Kenny—the attentive service, upbeat music, colorful interior, bright atmosphere… all memorable.

Although the Papas Gordo comes highly recommended, it’s the Cauliflower and Avocado Taco that has been playing on my mind. Those crispy tempura-fried chunks of cauliflower roll generously around a corn tortilla. A thin sliver of avocado and spray of shredded red cabbage provide delightful contrasting textures in each bite. The taco is drizzled with morita aioli that hints at smokiness, but it’s the spritz of lime that lifts the dish, providing much-needed acidity.

Read our October 2019 article Sonoran Brunch Company to open at 22nd & Kolb on Halloween.

Green Salad at Anello Pizzeria – A plate of lightly dressed spinach, topped with bread crumbs and pickled mustard seed, was a daily special on the weekday we visited. So was a pillowy gnocchi with ricotta that dissolved in my mouth. I didn’t realize that I was craving the salad until I’d had the first bite. It was light and uncomplicated. And I’m hoping the gnocchi will make a second appearance (*now watching social media like a hawk*). The menu staple Verde pizza—with that spiral of arugula sauce and pistachio crumbles—was delizioso. The new lunch hours—and unpretentious salads—suit me perfectly.

Read our January 2020 article Pizzeria Anello launches lunch for first time since opening.

Margherita Pizza at Falora – The cozy spot, oozing warmth with orange tones and stacks of wood, was the right kind of busy on the weekend I visited. Were the patrons all smiling at their pies pulling slices onto their plates? That’s how I remember it. Bubbling crust, a fresh tomato sauce that made me forget about any I’ve had elsewhere, and the balanced placement of mozzarella and basil. Marvelous. Hustle over to Sidecar beforehand for pre-drinks—I’m definitely still thinking about that French ‘75.

Read our November 2019 article Guide to 34 pizzerias in Tucson: grab yourself a slice.

72% Ucayali PERU Chocolate Bar at Monsoon Chocolate – After tasting a sample, I bought two bars of the smooth Peruvian chocolate. Wait, perhaps my top pick was the Seasonal Hot Chocolate, tahini making a bold appearance. Or was it the Iced Coffee with Horchata paired with a corn and cacao nib cookie? It might just be that I’m all for indulgent experiences on a moody afternoon in an artistic space, being drawn in by rich, well-executed local products and friendly staff. A definite trend in my selections this month—experiences to savor.

Melissa Stihl, Content Creator

Meatballs at Bellisimo Ristorante Italian – There were so many delicious bites this year at the SAVOR Festival hosted by SAACA. A standout bite to me was the flavorful meatball from Bellisimo Ristorante Italiano, opening early March inside Casino Del Sol. The meatball was perfectly cooked, very herby with lots of fresh parsley, paired with a complex tomato sauce, and dusted with lemon zest for brightness. If this bite is any indicator of the quality of food we can expect to find at Bellisimo, the future of food in Tucson is looking bright.

Beef Bulgogi Korean BBQ at Takamatsu – I don’t know how I have lived in Tucson for over two years and have not been to Takamatsu. The hybrid Sushi/Korean BBQ joint was poppin’ when I dined there around 9:00 p.m. earlier this month. My date and I opted for the Korean BBQ side and feasted on a combo of meats for two including pork belly, chicken, and pork bulgogi. The real standout for both of us was the beef bulgogi, thinly sliced rib-eye in a light bulgogi sauce. With a bit of rice and various banchan, it was a perfect meal. I can’t wait to go back with a large group of friends so that we can try more items.

Chicken Teriyaki Pizza at No Anchovies – This oddball combo of flavors was a late-night savior to me after a night of too much wine at a show at Centennial Hall on the UofA campus. The heat-to-order slice was exactly what I needed, and there was something just right about the slightly-too-sweet teriyaki sauce that was drizzled over the top. The chicken was well cooked and the whole thing was topped with a generous sprinkle of diced red pepper and green onion, providing a much-needed savory balance.

Matt Sterner, Events Writer

Prickly Pear Margarita at La Botana Tacos + Patios + Amigos (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Prickly Pear Margarita at La Botana Tacos + Patios + Amigos (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Pork Hash at Tallboys – Aside from the solid music playlist being streamed in the restaurant, the dish I devoured at Tallboys on Fourth Avenue was solid, too. I normally go for one of the burgers, but I decided on something new—the Pork Hash. It’s a pulled pork home fries hash topped with two eggs, verde sauce, cotija, crema, and cilantro. It’s definitely a hefty meal to try and finish in one sitting.

Chicken Curry at India Oven – India Oven on Campbell Ave. was calling my name one late afternoon and it delivered. The Samosas were some of the most delicate, yet stacked with flavor, and the naan was massive—I ordered two. I also picked up the Chicken Curry, which is boneless chicken cooked with ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and aromatic spices. The chicken and potatoes were cooked perfectly, nice and tender to the fork. I decided on the “hot” spice level and man, did I get it. It wasn’t overbearingly hot though and was still enjoyable to eat.

Read our January 2019 article India Oven: Serving Northern Indian & Punjabi Cuisine for 25 Years.

Tacos and drinks at La Botana Tacos – Every time I wander into La Botana Tacos I’m deadset on the pinto beans and cilantro rice, but deciding on the main dish is the hardest part (too many great choices to choose from). I went with the two rolled tacos smothered in verde sauce. I also washed it all down with a healthy serving of the 2-for-1 Uber-Ritas. It may be smart to consider calling an Uber after drinking one or two of those.

Jackie Tran, Lead Writer and Photographer

Al Pastor Tacos at La Chaiteria

Al Pastor Tacos at La Chaiteria (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Churro Nachos at El Chinito Gordo – For someone without a sweet tooth, I quickly fell in love with these Churro Nachos. The piping hot churro chunks and bunuelo chips were complemented with cool vanilla ice cream, mango, chocolate, and caramel. It sounds like too much, but share it with a few friends and you’ll be happy.

Read our February 2020 article El Chinito Gordo offers a lively modern vibe with instant culinary classics.

Al Pastor Tacos at Tumerico – Although I’ve been a loyal Tumerico fan for years, this was my first time trying their jackfruit pastor. I’ve been missing out. Even though I’m a huge sucker for fatty pork, this jackfruit still had the richness and texture I would normally be missing. And as usual, Wendy is a sauce magician with this complex fruity and spicy pastor sauce.

Read our February 2020 article La Chaiteria by Tumerico now open on Grande & Congress.

Tacos Dorados at Tito & Pep – While I’ve managed to eat my way through most of Tito & Pep’s menu, this was my first venture into their happy hour. I mean this in the best possible way — imagine Jack in the Box tacos that don’t make you feel like s*!@ after eating them. The warm crunchy shell and ground beef filling provide all the college nostalgia, while the delicate thin onions, tangy salsa verde, and salty crumbled cheese added the sophistication that helped it pair well with a nice cocktail.

Read our November 2018 article Tito & Pep: Tucson’s Best New Restaurant of 2018?

Taro Milk Tea with Boba at Ni Hao Tea – Along with my lack of a sweet tooth, I’m not a boba person unless it comes to taro boba. Ni Hao Tea adds a scoop of fresh hand-pounded taro, which makes all the difference with texture and taro intensity. Additionally, you get to customize your sweetness level when you order — I like 25%. I’ve been craving another taro boba for the past two weeks now.

Read our December 2019 article Boba shop “Ni Hao Tea” to open on Broadway & Swan.

Roast Beef Pho Sandwich at Chef Chic (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Roast Beef Pho Sandwich at Chef Chic (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Smoked Bone Marrow from Forbes Meat Co. – As a sucker for umami and smoke, this new addition to Forbes’ repertoire was right up my alley. I smeared it across a toasted slice of country bread from Baja Arizona Bread, sprinkled on a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt and crunched away.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich at Cafe a la C’Art – This chicken sandwich caught me off guard with how much I enjoyed it. The perfectly toasted bread featured grilled chicken topped with chipotle aioli, bacon, avocado mash, grilled red onions, tomato, and melted pepper jack cheese. No individual component stood out; they were all executed properly.

Koshari at Alexandria’s Pearl – Two things that made me love this dish: crunchy caramelized onions and garlicky vinegar.

Read our February 2020 article Visual Guide to 14 Egyptian Dishes at Alexandria’s Pearl.

Pho Roast Beef Sandwich at Chef Chic – Although this sandwich is Vietnamese-inspired, understand that this isn’t banh mi. Think of it as an excellent focaccia roast beef sandwich with a kiss of Vietnam.

Read our February 2020 article Eating on the Cheap: Roast Beef Pho Sandwich at Chef Chic.

Portal Daiquiri and Spiced Chocolate Ganache at Portal Cocktails – During the new bar’s media opening, I tasted my way through a healthy (read: unhealthy) volume of cocktails and snacks. While there were several delights worth returning for, one drink and one snack stood out to me most. The flagship Portal Daiquiri features the sweet and acidic balance that makes the classic cocktail timeless along with hints of pineapple and warm spice. The Spiced Chocolate Ganache was an indulgent two-biter with a lingering chile warmth that will make you close your eyes and savor.

Read our January 2020 article Erman brothers to launch sexy bar “Portal Cocktails” on Fourth Ave.

Want more? Read up on other best things we tasted in 2020:

Have a favorite bite this month? Let us know in the comments.

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