Local chefs took advantage of COVID's forced planetary pause with exciting new dishes.
If nothing else, the pandemic has provided us with lots of leisure time at home.
Some of us have tried to take it easy and wait the nightmare out. Others have seized the opportunity to master the irksome necessity of Zoom. We’ve tried out (and often immediately rejected) arcane hobbies, stretched out at least a few pairs of elastic-waisted pants, and tested the bounds of our kitchen skills (not necessarily in that order).
Local chefs took advantage of the planetary pause too, emerging from their chrysalises with exciting new must-try dishes. Here we present eight of our favorite new menu items in the Tucson area. What are yours?
New Must-try Dishes
6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon
Bumsted’s at Wonderwall
After a torturous four-year wait, Bumsted’s partner Scot Shuman is proud finally get to serve his 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon sandwich, which is one of the tastiest new menu items in the area, and one of the most anticipated. Some of the best local food news of 2020 is that Bumsted’s is back in business after four years of being closed. They’re now located within a karaoke bar/hotel lounge (with an uber Pulp-Fiction-esque diner vibe) and have added a couple new varieties of the sandwiches for which they are so beloved. Luckily for fans of puns and dad jokes, they’ve kept their witty menu item naming conventions.
Witness 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a sandwich that Shuman introduced to the menu right before their Fourth Avenue location closed. It’s a toasty stack of house-cured and smoked pastrami, salami, peppered bacon, provolone, lettuce, and tomato on bread. As the story goes, Shuman was at the legendary Katz Delicatessen in New York City some years ago, and he and his sister were splitting one of their signature sandwiches – a warm, house-made pastrami and salami with mustard. Shuman looked at his sister and said, “this would be even BETTER with peppered bacon,” and … it is. “We added the lettuce and tomato for color and health purposes,” Shuman said.
Bumsted’s at Wonderwall is located at 1003 North Stone Avenue. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays; opens at 7 a.m. on weekends. Dine-in, takeout, and delivery through Postmates available. More info at
Korean Cauliflower Tacos
Jackie Tran at El Torero
Full disclosure: yes, we’re talking about that Jackie Tran. The one who used to work for Tucson Foodie. Like so many of us, he “pivoted” during the pandemic, which in his case means he pursued an aspiration to serve his own food and not just document other people’s. Presently you’ll find him cooking at El Torero, which is where you can try his vegan Korean cauliflower tacos … that is, until he opens his own food truck – Tran’s Fats – where the cauliflower will be a star a la carte menu item.
Until then, he’s serving the cauliflower at El Torero in taco form. Tran adapted the cauliflower from one of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipes (definitely NOT to be confused with The Cheesecake Factory’s version, he noted). The dish is two massive tacos, each with a double corn tortilla base with a leaf of butter lettuce, crunchy vodka-battered cauliflower, gochujang glaze, avocado salsa, avocado, scallion, cilantro, and sesame seeds. It’s spicy but not unmanageable, sticky but not gooey, and by far one of the best new menu items in town. In fact, it’s so good that it tends to sell out, so if you want to try them (which you do), call El Torero ahead of time to make sure they’re still available at that time.
El Torero is located at 231 E. 26th Street and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 12:30 to 7 p.m.; Saturday 12:30 to 8 p.m.; and closed Sunday and Monday. More info at eltorerotucson.com.
4th Avenue Delicatessen
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Sandwiches sure are comforting as we collectively begin the post-pandemic healing process. It’s not over yet, of course, but dishes like the Pearl Hart at 4th Avenue Delicatessen warm the heart. Many of the sandwiches on the deli menu are named after gangsters and mafiosos from the 1920s (like the Valachi and the Bugsy Seigel) and the Pearl Hart is too – but with a twist. It’s named after a woman.
“The inspiration for the name came from some research I did on female outlaws from the past,” said deli partner Kylie Myers. “I recently added a new menu board called Dangerous Dames featuring notorious female outlaws beside our other menus, the Mob Bosses, Outlaws, and Wise Guys.”
Hart was a Canadian-born stagecoach robber who ended up jailed in Tucson (though she busted out in 1899. Her story is worth a read!).
So, what is the sandwich? A bacon and brie grilled cheese with cranberry sauce on your choice of bread. “This sandwich is my favorite combination of flavors,” Myers said. “(It’s) sweet and savory, salty, and a little tart, all in one.” Not unlike Hart herself.
Available to go, dine in, or through various delivery services from
4th Avenue Deli is located at 425 North Fourth Avenue and open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. More info at 4thavedeli.com.
Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, is celebrated on March 3 in Japan. This holiday honors the health and happiness of young girls everywhere. Chef Yoshimi Tashima, owner of Yoshimatsu and Maru Japanese Noodle Shop, created a special to add to the Yoshimatsu menu to commemorate that festive day. The dish will be available for the foreseeable future – just ask.
Tashimi’s is not your predictable chirashi, which many Japanese restaurants offer in the form of sashimi on white sushi rice. Rather, Tashima is serving the dish a la her home town of Osaka, Japan. The dish still features the white sushi rice and a choice of finely chopped sashimi. It’s topped with shitake mushrooms, carrots, and beans sauteed in tare, a sweet soy-based sauce. A thin egg and dashi crepe is draped over the ingredients. (Diners may also select eel or tofu instead of the sashimi, and inari instead of the egg crepe if you prefer a vegan dish.)
Another concept that Tashima is working on involves crafting traditional Italian dishes with Japanese noodles. Starting in mid-March, Yoshimatsu will serve udon or ramen carbonara, or with pepperoncini.
Yoshimatsu is located at 2741 N. Campbell Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, closes at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. More info at yoshimatsuaz.com.
Smoked Chicken Flautas
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ continues to add new events like their new Friday Fish Frys to alleviate the residual trauma that 2020 left us with. They’re also switching up their menu a bit. Added to the menu in July, one of the most successful recent selections of their new must-try dishes is the house-smoked chicken flautas. This dish is made of Phoenix-based Red Bird Farm’s chicken rolled in corn tortillas, fried up crisp, and topped with queso fresco, sour cream, house-made guacamole and salsa verde.
The notion for the recipe started one day when co-owner John Aldecoa (Brother John himself) was smoking some whole turkeys over Arizona pecan and applewood smoker and decided to fashion the leftovers into tacos. The idea occurred to him that these would be even better if 1. Another smoked poultry was used, specifically chicken, and 2. Said poultry was rolled into flautas instead. It didn’t hurt any that the restaurant was already smoking chicken for each meal period and can’t reheat or resell the leftovers, and this was a perfect solution to solve the problem of excess food. Now, the smoked chicken flautas are so popular, they have to smoke more than they ever did!
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon & BBQ is located at 1801 North Stone Ave and is open daily for dine-in and take-out from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. on Sundays). More info at brotherjohnsbbq.com.
Breakfast Sandwich & Everything Croissant
It’s a toss-up which of these two new Time Market dishes is the best, so we’re just going to include them both on our list. First, the eatery’s chef Ian Sugarman has graced the menu with a breakfast sandwich. This is a fried egg, sharp cheddar cheese, spicy mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato atop Time Market’s fresh-baked seeded brioche bun – plus your choice of maple breakfast sausage, Neiman Ranch bacon, or avocado. Sugarman’s been at the kitchen’s helm since August and has worked with Time Market owner Peter Wilke for more than a decade. Of his inspiration for the dish, he said, “God invented the breakfast sandwich, (I) invented the recipe for the house sausage, and fate brought them together.”
Another of the new must-try dishes at Time Market is the Everything Croissant – naturally leavened and laminated croissant dough filled with cream cheese and topped with everything bagel seasoning. Head baker Katie Morris made up these delightful dough babies on a whim, inspired by the everything bagels at Black Seed Bagels she enjoyed during trips to New York City.
You can enjoy the breakfast sandwich and croissant with a hot coffee on Time Market’s patio or take them to go.
Time Market is located at 444 E. University Blvd. Open daily for dine-in (patio only) and take-out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. More info at timemarket.xyz.
Fried Tofu Sandwich
Brian Smith, Executive Chef of Maynards Kitchen, has scootched over to join the team across the street at Cup Café, and with him has brought a lovely vegan option that the menu was rather lacking. The $14 fried tofu sandwich, dressed with cabbage slaw, pickles, and secret sauce, is served on a potato bun. As with every menu item at the Cup now, you can get the sandwich all day long, because fried tofu sandwiches for breakfast is a thing in these topsy-turvy post-apocalyptic times.
“I’ve had Southern fried tofu in the past and have always loved the similarities between it and fried chicken when done correctly, “said Smith. “The Cup menu was really needing a vegan sandwich, and this felt fun and approachable. The sandwich is meant to resemble a classic spicy fried chicken sandwich.”
Cup Café is located inside Hotel Congress at 311 E. Congress Street. Open for dine-in and take-out daily at 8 a.m.; closes at 3 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, 1 p.m. on Thursdays, and 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. More info at hotelcongress.com.
Got one or more new must-try dishes you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments!