If you’ve been in Tucson for a while, you’ve likely experienced the influx of tourism that the Old Pueblo receives during the months of January and February — all thanks to the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase.
Our gem show is the largest, oldest, and most prestigious gem show in the world, contributing millions of dollars to the local economy every year. Recent Tucson Gem, Mineral, & Fossil Showcases generated more than $131 million in direct spending, according to Visit Tucson.
“65,000 people are coming here and they have money in their pockets,” said Felipe Garcia CEO of Visit Tucson. “They’re going to restaurants to shop, they’re spending money and leaving the money here.”
From Saturday, January 28 – Sunday, February 12, the shows take place at numerous venues all over the city.
It’s, of quartz, important to know where you can park. Take advantage of the SunLink Streetcar to get around from Downtown and the Mercado District to Fourth Avenue and Main Gate Square. It’s easy to park once and ride the Streetcar to explore more along the route; check out the routes and maps here.
This brings us to the fun stuff — eating! There’ll be no mention of Hard Rock Cafe’s on this list.
Food vendors will be at some of the main venues, but, fortunately for visitors, there are several excellent local spots — from more affordable options to fine dining — to find sustenance nearby.
For guests and locals alike, it’s important to start making your reservations — we are a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, after all, and have a thriving culinary scene that you’ll want to check out.
Here’s where to eat, some within walking distance of the show, but none of them more than a short SunLink or ride away.
The Tucson Convention Center, and the JG&M Expo, is where most of the Gem Show action is at. With an abundance of food and drink ranging from morning lattes to midnight mezcal, we wouldn’t blame you for playing hooky from the show.
The group of concepts clustered at W. Cushing Street are ready to tick all of your boxes. Whether it’s the unique dishes found on the menu at The Coronet for dinner, the cocktails and atmosphere of Nightjar for post-dinner enjoyment, or the comfy vibe at Meyer Avenue Cafe & Mercantile for breakfast, you’re sure to find your next favorite meal here.
For more information, visit coronettucson.com.
Nestled inside of the DoubleTree by Hilton Tucson Downtown Convention Center, El Mezquite serves up contemporary Sonoran flavors crafted in their scratch kitchen.
For more information, visit elmezquitetucson.com.
A few minutes from the Convention Center, you’ll stumble on a neighborhood hangout. 5 Points is a market, restaurant, and bakery rolled into one. Open from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., you can grab a coffee, tuck into the Huevos Rancheros or Smoked Salmon Benedict for breakfast or enjoy a leisurely lunch.
If you can make it for dinner, it’s well worth it. They’re open Thursday – Saturday from 5 – 9 p.m.
For more information on their dinner menu and more, check out our article, First Look at 5 Points Dinner Menu.
Recently mentioned by The New York Times in their 52 Places to Go in 2023 list, Exo Roast Co. should be on your list too. Coffee shop by day, mezcal bar by night, you can start and end the day here. If mezcal is your elixir of choice or maybe you’re in the mood for something potent and agave-based after a day of gem-showing, pull up a chair.
For more information, check out our article, “Crisol Bar: A local haven for mezcal enthusiasts.”
This Mexican restaurant served its first Sonoran-style meal in 1936 and it’s still there, and still run by the same family. Directly opposite the Tucson Convention Center, you’re able to call in an order and pop over when it’s ready. Make sure their red Chili con Carne, Carne Seca Combination Plate, Chicken Enchiladas, or the cheese crisp is on your radar.
Check out our article, “El Minuto Cafe: Four generations serving Sonoran-style Mexican specialties.“
For more information, call (520) 882-4145 or visit elminutotucson.com.
Downtown Tucson is jam-packed with eclectic eateries. The following highlights are, but a small taste of what our city center has to offer.
For brunch suggestions, check out our article, Foodie 15: Brunch spots in & around downtown Tucson.
The two-level space, highlighted by a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar and open kitchen on the bottom level, offers an experience for every member of your group. Mosey on up to the bar during your lunch break, catch a game on one of the many TVs available, play some pool upstairs on the second level, or enjoy your meal al fresco on their spacious patio if you can tolerate our Arizona winter.
For more information, check out our article, “Date is set for Blue Front’s grand opening in Downtown Tucson.”
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One of the newest food truck sensations to have opened in 2022, Tran’s Fats, is conveniently located at Hotel McCoy, which is right off the freeway. Deep-fried delights such as wings and potato mochi await you, served with housemade sauces such as lemon garlic tahini, gochujang vinaigrette, sweet sesame soy, and lemon onion mayo.
Add them to your list.
Check out our article, “‘Tran’s Fats’ food truck debuts at Hotel McCoy.”
The Cup Cafe is no stranger to accolades. They’ve received recent recognition as ‘Best Neighborhood Gem in America‘, and well, they’re not wrong. The restaurant, serving breakfast to dinner, is situated downtown inside the historic Hotel Congress. Although, there’s nothing historic about the quality of the cafe. If you’re in the mood for decadence, the real star of the show is their Cast Iron Baked Eggs — you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re in the mood for an equally delectable dinner, check out their sister concept across the street, Maynards.
The Little One, another sweet spot located in Tucson’s historic downtown district, is a sustainable restaurant that is always buzzing. The family restaurant is run by two of the Davila sisters, one of whom heads to Mexico regularly to not only buy fish supplies from local fishermen but catches some of them herself. The menu includes Latin American and Mexican dishes with rotating specials that will have you returning for more.
The Little One is only open from Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Keep up with Friends of the Little One on Facebook.
The Monica is Tucson’s first buffet and pantry-style kitchen with a private dining room area, a local craft retail shop offering downtown lifestyle necessities, open floor indoor seating, a spacious patio, and a full-service bar.
Chef Carlotta Flores calls the concept a “collection of family recipes from around our table and the tables in our community curated and co-developed by our amazing team of chefs and food-loving professionals.”
For more information, check out our article ‘The Monica’ officially opens its downtown kitchen, bar & patio.
This is but a concise smattering of places to check out along or near Grande Avenue, close to the Mercado District.
If you’re going to this venue, make it your first stop—breakfast at Seis Kitchen is worth it (and they open at 8 a.m. daily). You’ll be delighted by the airy courtyard at the Mercado, which provides ample seating and a drool-worthy menu featuring a variety of tacos, burritos, chile, tortas, and more made with fresh ingredients, sustainably sourced and locally produced as much as possible.
For more information, visit seiskitchen.com.
Vegetarian/vegan Mexican restaurant Tumerico is located on Tucson’s west side. There’s a chalkboard menu that features Latin-inspired dishes, signature vegetarian and vegan options, and an expanded latte menu with flavors such as Mole, Horchata, Lavender, Mazapan, CBD, Saffron, Chai, and more.
Additionally, the space offers assorted retail Mexican items for sale such as jarred pumpkin blossoms, huitlacoche, hot sauces, La Noria corn tortillas, and more.
For more information, check out our article, “La Chaiteria now open on Grande & Congress.”
If you don’t know what raspados are then it’s worth finding out at Sonoran Delights. This Mexican take on shaved ice is made with real fruit juice, ice, fresh fruit, ice cream, and lechera. And tasty toppings include the likes of fresh seasonal fruit and Mexican candy. Sonoran Delights is also a taqueria-style restaurant if you want something more substantial.
Keep up with Sonoran Delights Raspados on Facebook.
If your mood for food is more Italian than Mexican, head to Los Olivos next door to Sonoran Delights. It’s the kind of little place you’d walk or drive right by—the facade isn’t flashy but once you make your way in, you’ll be glad you did. With a recently refurbished patio, there’s more seating than there used to be. Whether you sit down or use the takeout counter, there’s fresh pizza, pasta, and daily specials to choose from.
Check out our article, “Los Olivos Pizzeria is a charming hidden gem on Tucson’s west side.“
Keep up with Los Olivos Pizzeria en Menlo Park on Facebook.
One of the featured shows, JOGS Tucson Gem & Jewelry Show, takes place at Tucson Expo Center. Skip the national chains surrounding this venue and try these (albeit sparse) local establishments.
Brooklyn’s Beer and Burgers is right on the corner of the Expo Center’s parking lot. Their Tap 21 bar has a range of beers from Arizona breweries (and some national options) in addition to some killer daily specials. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out their happy hour from 2 – 6 p.m. daily.
For more information, visit brooklynsbeerandburger.com.
BBQ Rush is in an unlikely setting—an RV Park—but is only a five-minute drive from the Expo Center, which prevents you from slipping in for a bite at Denny’s.
Pitmaster Jason Scott included some of his grandfather’s recipes on the menu at this central Texas-style barbecue spot—you’ll want to try the ribs and wings. If you’re looking to imbibe, there are several local beers on draft.
Check out our article, Guide to 15 smokin’ barbecue restaurants in Tucson.
For more information, visit bbq-rush.com.
Fish tacos can provoke fierce arguments among fans, and if you want to throw your hat in the ring, try them at Taco Fish—it’s a 10-minute drive west of the center along Irvington Road.
If you happen to head over on a Tuesday, go for the Taco Tuesday special—99-cent fish tacos you’ll be bragging about. If you’re concerned about eating seafood in the desert, fear not. It’s supplied by local seafood importer and distributor JPS Seafood. The seafood swims in from Sea of Cortez harbors: Kino Bay, Guaymas, and Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico—a skip and a jump from our desert city.
Check out our article Taco Fish serves up fresh Mexican seafood like nana makes it.
For more information, visit tacofishtucson.com.
A couple of miles west of the Expo Center, you’ll find exhibitors at the Kino Sports Complex Gem Show. This too is littered with fast food joints, but again, there are a few local eateries worth venturing into to get your fill.
Now if you’d prefer to head a bit East of the Kino Sports Complex, you’ll be transported to a land of Mexican food unlike any other. Check out our article, A beginner’s guide to exploring the Mexican food of South Tucson: 15 spots to try now. The article may be a bit dated, but the restaurants and concepts found within aren’t.
The Silver Saddle Steakhouse, which has been family-run since 1984, is coming up on its 40th anniversary. One of the first things you’ll notice after walking through the doors is the iconic open-pit grill. It’s likely you’ll see someone turning over T-bone steaks, ribs, and prime rib on the grill and the servers actually pull each steak right from it before serving customers their meal. Another popular staple of the restaurant is its salad bar with fresh ingredients and dressings for guests to choose.
For more information, visit thesilversaddlesteakhouse.com.
Cafe Santa Rosa’s beloved circles of golden fry bread are less than a 10-minute drive from the Sports Complex. The simple, fried popover, which celebrates the Gonzales family’s Tohono O’odham heritage, will lure you in with the decadent aroma alone.
If a sweet or savory local treat doesn’t make your heart sing, the rest of the menu combines both the Tohono O’odham Native American tradition of the Gonzales family and the Mexican cuisine that Tucson has in abundance. Unsure where to start? Try the red chile popover, featuring red chile beef stew soaked up by the light fry bread, and you’ll understand why it’s their most popular dish.
Check out our article If it’s fry bread you’re after, Cafe Santa Rosa’s location on Sixth is where it’s at.
For more information, visit cafesantarosa.net.
Micha’s has been run by the same family since 1976, and their breakfast specials have a local following. They also serve up the iconic chimichanga—a deep-fried burrito with a debatable origin. An absolute staple.
Keep up with Micha’s Restaurant on Facebook.
If it’s Sonoran-style cuisine that you’re after, take a five-minute walk north of Micha’s and you’ll land at South Tucson’s oldest woman-operated restaurant. In business since 1936, Crossroads Restaurant serves scratch-made food, offers a breakfast-lunch buffet that rotates daily, has a full bar, and worthy happy hour. Buffet hours are 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. daily and happy hour is from 3 – 6 p.m.
You’ll find daily and weekly specials such as a savory Carne Asada torta with sliced avocado and tomatoes served with fries and a chile toreado for only $9!
Check out our article, Sonoran-style Crossroads Restaurant offers a rotating buffet to return for.
For more information, visit crossroadsfinemexican.com.
Check out our guides and articles for additional inspiration:
Addie Ibarra, native Tucsonan, is a fierce lover of adventure, travels, and food. Addie has her Masters in Legal Studies and hopes to one day apply that towards helping people (and animals) around the globe, while traveling and tasting along...