Firenze Pizza at Bacio Italiano (Photo by Jackie Tran)

Eating, walking & discovering new things with Tucson Food Tours

March 29, 2023
By Rita Connelly

The instructions were simple. Wear comfortable shoes, apply sunscreen, and meet on the patio of Hotel Congress at 10:45 a.m. Bringing your appetites was understood. This was Tucson Food Tours, after all. 

Brad and Maria Lawrence launched Tucson Food Tours in 2010 about the same time Brad was starting his career as a firefighter. He had time off before his first day and they decided to take a trip.

“We went to Chicago and my wife signed us up for this food tour. She explained how it worked. ‘We walk around, we eat, we drink.’ I was like, okay, that’s what we do anyway,” said Brad. “The whole time we’re on the tour. I’m thinking I could do this in Tucson. HUB just opened up. Empire Pizza just opened up.  I knew a lot of the people from being in the service industry and there’s a lot of good history there.”

Brad Lawrence (right) of Tucson Food Tours (Photo by Rita Connelly)

He used his extensive experience in the service industry to build the connections he needed to create the tours.

In the beginning, Brad was the only guide and tours were limited to the days he had off from the Northwest Fire Department. They now have six employees and conduct tours on a weekly basis. They must be doing something right because the tours are often booked weeks in advance.

Two different tours are offered on a regular basis: Downtown and Fourth Avenue/Main Gate. Specialized tours are also available. I opted for the Fourth Avenue/Main Gate tour and Brad was our guide. The weather was pure Chamber of Commerce weather which pleased all the participants, most of who were visitors of one ilk or another.

Brad said that about a third of the participants are short-time visitors, snowbirds make up another third, with locals rounding out the final third. Both groups gathered on the patio at Hotel Congress and at promptly 11:00 a.m. we headed off in opposite directions. 

The restaurants chosen are all local, mom-and-pop shops. They’re places Brad likes to eat at, not just because of the good food, but because the owners understand what the tours are all about.

“We’re ‘coworkers/friends’ with people who work there. When they see me coming in, I want them to smile and give me a hug or a high-five. It rubs off on the guests; they know we’re really welcome here.”

With several stops, servings are nosh-sized. Surprisingly, I had never eaten at three of the restaurants.

How it works

“We figure out an item that is a good representation of the restaurant but is something we can split up. The main goals are to have the restaurant be local and that they include a variety of offerings,” Brad noted.

And indeed, our tour was that. We had Italian, American, Middle Eastern, and three distinctly different Mexican dishes.

Even though food is central to the tour, the guides include historical, geographic, and geological information along the way. That may sound boring, but the guide’s knowledge and excitement add a special feeling to the experience. I even learned some interesting facts.

First Stop

Los Perches

238 N. Fourth Ave.
Sonoran Hot Dog
Sonoran Hot Dog at Los Perches (Photo courtesy of Los Perches)

The other people were a group of friends from Oregon.  

Needless to say, none of them had ever had a Sonoran Hot Dog before and they were duly impressed with the food and the setting. Los Perches tops their dog with slices of avocado, which added a nice texture. We had a relaxing stop, just long enough to chat and learn a little bit about one another.

As we made our way up the Avenue, Brad talked about “A” Mountain and the origins of Tucson. He also suggested places to shop. 

Second Stop

La Yaquesita

500 N. Fourth Ave.
Birria Taco and Birria Ramen
La Yaquesita (Photo by Rita Connelly)

This newcomer to Fourth Avenue is located in the former L Station Cafe & Bar building and has a beautiful patio. 

A mini birria taco was served immediately. Brad explained how to dip the taco in the birria sauce — another new experience for the Oregon crowd. The juice from the savory meat dripped out of the crunchy taco that was gone in three bites. A bowl of savory birria ramen followed. 

Third Stop

Lindy’s on 4th

500 N. Fourth Ave.
Kush Burger – raspberry jam, blue cheese crumbles, bacon, green chile
(Photo by Rita Connelly)

The burgers were quartered, giving everybody a couple of bites. 

Someone ordered a Barrio Blonde. Please note: You have to pay for any adult beverages you order.

“The one man said that this was his favorite stop. He probably never would have ordered it. It blew his mind, you know, and that’s the reaction I love when people are like, ‘Wow! I never would have thought this would be so good,’” said Brad.

Fourth Stop


402 E. Fourth Ave.
Jackfruit Cuban Taco
Jackfruit Cuban Taco at Tumerico (Photo by Rita Connelly)

Full disclosure: I’ve dismissed jackfruit as a meat alternative; I mean, how can anything that ugly substitute for meat? But the Jackfruit Cuban Taco here was a pleasant surprise. The texture was “meaty” and the hint of citrus made the taco a standout.

By this time, the Oregonians were getting that “Is Tucson always this nice?” look on their faces.

Our next stop was at the Main Gate Square so we hopped on the streetcar. This time, Brad told a story of the time cows were on campus and how the problem was solved.

(Photo courtesy of Main Gate Square)
Fifth Stop

Sinbad’s Restaurant

810 E. University Blvd.
Mezze plate – fresh house-made yogurt and hummus, one dolma, one falafel, olive oil, olives, pita
(Photo courtesy of Sinbad’s Restaurant)

Tucked in the back of the Geronimo Courtyard, Sinbad’s offers some of the best Middle Eastern food that I’ve had in a while.

The mezze plate was artfully served on individual Styrofoam plates along with baskets of airy pita. The yogurt was creamy with just a bit of tang; the hummus was supreme. I’m not a fan of dolmades; they can be too grassy. But like everything else on the plate, Sinbad’s version was fantastic.

Sixth Stop

Bacio Italiano

943 E. University Blvd. #125
Firenze pizza – hens-of-the-woods fresh mushrooms, spinach, mozzarella, fontina, red onion
Firenze pizza at Bacio Italiano (Photo by Rita Connelly)

Bacio is a decidedly modern Italian restaurant with fresh takes on pizza and pasta. We shared two Firenze pies. The crust was light but had a nice pull. The toppings were tucked under a mix of the two kinds of cheese. The smokey fontina was the perfect match for the earthy mushrooms. 

By this time, everyone was sated, so I got to take the leftovers home. 

Last Stop

HUB Ice Cream Parlor

245 E. Congress St.
Ice Cream, of course

Everyone got one scoop. So many choices; I went for my old standby, Butter Pecan. 

As we were ordering, the other group showed up. From all signs, they seemed to enjoy their tour as much as we did ours. Folks settled in, discussing the day. We were all a little tired but in a good way.

Goodbyes were said and everyone headed home.

Three cheers!

Tucson Food Tours was fun! Everyone learned something. The food was outstanding. What more could one ask for?

Taking a tour would be a fun team-building exercise, an interesting activity to take visiting friends or a great introduction to downtown for locals. One of the goals of Tucson Food Tours is to get participants, whether they’re tourists or locals, to go back to the restaurants that they liked. 

“People in Saddle Brook or Green Valley and on the east side might not be comfortable driving downtown and figuring it out on their own. This is a way for them to get comfortable with it and come back on their own,” said Brad.

I’ll go back to several of the restaurants and might even take the other tour. 

For more information and to sign up for a tour, visit

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Article By

Rita Connelly is the author of “Lost Restaurants of Tucson,” “Historic Restaurants of Tucson,” and “Arizona Chimichangas,”all published by The History Press. Growing up in a large Italian family instilled in her an appreciation for the important role food plays...

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