Carne Asada Burrito at La Cenaduria de la 12 (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

South Side Treasures: Sushi Kito & La Cenaduria De La 12

May 30, 2023
By Mark Whittaker
By Mark Whittaker

Come hungry because there is a lot to choose from at these two restaurants.

Carlos Chavez is a very busy guy. 

When I arrived at Sushi Kito, located on South 12th Avenue, Chavez wasn’t there. Running late, he texted, telling me to make myself at home until he arrived. 

Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

As I stepped into Sushi Kito, one of the new contenders here in Tucson’s boasting Mexican-inspired sushi scene, I wondered how a small place could handle such a large menu. Sushi Kito’s menu is as big as a Tolstoy novel. The list of options goes on and on with Mexican sushi, traditional sushi, burgers, sandwiches, fish dishes, soups, seafood cocktails, and even pasta. 

It’s really quite impressive. 

Then, I looked right and noticed something totally unexpected. 

Adjacent to the main entrance of Sushi Kito is an arcade. Not like some dinky side hustle with a game or two. This near carnival spectacle is packed with all sorts of old-school and new cabinet video games, sit-down interactive 3D experiences, skill plays, and even fun rides for kids. Mixed with all of the flashing frivolity are a lot of tables — this is where that extensive menu comes into play. 

Arcade at Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

As I make my way to a Ms. Pac-Man console, Chavez arrives. A bit sweaty and a little out of breath, he informs me that not only did he have to get his kids sorted at school but there were issues with a delivery. 

“Nine years,” said Chavez, in response to how long Sushi Kito has been in business. “I started out on Irvington nine years ago but moved into this one six years ago.”

The arcade came to fruition when the furniture liquidation business that occupied the space before went belly up. Chavez informs that the spacious game room was built mainly for his kids, although this big kid is ever so thankful that it exists. Eating delicious Mexican sushi while surrounded by digitized twinkling Ready Player One adventures? Heaven.

Then the food started to emerge from the kitchen. 

On the Menu at Sushi Kito

There was the Kiubo Roll which is stuffed with cucumber, avocado, shrimp, and then completed with an outer casing of salmon dipped in miso sauce. The Sushi Kito roll is a beast of surimi (a roll of crab, basically), shrimp, cheese sticks, eel sauce, and sriracha. Each roll was about the size of a can of tuna — they’re huge. 

Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Speaking of tuna, Sushi Kito also has a list of baked rolls and one that you should be on the lookout for is the Karlita Roll. The tuna is marinated in a strawberry sauce and paired with peanuts, black and white sesame seeds, and a peach chipotle sauce.

On paper, it shouldn’t work but in your mouth it all makes sense.

Torre Tostada at Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Then came the Torre Tostada. If you like eating fish, and I hope you do because we are talking about a Mexican sushi joint here, then this one has to be on your have-to-have list. Nothing but fresh scallops, shrimp, octopus, and white fish piled up and finished with avocado — stunning and delicious. 

The seafood cocktails are massive as well (and heavy). It’s loaded with all sorts of ocean harvests and seasonal yields.

Seafood Cocktail at Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

But if you’re not into any of that, there are traditional Mexican fare. Chavez had me try his Carne Asada Burrito and, from a place that has sushi in its name, that burrito was extremely solid. 

“Do you want to try the shrimp alfredo,” Chavez asked. At this point, why not? Just keep the food train a-comin’. It was more than generous, really creamy but not overdone, which I appreciated. 

Shrimp Alfredo at Sushi Kito (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Okay. That about wraps that up. With all of that food to sample, I was rather full. So, I thanked Chavez for his hospitality, put away the camera, and was about to leave before he said, “Now we are going to my new taqueria.”

On the Menu at La Cenaduria de la 12

Talk about job hazards. Here, I thought I was done and before I knew it we were driving up 12th Avenue and landed in front of a restaurant called La Cenaduria De La 12, AKA The Diner on 12

Walking into La Cenaduria was just like Sushi Kito — I was transfixed by its size because it was really cozy. It has few tables, delightful art on the walls, and all of the elements for an intimate dining experience. 

“This used to be a church,” explained Chavez. 

Sonoran Dog at La Cenaduria de la 12 (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Then we made our way out back and, yeah, just like Sushi Kito, La Cenaduria is pretty capacious. The kitchen is actually outside but in a converted road haul truck. There is also a grand outside seating area complete with industrial cooling units gracing its perimeter. Toward the back, a nice man at the hot dog cart made me a whammy of a Sonoran dog.

Chavez told me that this concept is for his mama and abuelita, which highlights the spices and cooking methods from the small towns in Mexico they grew up in.

Patio at La Cenaduria de la 12 (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“There are a lot of Mexican restaurants here on the south side,” said Chavez, “but ours is unique as no other restaurant will taste like this.”

As expected, the menu is bodacious. It’s not as jaw-dropping as Sushi Kito’s but I predict there will be a lot of “just give us another minute” moments when people are asked if they’re ready to order. 

La Cenaduria serves up traditional Mexican breakfasts such as chilaquiles, hot cakes, and egg dishes. There is a thunder of enchiladas — a favorite of mine being the Enchiladas de Mole because that mole sauce was rich and deep with flavor.

The menudo was delightful, too. Be warned though, this is authentic, handed-down-by-grandma menudo. So, if you’re not a fan of tripe and pig feet then this may not be the bowl you’re looking for. 

Menudo at La Cenaduria de la 12 (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

With two big restaurants to look after, a food truck that is temporarily parked, his kids, and a new girlfriend, it’s no wonder Carlos Chavez kept apologizing for being tired. He’s a busy guy. Heck, I got tired just hearing about his schedule. 

The thing is, the man is an ambitious one, and with Sushi Kito and La Cenaduria de la 12 being a part of his legacy, Carlos Chavez is a big part of Tucson’s culinary scene. 

Carlos Chavez of La Cenaduria de la 12 (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

After my day with Chavez, all I could do was roll back to Sushi Kito and finally get on that Ms. Pac-Man machine to work off some of that delicious and most plentiful food. That’s right, I got to the pretzel level. I still got it.

Sushi Kito is located at 5650 S. 12th Ave. #180. For more information, visit La Cenaduria De La 12 is located at 4956 S. 12th Ave. For more information, follow La Cenaduria on Facebook.

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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...

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