Patio at Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Bashful Bandit Barbecue Brings Backyard Barbecue to Midtown Tucson

December 23, 2023
By Sam Jump
By Sam Jump

After 40 years in business, the iconic local biker bar The Bashful Bandit closed its doors on June 18, 2021. After a year and a half of compiling rumors and growing curiosity about what will happen to the building, out came Tucson native, Toby Kyte, with an exciting announcement about his plans to turn the well-known dive into a barbecue joint.

Enter Bashful Bandit Barbecue, the new concept to call 3686 E. Speedway Blvd. home.

Fast forward to now — with their grand opening officially upon us — it’s our pleasure to share more about the inspiration for Bashful Bandit Barbecue, the vision for the future of the concept, and what Kyte is most stoked for diners to try.

Read below for our fun interview with Kyte himself, and mark your calendars for their grand opening on Wednesday, December 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

a person standing in front of a restaurant
Toby Kyte of Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
The Bashful Bandit is sort of a historic bar in Tucson. How are you paying tribute to the biker bar?

This is the first I have heard of this. I looked into it on the Remembering Tucson Facebook group page and sure enough — I guess this place used to be an old biker bar. That explains the state of the bathrooms before we remodeled!

Just kidding.

Let’s see — when we were looking for a place to do the type of barbecue we do (old-school, using all-wood) with some Sonoran flavors — we were looking for a space that reflected that. The Bashful Bandit was up for sale and the building was in a pretty bad state of disrepair, but it’s a Tucson icon as the Bandit and as Rio Rita Bar for 30 years before. You can’t beat the location.

We chatted with the landlords about our idea of reworking it into a barbecue restaurant with lots of outdoor space for the smokers and a patio. They were on board. That allowed us to retain the character of the building and much of the history.

What’s your specialty when it comes to barbecue? Are you a sauce or a dry rub kind of guy?

People ask all the time what type of barbecue we cook, and I tell them “backyard barbecue.” Of course, they really are asking if it is North Carolina-Style, Memphis-Style, Texas etc. — and this is my way of avoiding the question — however, it is pretty accurate.

My favorite thing about barbecue is the experience — hanging outside with a beer and some friends, poking at the fire, smelling the smoke, getting little tasters at the grill. So I designed the space with that in mind. The inside is meat market-style with a cut-line like you see in New York delis and Texas barbecue joints, and as you walk in, you’ll be able to watch the pitmasters at work and settle into the nicest patio within 50 yards of Speedway and Dodge.

a group of people standing in a kitchen preparing food
Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

I’m not sure we really have a specialty. In my mind, brisket will always be the foundation of Texas barbecue — where I learned to cook barbecue and spell it correctly (i.e. it has a “c” not a “q”). Brisket is the hardest piece of meat to make great so it’s how I judge most barbecue places. However, our chicken, which is basted in our mole-espresso barbecue sauce, is fantastic.

Also, my favorite thing to make and eat is our Chile Relleno Sausage links with poblano peppers and queso de Oaxaca. I’m really not a sauce person so the meats need to speak for themselves. We spend a lot of time getting the trim, the seasoning, the smoking, and the resting exactly right so that each bite is perfect and there really isn’t a need to put sauce on anything. However, we do indeed have great sauces — you might want to get some on the side to dip your finger in and try.

a dining room table in a restaurant
Dining room & bar at Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
Tell us about your smokers! What makes them extra special?

We use 1,000-gallon offset smokers, which are made from recycled 1,000-gallon propane tanks. It is pretty much what everyone uses in central Texas craft barbecue so we’re proud to embrace that tradition here in town. Austin Smoke Works makes them for us, and our good friend Alex from Desert Mountain Pits here in town added some customizations.

The only thing that makes them special is that they are simple. We build a fire on one side and put a stack on the other side, and the laws of thermodynamics go to work. The pit crew — led by our manager and head pitmaster Jesse Aguirre, who’s a native Tucsonan like me, are experts at using a shovel and keeping the temperature, humidity (we use beer), and airflow right.

Smokers at Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
Are you doing any collaborations with other purveyors in town (for buns, produce, etc.)?

We are getting our buns from Viro’s Real Italian Bakery Cafe and use Ombre Coffee espresso in our espresso sauce and Agua Chiltipin in our spicy barbecue sauce and beef jerky. Our teas (black and prickly pear) are from Maya Tea, and of course, we will have lots of local beer.

Also, for the last couple of years, during June and July, I have been sneaking into my neighbor’s yards late at night and grabbing the mesquite pods off their trees to grind into mesquite flour for my homemade mesquite & pecan chocolate chip cookies. However, they don’t really know that they are doing a collab with me, I guess.

Will you have live music/entertainment on that fine patio build-out you’ve made?

Eventually, we might have some acoustic shows. We want to start off on the right foot with the neighbors.

What meat and side item are you most excited for people to try?

Obviously the brisket but also the smoked jackfruit and borracho beans. For years, I had been trying to make a good smoked jackfruit but nothing turned out to be “edible.” I wanted something that wasn’t just plain old jackfruit with some barbecue sauce on it like you see around. When our kitchen manager Ivor Cryderman joined the team — unlike me, he is an actual chef — we worked up a recipe that I’m super excited about. It is so good. I eat it more than anything. Our borracho beans are simmered in beer with a boost from some chopped brisket, so they have to be good.

text, letter, whiteboard
Menus at Bashful Bandit Barbecue (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
What will be your hours of operation?

The kitchen will have the full menu from 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Once we have our sea legs, I would like to stay open later and have a late-night menu at the bar so folks can sit out on the patio and reminisce into the wee hours about how much better the old Bandit was.

Anything else you want the Tucson Foodie audience to know?

One thing for folks to know about is our family-style trays. They feed a group, and you get to try a little bit of everything.

The most important thing to know, though, is that the Bandit now has baby-changing stations in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. So no need to leave your babies at home watching “CoComelon” all by themselves on the couch — you can bring them on in. Your mom is welcome now as well.

Bashful Bandit Barbecue will be open daily from 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Keep up with their journey by following the Bashful Bandit Barbecue Instagram page or visiting

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Sam Jump is a conduit of empowerment and connection, fueled by her drive to leave a mark on the world that reminds others of the power of compassion, curiosity, and community. Her ability to integrate clear vision and mindful communication...

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