Patio at Caruso's (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Caruso’s Italian Restaurant: A Story of Family and Flavors

March 27, 2024
By Matt Sterner

If you had dined at Caruso’s when the restaurant first opened, you could’ve ordered a full meal for just $1.35. That’s how long the Italian restaurant has been operating here in Tucson — we’re talkin’ about the late 1930s!

Caruso’s (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Caruso’s first opened in 1938 on Fourth Avenue about a block away from where it is now. A monsoon storm thought the restaurant needed to be moved to higher ground so it washed the building away. Coincidentally, gusty winds from a storm in 2023 knocked down the iconic neon sign (they’re working on getting it restored).

No matter what storm the restaurant faces, it’s a staple not only on Fourth Avenue but in the city of Tucson.

Nicasio “Caruso” Zagona first opened the restaurant it has remained in the family ever since. The restaurant’s interior design, lovely patio, and most of its food preparation methods were developed by Nicasio. Nicasio’s son, Salvatore Zagona Sr. took over in the early 1950s and then he passed away in 2021, passing on the legacy to his son, Salvatore Zagonan, and great niece Ande Motzkin.

Of course, time often means change and Caruso’s has been keeping up. Sure, they have newer equipment in the restaurant, but the techniques for making their ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, cannelloni, and sauces remain intact.

Housemade pasta at Caruso’s (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

What was considered to be the “heart of the place” is a big copper pot, which could be seen from the main dining room.

A restaurant that’s been open this long is bound to have “regulars” popping their heads in to eat, too, ordering their favorite dishes on the menu.

The Sausage and Cheese Ravioli is one of those menu items that’s often seen exiting the kitchen and entering the bellies of Tucsonans.

Sausage & Cheese Ravioli at Caruso’s (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

It’s sort of a build-your-own-meal type of deal where you choose your desired pasta, pick one of the sauces (alfredo, meat sauce, pesto, rosato, and the spicy diavalo), and a protein if you’re extra hungry — in this case (seen below) is the sausage.

“Crowd favorites are the classic Lasagne al Forno and a new dish: Shrimp Scampi,” said Ande, General Manager of Caruso’s and great-niece of Zagona Sr. “The Eggplant Parmigiana is my personal favorite as well as The Caruso’s Special for its variety.”

The Caruso’s Special is a combo of multiple Italian favorites — spaghetti, meatballs, meat or cheese ravioli, and your choice of sauce.

Dining room at Caruso’s (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Over the years, the restaurant has been a go-to for families celebrating birthday parties, those partaking in a night out on the town, graduations, and anniversaries. There’s something about the dimly lit dining room — the nostalgia sinks in and takes me back to my first time eating there as a kid. I believe it was to celebrate my brother’s graduation from the University of Arizona.

However, a special occasion isn’t needed when dining at Caruso’s.

Actually, the outdoor dining area is one of the best patios on Fourth Avenue, in my opinion, when you’re looking for a little bit of fresh air. Sure, it’s right there on Fourth Avenue where there’s plenty of chatter from folks walking by, buskers playing their tunes, and the “ding ding” of the streetcar, but all of that background noise is part of the experience.

Also, when it’s time for the Fourth Avenue Street Fair, holidays, and graduation season, they recommend making a reservation behind heading in. That’s especially so for patio seating.

As Caruso’s continues to stand as a beloved fixture on Fourth Avenue, its rich history and timeless dishes remind us that some things, like a comforting plate of sausage and cheese ravioli or a bustling evening on the charming patio, are simply timeless.

So, whether you’re celebrating a milestone or simply savoring a moment of everyday joy, Caruso’s welcomes you to experience a taste of tradition and community that has graced Tucson for generations.

Caruso’s is located at 434 N. Fourth Ave. For the full menu, hours of operation, and any other information, visit

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