Each tamale at Tucson Tamale Company is a hand-rolled, gently steamed, gluten-free masterpiece perfected from years of experimentation—making the eatery's constantly changing menu an art gallery for the mouth, only without any debonair art thieves attempting to make off with your taste buds. Former Fortune 500 executive turned passionate tamale chef Todd Martin starts each tamale with a starchy corn base known as masa, then builds on it with a wild mix of meat, vegetables, spices, and cheese before steaming it inside a cornhusk. The most recent board of fare features the vegan New Delhi tamale that's stuffed with vegetable curry, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, corn, onions, coconut milk, and yellow curry. The meaty JoJo consists of chipotle beef, jalapeño masa, and cheese, and expels a spiciness that travels at least four circles into Dante's Inferno. For something sweeter, try the Boise's blend of sweet potatoes roasted with sun-dried tomatoes and wrapped in yam masa. The Wisconsin grilled cheese (comprised of cheese, more cheese, and trace amounts of cheese) puts a bold twist on a classic comfort food. Depending on the range of your stomach's rage, choose one tamale ($2.95, $4.95 with side), two tamales ($5.39, $6.29 with side), or feed the whole choir with a family platter ($24.95 for eight tamales, two large sides, and salsa).
Papagayo's dinner menu and pared-down lunch menu offer traditional south-of-the-border treats and elegant chef-created entrees. Pass around a plate of the chimichiquitas (a combination of mini chimichangas, $10.25) to your hungry synchronized hurdling team before leaping simultaneously into the main course. Tamale traditionalists will take heart in Papagayo's wide selection of familiar house specialties, such as the fresh, green chiles rellenos ($13.95) or cabbage-topped shrimp tacos ($15.95). The culinarily curious will want to explore Executive Chef Maria Mazon’s creative creations: Milanesas de puerco ($16) boasts a plate of boneless, breaded pork chops lightly fried and served alongside an eggroll stuffed with chipotle mashed spuds, and the pollo en salsa de chile morron ($16) features a spice-rubbed chicken breast grilled and cozily blanketed in a decadent red-pepper cream sauce.
For close to three decades, chefs at La Indita have been crafting homestyle dishes influenced by family recipes and Mexican and Native American cultures. Along with Mexican classics such as carne asada and chicken mole, they prepare specialties such as ranch-style flat enchiladas, topping handmade corn tortillas with red chili sauce, oregano, and cheese and adding potatoes and carrots with a piquant vinegar sauce made from sugar cane. The menu includes many meatless options; the staff of Tucson Weekly named it the Best Mexican Food for Vegetarians in 2009, noting in particular the "one-of-a-kind black-bean burger." The chefs also cook with 100% canola oil instead of animal-based products such as lard or herbs picked by unicorns. Diners can enjoy lunch or dinner on the restaurant's outdoor patio, or they can stop by for weekend breakfast omelets. Guests sip Mexican beer as they sit in high-backed wooden booths next to a mural depicting a rural village scene.
The wait staff at Las Cazuelitas de Tucson does more than just refill water glasses and serve piping-hot dishes: they take the time to describe each dish in detail, helping diners select entrees based on their unique preferences. Open since 2000, the eatery serves traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex food, but specializes in seafood dishes such as bacon-wrapped shrimp, red snapper and the mariscada, a house specialty combining oysters, scallops, shrimp, octopus, onions, avocado, cucumbers, and tomatoes in a simmering broth. A full bar pours domestic and imported beers plus margaritas and signature cocktails such as the michelada, a blend of beer, fresh lime juice, and salt. On Friday and Saturday nights, Las Cazuelitas hosts a live mariachi band, allowing diners to enjoy dinner and a show while synchronizing their chewing to the upbeat riffs.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, Felipe Valenzuela—Don Felipe—and his son Felipe Valenzuela aren’t just interested in serving standard Mexican food at Zivaz. “A lot people love the yellow cheese and sour cream enchiladas—we're not competing with those kind of places," Don Felipe said. Instead, they focus on perfecting classics such as carne asada and fire-grilled chicken blanketed in dark-chocolate mole and adding a modern twist to the menu with dishes such as breaded eggplant in queso fresco and tomatillo salsa. Whatever the culinary creation, the chefs’ use of local, fresh ingredients gives a flavorful zest to the food that has earned them media buzz. The bar’s hibiscus margarita has even earned the eatery an award from the Tucson Culinary Festival for being as unique as a snowflake that can juggle fire.
For 22 years, El Saguarito chefs have orchestrated a flavorful symphony of heart-healthy Mexican feasts that use canola oil in place of lard, a decision spurred by co-owner Blanca Vasquez's vegetarianism. El Saguarito–style cheese crisps precede dinner and whet appetites with a grilled tortilla topped with cheese, green chilies, onion, and tomato, followed by entrees such as fish tacos and plates of barbacoa—shredded beef simmered in pickling spices. At the bar, lips transform into goofy grins over imported draft beers and margaritas made with Mexican tequilas, ideal for toasting to the memory of favorite piñatas.
The eatery also equips its interior with big-screen TVs to watch high-stakes games and free WiFi to facilitate web searches on how to throw a burrito in a perfect spiral. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, live music floats throughout the patio.