Tom and Kenny Lam's recipe for delectable banh mi—Vietnamese sandwiches on a baguette—is a matter of public record. The Arizona Daily Star sought out the father-and-son team to publish their techniques, guiding readers through prepping the bread, pickling the vegetables, and marinating the pork. The instructions stem from the kitchens of iLuv Pho, the restaurant owned by Tom and managed by Kenny, where their variations of banh mi comprise a popular lunchtime segment of the menu.
The sandwiches have been labeled "out of sight" by Tucson Weekly, though they only cover a small subheading of the Lams' authentic Vietnamese plates. Also on the list are hearty bowls of pho, dappled with rice noodles, beef, and seasonings. Curries and stir-fries imbue entrees with fiery aftertastes, combated by the cool sips of slushes in flavors such as mango, red bean, and coconut. Chewy balls of tapioca—or boba—hide inside the frosty drinks, waiting to be slurped through straws or launched into a free-for-all game of marbles.
El Parador's modern glass façade proves somewhat deceiving; upon entering the restaurant, guests are transported to a provincial Mexican town where tropical foliage casts shadows on walls of rustic adobe. The name—which loosely translates to a place of luxury and warm hospitality—suits this interior as well as it suits an outdoor patio accessible through elegant french doors. If they can pry their eyes away from the scenery, guests can explore a menu that encapsulates the vibrant flavors of traditional Mexican cuisine, from the fried tortilla shells of chimichangas to the rice and flavors of homemade chile relleno. As chefs skillfully fill and furl tortillas, bartenders mix tangy margaritas and mojitos to heighten each dish's robust flavors.
El Parador also has five themed rooms - including a fireplace room and the south atrium with room for up to 130 - available to rent free of charge and with room for up to for parties, family gatherings, breakfast meetings, and escaped zoo animal reunions.
The scents of baked desserts and warm brews waft through the interior of Something Sweet, emanating from the kitchen's oven, which churns out everything from brownies to cheesecakes to the aptly named "Oh My God, You've Got to be Kidding" éclair. These confections pair with a cast of specialty beverages including 20 hot teas and sodas imported direct from the carbonated mountain springs of Italy. The shop also whips up light café fare including soups, salads, sandwiches, and melts.
But Something Sweet isn't just a place to eat and invent geometry theorems. The staff invites patrons to stick around and play board games, read, or participate in events such as book exchanges. They also foster good-spirited competition with the Sugar OD Challenge, which invites participants to devour a mountain of brownies, cheesecake, and ice cream in hopes of winning immortality on the eatery's wall of fame.
In the aromatic kitchen at Lodge on the Desert, cider-brined pork chops baste in black-pepper-caramel sauce, and mussels and prickly pear cactus simmer in a tomato-cilantro broth. Such complex pairings helped Chef Ryan Clark earn the title of Iron Chef Tucson for two years running. In addition to forging southwestern-inspired sauces and brines, he bolsters his dishes with locally sourced, organic ingredients.
In keeping with the cuisine’s regional theme, Lodge on the Desert’s dining room showcases desert-inspired decor. Sunlight pours through floor-to-ceiling windows, casting a golden glow on hand-painted wood beams and Mexican tin chandeliers. Outside on the saltillo-tiled patio, a four-sided fireplace allows guests to eat alfresco and accidentally destroy incriminating tax records year-round.
The chefs at Maya Quetzal have plated authentic Guatemalan eats for more than two decades. “Tasty, well-prepared food has been a defining characteristic of this little Guatemalan restaurant since it opened,” says the Tucson Citizen, which goes on to praise the cheesy house rice and the pollo en pepian—shredded chicken simmered in a sauce of chili peppers, peanuts, tomato, green tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Customers are especially fond of Maya Quetzal’s many vegetarian options, which include the spinach-and-cheese-stuffed chili relleno and the vegetarian plate—a corn tortilla stuffed with spinach, walnuts, tomato, and onion, then folded into an origami swan and deep-fried. The cozy dining room features a simple decorating scheme of rustic, wooden tables, woven blankets, and a prominent mural depicting a rural Guatemalan village.
Hazy, pastel-colored murals line the walls at New Delhi Palace, each depicting an Indian skyline with temples or rolling hills in the distance. The scents of cumin and coriander waft out of the kitchen, transporting diners over the ocean in a fraction of the time that a traditional turtle ride would take. Since the 1980s, the kitchen has crafted North Indian–style cuisine, such as the chicken, shrimp, and lamb, arriving fresh from the clay tandoor after marinating in yogurt and ground spices. The wok-like karahi sears meats before dousing them in tomato-based gravies, whose spiciness is calibrated to suit customers' tastes. The all-wood bar houses wines and beers from around the world, including India, Japan, and Great Britain.