Although botana means "snack” in Spanish, La Botana Grill specializes in full-grown Mexican meals. Starters of house-made tortilla chips come with freshly made salsas and chipotle bean dip. After this prelude come entrees of fresh shrimp and tilapia, grilled to perfection in the house-specialty dishes. Then there’s the cantina tacos, which pull together flavors from various regions throughout Mexico, and fusion plates such as the sonoran dog—a beast of a hot dog that comes wrapped in bacon and smothered with beans, chorizo, and heaping piles of condiments.
La Botana's hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes can be enjoyed al fresco on a patio lit by fiesta lights and a flat-screen TV that often broadcasts the latest Mexican soccer games. Live music sometimes rings out over the open space, a much better meal soundtrack than recordings of synchronized chewing.
The chefs at Nana's Kitchen concoct a classic menu of sizzling tacos, burritos, and desserts according to recipes the proprietor learned from her grandmother, a restaurant owner in Agua Prieta, Mexico. A juicy, grilled Angus-beef flank steak cozies up to a love-struck cheese enchilada in the tampiqueña dinner special ($14.59). Alternately, munch the fried-egg-battered green pepper of the chili relleno ($10.98), or excavate savory ground beef and potatoes from the piping-hot interior of the Nana's Special burrito wrapped in a homemade tortilla ($8.99). For dessert, the spongy pastel de las tres leches bathes in three kinds of milk to acquire a rich, creamy texture and maintain a youthful complexion ($5.59). On some weekend nights, guests can abscond to the full bar to sip several dozen varieties of tequila—not included in today's Groupon—as they groove to live mariachi music.
Reviving jaded posses of Tucson tongues with its traditional cuisine, La Fuente Restaurant is a Southwestern outpost for friendly service and live-strummed dinner music. The vast menu offers shareable starters such as the sour cream-flanked cheese quesadillas ($8.99), as well as hearty specialties like the mole poblano, a chicken breast simmered in the semisweet chocolate-chili sauce that cowboys once used primarily as mustache wax ($16.99). Dinner combos eliminate the burden of choice and are served in full-flavored configurations like beef taco, beef tamale, and cheese enchilada ($11.99), or a small eatable army of beef or chicken gorditas ($11.99). Meat-free options abound for green-mouthed plantavores and include a veggie burrito ($12.99) and spinach enchiladas ($11.99 for two).
El Rio Bakery & Restaurant's culinary artisans begin baking fresh breads at 3 a.m., and open their doors daily at 6 a.m. to dole out assorted Mexican baked treats. Fresh Mexican classics abound on the lunch and dinner menu, including the chili menudo ($3.50/pint, $6.89/quart), a tripe soup traditionally believed to cure hangovers and temporary grant eaters the power to start fires with their eyes. Combination platters, such as the chili relleno served with rice, beans, and choice of tortillas ($5.59), satisfy aggressive appetites, while individual pastries such as the cochitos—gingerbread cookies shaped like little pigs—eschew refined sugar in favor of molasses and honey ($0.55 each). Among a colorful mural, painted by a local artist, an in-house tortilla factory spins delicate disks of varying diameters, and corresponding likelihoods of representing the different planets in a solar system mobile, with 14-inch burro tortillas ($3.50/ dozen) and 6-inch wheat tortillas ($2/dozen).
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.