When diners order a burger at Opa!, they?re liable to be confused. There?s the bun, the tomato, the lettuce?and no meat in sight. Right before befuddled diners can flag down their server, a grinning Chef Andreas emerges from the kitchen with their meat, sets it aflame souvlaki-style at the table, and drapes the sizzling disk atop the diner?s bare bun. ?I like to make people happy. It?s what I do,? explains Andreas, who jumps at any opportunity to surprise and delight guests in his dining room. His commitment to creating a welcoming atmosphere has earned the chef praise from Tucson Weekly, as well a spot on Tucson Lifestyle ?s Best of 2011 restaurant list.
Though the prolific restaurateur has opened 74 eateries across the country, he eventually wearied of the anonymity in running more corporate establishments. Now, Chef Andreas shares his heritage instead?murals of the island of Santorini grace restaurant walls, Greek music flows through the dining room all day, and family recipes inspire the flame-kissed spiced meats that seem to pour out of the kitchen like a faucet with a water vendetta. Though Greek traditions are evident in his food, Chef Andreas also tunes in to customer requests, now preparing many gluten-free and low-carb platters to honor the wishes of his guests.
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.
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).
Chefs at Jimmy's American Bistro hatch a menu of meaty entrées and crunchy fried starters slathered in homemade sauces. Dining duos kick-start patriotic feasts with the star-spangled all-American appetizer sampler, which includes sauce-slathered buffalo wings, crunchy fried green tomatoes, juicy chicken tenders, and fried provolone—half-moons of mild cheese festooned with italian breading and accompanied by dunk tanks of ranch dressing and zesty marinara sauce. Then, pairs can corral two dinner entrées in their table pen. Savor a pot roast’s melt-in-your-mouth meat morsels, who don a flowing frock of creamy gravy before making a celebrity cameo on the plate. Alternatively, herbivores can craft a personalized veggie platter by melding any five meatless sides.