Donna DiFiore's metaphorical journey into the restaurant business began with an actual journey. When her friend Elissa told her she was going on a road trip across the country from her hometown in chilly Massachusetts, Donna agreed to join—unaware that she was about discover her life's calling and a new home.
When the women stopped in Tucson, Donna didn't want to leave. As she explained to reporters from Tucson Weekly, "I arrived here—it was Halloween Eve in '76—and everybody was wearing shorts, and it was just gorgeous." Donna took a job at a local eatery, working the floor, serving customers, and eventually rising to the head of the restaurant.
Thirty-eight years later, Donna continues to captain Delectables, which has become a bit of an iconic gathering spot for old and young alike. Returning visitors linger over glasses of wine at the rustic wooden bar, reminiscing over the crème brûlée and live jazz they enjoyed from that very same spot years ago. University students bask beneath the lush foliage of the outdoor patio, awaiting meals of Mexican enchiladas, Italian pastas, and French bistro specialties. Chefs bustle about the kitchen seven days a week, beginning each day by whipping up hearty egg breakfasts before moving onto internationally inspired lunches and dinners. Late in the night on Friday and Saturday, they simmer up an after-dark menu of eclectic nibbles and entrees.
The restaurant is housed in a historical, renovated Harley-Davidson showroom and abounds with unusual knickknacks and antiques, from a cash register from an old hotel in Santa Cruz to a walk-in refrigerator from 1898. Many of the wares and coffee mugs were created by local artists, and the mesquite planks that serve as plates were carved by local craftsmen. The airy space plays hosts to special events throughout the week, including live music from local artists, poetry slams with local poets, and boxing matches between local librarians.
Cage-free eggs, all-natural chicken, and aged italian parmigiano reggiano cheese stock the kitchen at The B Line, enabling its chefs to concoct dishes that have helped the eatery win Tucson Weekly's Best Casual Dining and Best Desserts categories for eight years. The culinary team rolls eggs, chorizo, and carne asada into breakfast burritos, and organic and fair-trade coffee help guests wash down homemade granola and crepe-thin pancakes. During lunch and dinner, chefs use never-frozen chicken breast and fresh mahi-mahi to stuff quesadillas, tacos, and burritos. Pasty chef Terri La Chance whips together premium ingredients such as real vanilla, belgian chocolate, and butter to hand-bake an array of desserts, from flourless chocolate pecan cookies to the four-berry pie once enjoyed by Rachael Ray before her last lunar mission.
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.
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.
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.