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Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson’s culinary scene is having a moment. The top Tucson restaurants combine local Southwestern ingredients, like chilis, cacti, and beans, with modern cooking techniques. Or they introduce Arizonans to complex international flavors. So if you’re looking for your next meal, try one of these hot spots, the best restaurants in Tucson right now.

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, one of the best downtown Tucson restaurants, has a master at the helm. Chef Janos Wilder has been lauded as "Tucson's most celebrated chef" by the New York Times, and deemed the Best Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. He has been perfecting his craft for more than 40 years, cooking his way through high school and college before taking a three-year residency as a chef at a historic inn in Colorado.

 

After developing a deep appreciation for locally sourced ingredients in Colorado, vegetables from neighborhood gardens and foraged fungi, he traveled to Bordeaux, France, to work among Michelin Guide Award–winning chefs. They taught Chef Janos all about French cuisine and techniques. Back in the States, Chef Janos settled in Tucson, where he learned to combine French techniques with local Southwestern ingredients.

 

He has since opened several restaurants, including Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, which sources its ingredients from local gardeners and farmers.

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Seven Cups

You may be surprised to find that this tea cafe serves up some of the best Chinese buns in town. It also appeals to sweet teeth with matcha black-sesame shortbread cookies and red bean moon cakes. But it truly excels with its tea offerings.

 

Seven Cups works directly with 22 tea producers across 10 regions in China in order to get high-quality jasmine pearls, puer cakes, loose leaf wulongs. The shop is a member of the Chinese International Tea Culture institute, and founder Austin Hodge was awarded a four-year position in the institute as an honorary director for his contributions to Chinese tea culture.

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Tea Spotlight: Dragon Well Tea, China's Most Famous Green

Colleen Loggins Loster

Dragon well tea, China's most famous green, is a tea most Americans have never even heard of. A tea expert who grew up drinking it explains the hype.

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Meet the Famous Chinese Green Tea Most Americans Have Never Heard of

It’s called dragon well tea, longjing tea in Chinese, and it is, if not China's most famous tea, then China's most famous green tea. And most Americans have never heard of it. Dragon well is a vegetal tea with flat, long leaves that are pan-roasted to bring out a toasted flavor. It comes from Hangzhou, China, which fills with the scent of pan-roasting tea leaves when the tea is harvested every spring.

 

Its taste can best be described as grassy—though not as grassy as Japanese green tea—and sweet. That might surprise some green tea fans as green tea is a little bit astringent, but dragon well tea has sweet, buttery, herbaceous taste.

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Cafe Poca Cosa

This is not your average casual Mexican joint, but an upscale urban bistro serving creative Mexican cuisine. Owner and chef Suzana Davila introduces guests to the wide range of flavors available in her native country. The menu changes twice per day and is printed in Spanish on a portable chalkboard, which servers take from table to table. This approach keeps Suzana and her staff on their toes, and it hasn’t gone unrecognized. Cafe Poca Cosa has been featured in a variety of publications, from the New York Times to Better Homes and Gardens to Gourmet Magazine.

 

El Charro Cafe

Since 1922, the same family has been cooking up Mexican food at El Charro, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson. Monica Flin, El Charro’s first owner, is even said to have invented the chimichanga.

 

According to the restaurant’s legend, while frying ground beef tacos, she accidentally dropped a burrito into the frying pan. When the hot oil splashed up, Monica almost let fly a common Spanish swear word starting with “ch.” She stopped herself just in time when she saw her nieces and nephews, and out came the word “chimichanga.” It loosely translates to “thingamajig.”

 

In addition to deep-fried chimichangas, El Charro serves up tasty Sonoran and Tucson-style Mexican food, as well as strong margaritas in the outdoor cantina.

Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless’s Margarita Tips

What are your top five tips to help people make better margaritas?

 

Rick Bayless:

 

  1. Fresh lime juice does matter. It is really important!
  2. Shake it for long enough. I know it sounds crazy, but really—timing that shake with the ice in the shaker can have a wonderful effect on the outcome of your cocktail.
  3. Invest in some good tequila. You really can taste the difference.
  4. Practice using different herbs. Lemon verbena makes a wonderful summer cocktail when added to your margarita.
  5. Experiment with different liquors: cointreau, orange liqueur, and even making a wonderfully smoky mescal margarita. Try it—the differences are lovely.

 

Aqui Con El Nene

If you’re looking for one of America’s best hot dogs, you need to go to Aqui Con El Nene in Tucson. The Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped hot dog piled high with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, cotija cheese, salsa, mayo, ketchup, and mustard—made it to the championship during EveryDay with Rachael Ray’s search for America’s best dog. (It only lost to Chicago institution Gene & Jude’s, beating 62 others across the country).

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Rick Bayless Wants You to Drink a Good Margarita

While on location for his TV show in Oaxaca, Mexico, the celebrity chef talked to us about guacamole, the next big food trend, and 5 ways to make a margarita taste better.

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