Variety, they say, is the spice of life, and Tucson certainly dishes up plenty of variety (and spice) when it comes to eating out. Tucson is a city that lives for spice, and in the realm of fiery foods, Mexican reigns supreme. There's historical Mexican at both El Charro Café and El Minuto Cafe, nuevo Mexican at Café Poca Cosa and J Bar, and family-style Mexican at El Minuto. So if you like Mexican food, you'll find plenty of places in Tucson to get all fired up.
On the other hand, if Mexican leaves you cold, don't despair -- there are plenty of other restaurants serving everything from the finest French cuisine to innovative American, Italian, and Southwestern food. The last of these is almost as prevalent in Tucson as Mexican food, and you should be sure to dine at a Southwestern restaurant early in your visit. This cuisine can be brilliantly creative, and after trying it, you may want all your meals to be Southwestern.
Foodies fond of the latest culinary trends will find plenty of spots to satisfy their cravings. On the other hand, if you're on a tight dining budget, look for early-bird dinners, which are quite popular with retirees.
Market Timing -- Saturday and Sunday mornings are great times to stop by St. Philip's Plaza. No, this isn't a church, it's a shopping center, and on weekend mornings, there is a wonderful little farmers' market here. You can pick up organic bread, prickly pear cactus juice and jelly, homemade tamales, Mexican cheeses, and plenty of produce. Stock up here and then head to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area for a picnic.
Late-Night Noshing -- If your movie didn't let out until 10pm and the popcorn wasn't enough to fill you up, where do you go to satisfy your hunger? Try Kingfisher, 2564 E. Grant Rd. (tel. 520/323-7739; www.kingfishertucson.com), which stays open until midnight every night, or Pastiche Modern Eatery, 3025 N. Campbell Ave. (tel. 520/325-3333; www.pasticheme.com), which stays open until midnight Tuesday through Sunday. (For more information, see the reviews of Kingfisher and Pastiche earlier in this chapter.)
Bakeries, Cafes & Quick Bites
For some of the best espresso in Tucson, head to Raging Sage Coffee Roasters, 2458 N. Campbell Ave. (tel. 520/320-5203; www.ragingsage.com); prices are high, but the espresso here sure is tasty. Avenue Coffee, 2502 N. Campbell Ave. (tel. 520/225-0437; www.avenuecoffee.com), just up the street from Raging Sage, is another strong contender. If you've been visiting the museums on the University of Arizona campus and need a pick-me-up, try Caffe Luce, 943 E. University Blvd., no. 191 (tel. 520/207-5504; www.caffeluce.com), which is directly across the street from the campus. If you're a tea person, be sure to check out Seven Cups, 2516 E. Sixth St. (tel. 520/881-4072; www.sevencups.com), a traditional Chinese tearoom in a hip residential neighborhood near the University of Arizona.
If you find yourself craving a cupcake, head over to the university area to Red Velvet Cupcakery, 943 E. University Blvd., Ste. 165 (tel. 520/829-7780; www.redvelvetcupcakery.com). For eight-layer cakes and light food in an edgy atmosphere, I like to stop in at the Cup Cafe, at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (tel. 520/798-1618; www.hotelcongress.com). At La Baguette Bakery, 1797 E. Prince Rd. (tel. 520/322-6297; www.ghiniscafe.com/page.cfm/bakery), which is affiliated with Ghini's French Caffe, you can get all kinds of delicious French pastries. AJ's Fine Foods, 2805 E. Skyline Dr. (tel. 520/232-6340; www.ajsfinefoods.com), a gourmet supermarket in La Encantada shopping center at the northwest corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue, is another good place to grab a pastry. If it's a hot day, head to Frost, A Gelato Shoppe, 7131 N. Oracle Rd., Ste. 101 (tel. 520/797-0188; www.frostgelato.com), a great little gelateria in the Casas Adobes shopping center. Other Frosts can be found at 7301 E. Tanque Verde Rd. (tel. 520/886-0354), which is conveniently close to Sabino Canyon, and at 2905 E. Skyline Dr., Ste. 286 (tel. 520/299-0315), in La Encantada shopping center. Alternatively, chill out with gelato at Café Italiano, 2485 N. Swan Rd., Ste. 141 (tel. 520/393-3396; www.cafeitalianoaz.com), which is in the Cornerstone Plaza on the northwest corner of Grant and Swan roads.
If you need a quick lunch, head for the nearest Baggins Gourmet Sandwiches (www.bagginsgourmet.com) for a delicious sandwich. Baggins has several locations, including 7201 E. Speedway Blvd. at Kolb Road (tel. 520/290-9383), 1800 E. Fort Lowell Rd. at Campbell Avenue (tel. 520/327-1611), and downtown at 33 N. Stone Ave. at Church and Pennington streets (tel. 520/792-1344). Good pizza can be had at Magpies Gourmet Pizza (www.magpiespizza.com) downtown at 605 N. Fourth Ave. (tel. 520/628-1661), 4654 E. Speedway Blvd. (tel. 520/795-5977), 105 S. Houghton Rd. (tel. 520/751-9949), and 7315 N. Oracle Rd. (tel. 520/297-2712). Whole Foods Market is a good place to get picnic supplies: organic fruit, delicious baked goods, cheese, meats, and wine. Locations are at 3360 E. Speedway Blvd. (tel. 520/795-9844) and 7133 N. Oracle Rd. (tel. 520/297-5394).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.