Where to Eat in Tucson, AZ


Amazing Latin food in a lively atmosphere, this is a great restaurant. I dined alone and sat at the bar which allowed me to chat with the super friendly bartenders and other restaurant patrons. The food was fantastic, especially the featured tuna ceviche and the elote.

Tuna ceviche with Peruvian potato chips

Tuna ceviche with Peruvian potato chips

Be advised, the ceviche is huge.

This dish was amazing.

This dish was amazing.

Their elote (grilled corn with lime aioli and contija cheese) is a necessity.

The arepas sampler.

The arepas sampler.

Continuing the trend, the arepas were good, but enormous.






Although Contigo offers a (slight) discount for three arepas, you really only need one if you’ve had an appetizer. The pollo arepa would be my first choice, featuring a great meat to condiment ratio, and the right amount of spice. A great place to get Latin food that is not the typical “Tex-Mex” variety.

Price: $$$



A great restaurant, it looks a little tacky on the outside thanks to their neon sign. Do not be dissuaded. The food is delicious and well-prepared. Their menu changes fairly frequently and I opted for the specials on the night I dined: savory lobster bread pudding, venison steak, and lemon madeleines.

The lobster bread pudding was epic.

The lobster bread pudding was epic.

The lobster was a great choice, but very rich and heavy.

Medium rare venison loin.

Medium rare venison loin.

Luckily the venison was lean and served with simple yet delicious grilled vegetables.

Delicious madeleines.

Delicious madeleines.

The lemon madeleines with blueberry curd were fantastic. Light and fluffy yet crispy and chocked full of sweet and tart flavor, they were the perfect way to end the meal.  This is a very solid restaurant serving a European fusion style fare that is a bit hard find elsewhere in the Tucson area.

Price: $$$





Poppy Kitchen

Great for brunch or dinner with fantastic views of Tucson and attentive service, this restaurant is a winner. Again, the menu changes frequently as it’s based off seasonal availability – a good indicator of fresh locally sourced food.

Heaven on a plate.

Heaven on a plate.

While dining there, the Seared Filet of Beef is not optional. This decadent dish includes a six ounce filet topped with melted brie and served with an amazing lemon potato gratin and balsamic drizzle. The flavor combinations are stellar.

A solid start.

A solid start.

My beet salad was an excellent start to the meal and the beignets were a delightful end.

A nice way to end the meal.

A nice way to end the meal.







The real star of the show was the beef filet. This restaurant is located on the Westin La Paloma property. While fantastic for hotel guests, it is a bit of hike for anyone based in downtown Tucson; though this does provide a great excuse to get out to the foothills and soak up the desert ambiance.

Price: $$$


Prep & Pastry

Although they don’t serve dinner, Prep & Pastry is a good choice for all your other meals. I stopped in for lunch and fell in love with the space.

My future home may look like this.

My future home may look like this.

The interior is filled with light and decked out in a modern-rustic design scheme. Luckily, the food lives up to the local hype. My Cuban sandwich was fantastic – as any sandwich with duck confit should be.



Salty, juicy, and savory with a little tartness from the mustard and pickles, this sandwich has my number. Combined with a good glass of iced tea – I was in heaven. Most locals that work or live in the northeast area of Tucson (Catalina foothills) rave about Prep & Pastry. Stop in and see why.

Price: $





Pricing key based off one course for lunch and three courses plus two alcoholic drinks for dinner all including tax and 20% tip:
$ – under 20     $$ – 50 and under      $$$ – 75 and under     $$$$ – 100 and under          $$$$$ – Over 100 – Break out the high limit credit cards – this is a special occasion restaurant






On a recent trip to Spain I discovered a deep and abiding love for Sherry. This fortified wine is produced in the Jerez region of Spain. There are many different styles of sherry, but it helps to group them into four camps: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez. The Palomino Grape (yes, spelled like the horse) is used for the about 90% of sherry production and is the sole grape found in Fino and Amontillado sherries. Pedro Ximenez is used in producing the Pedro Ximenez style and blending with the palomino grape to produce Cream and Oloroso sherries.

A chart might help....

A helpful chart – click on the image for a sharper view


Fino is the driest style of sherry and pairs well with shellfish and other seafood. It is a pale yellow in color, similar to any white wine, and different from all other sherry varietals which are brown or very dark gold in color. Personally I am not a fan of this particular style, but other Sherry enthusiasts rave about its ability to compliment fresh oysters.


Amontillado may be the most famous sherry varietal due to its literary associations. Made from the palomino grape this sherry is oxidized and aged in oak barrels. This sherry is dry and tannic (think of a good Cabernet Sauvignon), with nutty flavors and an occasional caramel aftertaste. I would pair this type of sherry with a salty meat and cheese such as jamon serrano and aged manchego, or a grilled steak.


Oloroso sherries are made from Palomino grapes, oxidized to intensify the flavor profile and create a darker coloration, and then blended with Pedro Ximenez generating a richer mouth-feel and adding a touch of sweetness. The term oloroso means fragrant and these wines live up to their moniker. The ever popular Cream sherries fall into this category as do most medium-dry varietals. Depending on the level of sweetness, these types of wine can pair well with charcuterie and cheeses or be used as a dessert wine or aperitif.


Pedro Ximenez sherries are unctuously sweet and thick. I would compare them to a Tokaji in terms of body and sweetness. Made solely from the Pedro Ximenez grape, these sherries are frequently referred to as PX and are best suited as a dessert. Like a Tokaji, I would recommend pairing PX with a sharp blue cheese like valdeon.

Fried Green Tomatoes in Savannah, GA


Ever since their national introduction via Hollywood in 1992, fried green tomatoes have had a deep, historical association with the American south. Before the explosion of its movie namesake, the crisp-coated unripe tomatoes were not considered an essential component of Dixie fare. The movie spurred consumer demand, effectively creating a new market out of thin air. This is not to say that the film “Fried Green Tomatoes” created a new dish. Fried green tomatoes have their roots in Jewish cooking and eventually spread to the Midwest and Northeast. The supposed staple of the South was served infrequently throughout America before 1992, becoming an integral part of southern culture after the movie’s release. Southerners experience a collective amnesia surrounding the origins of this food, with several menus and culinary blogs concocting elaborate creation tales.

Southerners have varying tastes but strong opinions on adaptations of this fare. Attempting to find the best representation on a recent visit to Savannah, Ga., yielded an overwhelming amount of different recommendations. Savannah is a restaurant town, and each one has their particular take on this frittered fruit. Uncovering the secret behind a good fried green tomato was more straightforward. Polling numerous native southerners on what determines the success of this dish resulted in one resounding answer: the batter. People discussed the crunch, consistency of breading, and overall lightness or heaviness of the crust. John, of Liquid Sands Glass Gallery and a southern native, waxed poetic on “…their candied sweetness and their crunch.” Kim, an employee an esteemed Savannah hotel, referred to the “…light, crunchy breading,” used at several waterfront restaurants as her favorite feature of this meal.

In the south, a green tomato is an un-ripened tomato. Some heirloom varieties are naturally green when ripe, but the creation of this dish calls for young, beefsteak tomatoes that have never turned red. Traditionally, slices of this adolescent fruit are dunked in a buttermilk and egg mixture, coated in a cornmeal and flour mixture, and then skillet fried in hot vegetable oil. Toppings vary, with most recipes leaving the main ingredient unadorned; however the enthusiasts interviewed in Savannah strongly recommend a sauce or chutney to pair with the star attraction.

After sampling different variations of this dish across the city, one preparation stood out. Belford’s is frequently cited as a top contender for the title of Best Fried Green Tomatoes in Savannah. Head chef Chris Adgate explains that Belford’s tomatoes are soaked in buttermilk for “…at least four hours before cooking.” Following this marinade, the fruit slices are coated in House-Autry Mills breading, an ingredient with deep Southern roots, before deep frying at 375 degrees. Adgate instructs his chefs to “… fry them till they’re done,” a process which usually takes about four minutes. Once removed from the fryer, the tomatoes are topped with a fresh, herbal arugula pesto and a side of spicy and creamy pimento cheese. The combination of House-Autry breading and deep frying instead of skillet frying results in an interpretation unlike any other in town. Rather than a coarse and textured exterior, the breading on these tomatoes is smooth and light. The clean flavors of the arugula pesto cut through the decadent, crispy breading while the cheese adds an unexpected kick.

Belford's Fried Green Tomatoes

Belford’s Fried Green Tomatoes

John, a waiter at Noble Fare, and a self-described connoisseur of this dish, recommends several tips to ensure a successful at-home preparation. A double batter helps provide the desired crunch, and making sure the oil is hot enough keeps tomatoes from getting soggy. While toppings and sauces are important, “… batter is key,” and Fuller’s top piece of advice is to “…choose a good breading agent.” While Belford’s uses a finely milled breading resulting in a lighter, smoother coating, Fuller recommends Italian breadcrumbs. This approach is used by a number of Savannah restaurants, with panko or coarse Italian breadcrumbs replacing the traditional textured cornmeal. Vic’s on the River employs this technique, combining a golden fried panko coating with ripe tomato relish, fresh goat cheese, and mild green onions on top of traditional southern grits. The thick tomato slices are coated in an egg wash followed by panko and then skillet fried. While very tasty, the breading on Vic’s interpretation seems heavy and gummy compared to the exceptionally light coating at Belford’s.

Vic's Fried Green Tomatoes

Vic’s Fried Green Tomatoes

All across town, chefs are making the dish their own with innovative batters and toppings. From beer-batter to shrimp remoulade, each tries to put a unique spin on this Southern ‘classic’. The South may not have created fried green tomatoes, but it has perfected them.

o ya in five courses


Last week I treated myself to dinner at o ya, as a late birthday gift.  Eating at o ya is an experience.  The restaurant entrance is marked by a small sign and tucked away to the building’s side.  Walking through a heavy wooden door plunges patrons into a tranquil and ambient environment.  Diners travel along a stone walkway to an anteroom housing the hostess stand.  A rectangular dining area is located to the left of this room and laterally divided, with the back reserved for tables and a sushi bar in front.

Sitting at the bar is the only way to go.  The level of showmanship displayed by nimble sushi artists heightens the dining experience and helps create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.  Each dish is painstakingly prepared by hand.  Ingredients are sliced, torched, drizzled, and stacked to create the perfect plate.

     DSCN1090   DSCN1105


#1   Shira ae ($12)

A persimmon salad with sesame tofu, spinach, and nori (dried seaweed).

DSCN1072    Cropped shira ae

While visually stunning, this was not my favorite dish.  The textures were very interesting, though.  Fleshy persimmons paired with crunchy nori and creamy tofu dressing.  Initially, the salad was incredibly refreshing and savory with a slight sweetness from the persimmon.  After a few bites, the sesame tofu flavor became a little intense and slightly odd when paired with the fruit.  I’m glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t order it again.


#2  Next came one of the best Miso soups ($8) I have ever had.

DSCN1081         DSCN1082

The o ya version includes shitake and hedgehog mushrooms which elevate this soup out of the realm of ordinary to amazing.  Salty and earthy, but still light, this soup is perfect for a cold winter night.  The mushrooms deepen the soup’s flavor and add a textural element.  Their chewiness stood out from the soft tofu and crunchy scallions, adding a meaty quality to the dish.


#3    Bluefin chutoro with Republic of Georgia herb sauce ($18)


One of my favorite dishes, the flavors are fresh, clean and herbal.  Sesame seeds sprinkled on top provide a bit of crunch.  The herb sauce is the star of this dish.  Including basil, tarragon, cilantro, apricot, and Chinese five spice, the complexity of this sauce perfectly accents the relative simplicity of the tuna.  Clean but potent flavors make this perfect for repeat orders.


#4  Salmon tataki ($12) was an exciting menu selection.  To any would-be pyros out there – take heart.  This sushi is for you.


Tomatoes are torched and top salmon slices with smoked salt, onion aioli, and negi (a Japanese scallion).  If you like salmon, this dish is a must order.

DSCN1108          DSCN1112

It’s smoky, with a bright acidity from the tomato.  Aioli adds a touch of sweetness and creaminess to the dish.  Topping it with negi is an excellent move.  The onion adds a nice crunch, contrasting with the softer textures underneath.  My only complaint was the difficulty I had fitting an entire piece into my mouth.  There is no delicate way to eat this – the stacking of ingredients really promotes an all or nothing approach.


#5  Last but certainly not least, was the Peruvian style Bluefin chutoro tataki with an aji panca sauce and cilantro pesto ($18).


What can I say?  I love tuna.

This may be the most beautiful item I ordered.  The bright orange aji panca sauce slides into the lines on the fish, complementing the deep green cilantro pesto.  Taking a bite introduces an explosion of flavors.  Spicy, fresh, and herbal there are hints of smoke and brine to this meaty fish dish.


All of the fish dishes ordered were off the nigiri section of the menu and came with two pieces of fish, each atop a small bed of rice.  While the rice flavor is typically overwhelmed by its fish and sauce toppings, the grain works well to help satiate an appetite.


From previous experiences, I knew to skip desert.  Fish is where o ya shines.  Deserts are not bad, but the two chocolate bonbons that accompany each meal sufficiently satisfy sweet cravings.  A white chocolate bonbon contains matcha, Chambord, and salted cherry blossom.  The green tea flavoring in this is a little overwhelming, but pairs nicely with the other ingredients and sweet white chocolate.  A milk chocolate bonbon containing yuzu kosito and hazelnut, was perfection.  Think Rocher with an Asian twist.



Overall: a kickass dinner.  Food is artfully prepared with delectable fresh ingredients.  The price is steep.  My dinner, including two glasses of wine and tip, ran about $130.  This is not a restaurant you pop into for a quick bite.  o ya is best reserved for celebrations, special occasions, or hedonistic revelry.  In the end, you get what you pay for – and it is money well spent.




Taste Trekkers

Three weekends ago I put on my fancy academic pants, and attended the first ever Taste Trekkers conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Taste Trekkers is an organization and conference focused on the culinary tourism industry as well as enthusiasts. It pretty much rocks.

What is culinary tourism? There are several definitions and interpretations, but a willingness to learn and experience new things through food is the essential component of culinary tourism. Taste Trekkers provides these tourists with a unique opportunity to interact directly with vendors through hosted seminars.

The conference was divided into three one hour seminar blocks. Four topic options were given for each one hour block and attendees submitted their requests one week prior to the conference. I lucked out, and managed to get into my top three choices: Lamb Butchering, New England Rum, and Vermont Ice Cider! Other session options ranged from Peruvian Ceviche to Madagascar Chocolate. The seminars were very informative, discussing the challenges that vendors face while catering to the tourism industry, and highlighting the importance of supporting small, local operations. Fun demonstrations and delicious product samples were also included!

Following the sessions, participants hit up the Tasting Pavilion! Local culinary businesses and session leaders manned booths, distributing samples and answering consumer questions. The pavilion was a fantastic introduction to the Providence culinary scene, showcasing local restaurants, markets, and breweries. I’d never heard of companies like Foolproof Brewing, despite living only 50 miles away! Discoveries like this really highlight the versatility of culinary tourism. You don’t need to travel hundreds of miles to be a culinary tourist. You can find exciting new food experiences right in your own backyard!

Taste Trekkers was a great experience that provided tons of information on resources available to culinary tourists, while introducing them to an industry perspective. The conference was also an excellent opportunity for networking and highlighted interesting topics like tourism strategies, benefits, and emerging trends. Most importantly, Taste Trekkers was a fun weekend adventure and a great way to meet other people with the same interests!