20 of the Best Tucson Restaurants Including Cheap Eats and Desserts

Arizona’s second largest city is second to none with a restaurant scene filled with Sonoran classics and modern munchies. Read on to discover our favorite Tucson restaurants that you won’t want to miss plus cheap eats and desserts.

Lunch at El Charro Cafe in Tucson

The Tucson food scene is hot. And why not? The home of the University of Arizona is located two hours from Phoenix and just an hour from Nogales on the Mexican border. Plus, it seems like chili sauce runs through the city’s water pipes.

Okay, we’re kidding about the chili sauce. But it’s no joke that Tucson’s vibrant food scene has risen above the radar since it became America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. While UNESCO is a relatively new arbiter of great food judgement, its accolades have lit a worldwide spotlight on the Southern Arizona city.

By the time Tucson was featured on Top Chef‘s final episodes in 2022, the city and its restaurants were ready for their moment.

Tucson City of Gastronomy

Heritage Farm Products at Mission Garden in TucsonWe encountered these heritage farm products at Mission Garden in Tucson. The farm and its products are an integral part of Tucson’s food community.

Not every city can quality as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The application process is rigorous with specific criteria that includes well-developed gastronomy, a vibrant culinary community and access to indigenous ingredients. There must also be food markets and food festivals as well as commitments to sustainability and the public.

Fun Fact
There are currently 50 UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in 30 countries. The United States is home to two of these cities – San Antonio and Tucson.

Mission Garden Selfie in TucsonTouring Tucson’s Mission Garden educated us about Tucson’s rich food bounty. It was also a lot of fun.

Outsiders may have been shocked when UNESCO selected Tucson as American’s first City of Gastronomy. Locals, however, weren’t surprised since they were part of the process.

This global recognition required a concerted effort from the city and its culinary leaders – not to mention centuries of food history. Seemingly exotic ingredients like nopale cactus, chiltepins (one of the earliest cultivated chili peppers) and prickly pears can trace their agricultural roots to the Sonoran region.

Don Guerra at Barrio Bread in TucsonDon Guerra is one of the leading forces in Tucson’s culinary scene. He’s also a James Beard award winner who bakes outstanding artisan breads like this Heritage loaf.

But make no mistake. Despite its plethora of heritage farm products and Sonoran food traditions that date back millennia, Tucson isn’t stuck in the past.

The city has a network of urban farms that host food festivals throughout the year and treat sustainability as more than a buzz word. Plus, the number of restaurants, both old and new, is almost as impressive as the enormous saguaro cacti that mark every vista.

Fun Fact
Tucson’s region is so agriculturally rich that even the earliest American cotton plants can be traced to its Pima County home.

Where to Eat in Tucson

Inside El Charro Cafe in TucsonRestaurants like El Charro Cafe make the city’s dining scene a joy to explore.

Deciding where to eat in Tucson is a challenge since this is a city with great food at all prices from cheap eats to upscale restaurants.

With this challenge in mind, we’ve curated a selection of worthy Tucson restaurants including spots that hit the spot if you’re in the mood for a leisurely brunch or a simple taco.

Fish Taco at Taqueria Pico de Gallo in TucsonThis loaded Fish Taco we ate at Taqueria Pico de Gallo is just one of the great Mexican specialties available on Tucson’s 23 miles of Mexican food.

Of course, you’ll want to eat as much Sonoran-style Mexican food when you’re in Tucson. After all, the city has the country’s best 23 miles of Mexican food within its borders where you can eat everything from elote to burros to donuts. Doing otherwise would simply be wrong.

Our guide covers all of these options and more. But, first, let’s start with our picks for the best restaurants in Tucson.

Best Tucson Restaurants

Coronet in TucsonDespite its 160-year old building, The Coronet serves one of Tucson’s more eclectic menus.

The desire to solely eat Sonoran cuisine in Tucson is both real and understandable. Don’t do it.

The city’s restaurants run the gamut from casual to trendy and have menus that span the globe. Some of these restaurants do indeed specialize in Sonoran cuisine while others source local products including vegetables, bread and beer.

Chefs at Zio Pepe in TucsonChefs Devon Sanner and Mat Cable brought years of restaurant experience to the table when they opened Zio Peppe in Tucson. The duo represents the best of Tucson’s culinary scene.

We stretched our stomachs during a week of on-the-ground research that included eating at dozens of Tucson eateries. Every time we thought we thought we had completed our mission, we ate at another restaurant that knocked off our socks and motivated us to keep going.

These are the Tucson restaurants (including a bread bakery) that we loved most:

Zio Peppe

Dinner at Zio Pepe in TucsonColorful dishes turned our Zio Peppe table into a food rainbow. Notable dishes (clockwise from the top left corner) included Elote Arancini, Figgy Stardust Pizza, Green Chile Garganelli Bolognese and Rigatoni & Chiltepin Arriaiata.

Ironically, our very first meal in Tucson turned out to be our favorite. That meal was at Zio Peppe on the east side of town. And, to be honest, we were surprised to love this restaurant that blends Italian and Sonoran cuisines as much as we did.

Perhaps we loved Zio Peppe so much due to our our lovely dining companion Mary Rittmann who knew exactly what to order. Or perhaps it was due to our charming hosts – Chefs Mat Cable and Devon Sanner – who pulled out the stops by showcasing an exciting menu that popped with both flavor and color.

El Rustico Birria Pizza at Zio Pepe in TucsonWe’d order this El Rustico Birria Pizza again and again if we lived in Tucson.

Or maybe we loved Zio Peppe because of the restaurant’s pizza, baked in an old-school wood fired pizza oven. We shared two – an El Rustico Birria pizza topped with beef birria sourced from El Taco Rustico, mozzarella, onion, cilantro and consommé and a Figgy Stardust pizza topped with figs, bacon, fresh mozzarella, honey, chamomile goat cheese and a pomegranate drizzle – and they were both as tasty as they were unique.

But make no mistake. Those pies were just two of many great dishes we tasted at Zio Peppe.

Elote Arancini at Zio Pepe in Tucson

Calamarrones Close Up at Zio Pepe in Tucson
Our Elote Arancini and Calamarrones starters were as creamy and crispy as we wanted them to be.

Highlight starters included Arancini filled with tangy elote as well as Calamarrones, a dish that pairs crispy calamari with equally crispy chicarrones. However, to be honest, we would have likely been just as happy eating starters like Tamale Polenta and Fundido made with whiskey from the city’s prominent local distillery – Whiskey del Bac.

Bigger dishes were equally memorable, especially Rigatoni & Chiltepin Arrabiata, a unique vegan dish which tops ribbed pasta tubes with spicy tomato and chile sauce. If there’s a better Italian-Sonoran mash up, we have yet to find it. But then we found another – Zio Peppe’s Green Chile Garganelli Bolognese. Made with New Mexico green chile garganelli, braised beef short rib, bolognese sauce, salsa verde and Pecorino Romano, it displayed Italian simplicity and craftsmanship with an added flavor kick from local chilies.

Taconnoli and Chocotaconnoli at Zio Pepe in Tucson

Cocktail at Zio Pepe in Tucson
We didn’t just eat savory food at Zio Peppe. We also enjoyed desserts and tasty tipples.

The restaurant opened in 2021 but its name goes back further .Zio Peppe loosely translates to Uncle Joe. The restaurant chose this name in tribute to Joe Sottosanti, Cable’s real life Uncle Joe who operated Tucson’s first Sicilian pizzeria.

Despite this homage, this restaurant isn’t stuck in the past. Our meal at Zio Peppe was a smorgasbord of food that made us rethink classic American-Italian dishes. It also set a high bar in our search for the best places to eat in Tucson.

Pro Tip
Save room for desserts like the Taconnoli and Chocataconnoli. Both involve sweet pastry taco shells filled with flavored mascarpone cream and both are delicious.

Zio Peppe is located at 6502 E Tanque Verde Road, Tucson, AZ 85715, United States.

El Charro Café

Chimichangas at El Charro Cafe in TucsonEating chimichangas at El Charro Café is a must since the restaurant may have invented the popular Mexican food staple.

El Charro Café differentiates itself from other Tucson restaurants starting with its age. Open since 1922 and located in the founding owner’s house, it ranks as Tucson’s oldest Mexican restaurant as well as the country’s oldest Mexican restaurant continuously operated by the same family. But El Charro Café’s fame isn’t limited to its age, location or ownership.

Legend has it that Monica Flin, the original El Charro Café owner, accidentally invented the chimichanga when she dropped a burrito into a deep-fat fryer. While the veracity of the legend is questionable, Chimichangas remain on the El Charro menu along with other Sonoran specialities including carne seca that the restaurant sun-dries in a dangling cage.

Beef Curing Cage at El Charro Cafe in TucsonEl Charro Café sun-dries meat in dangling cages like this one we spotted just behind the restaurant’s dining room. Seeing it was a highlight of our meal.

Staff members fill each cage daily with marinated, thinly-sliced angus beef that then soaks in the hot Arizona sun. They later cook the sun-dried beef before shredding it into meaty strands. The end result reminded us of pork floss we’ve previously eaten in cities like Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Carne Secca at El Charro Cafe in TucsonEl Charro Café’s carne seca is the best we’ve ever eaten. It’s also the only Carne Seca we’ve ever eaten.

To be clear, we didn’t just eat carne seca. We stared our midday meal with four miniature chimichangas which were served with pico salsa and sour cream. Those mini chimichangas, with their mix of chicken, bean and cheese fillings, primed us for the main event which, of course, was the Carne Seca Platter.

Big enough to share, the platter included a mound of meat as well as a flour tortilla, guacamole, pico salsa and veggies. While some people may find the flossy carne seca to be a little dry, there’s really nothing like it in the panoply of American foods we’ve eaten. It’s worth checking out.

Pro Tip
Expect a two-hour wait on weekend nights if you don’t have a reservation. Better yet, make a reservation.

El Charro Café is located at 311 N Court Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.

ANELLO

Anello in TucsonProving that looks can be deceiving, ANELLO looks like a deserted storefront from the outside.

It would be easy to miss ANELLO’s austere urban sign-free building. But that would be a mistake since doing so would mean missing out on the best pizza in Tucson.

Pizzaiolo Scott Girod honed his pizza-making skills at the acclaimed Pizzeria Bianco in nearby Phoenix before opening Anello in 2017. Girod, an unassuming yet serious pizza technician, was hands on during our visit – working the pizza oven with full focus and intensity.

Pizzaiolo at Anello in TucsonScott Girod prepared our pizzas with skill and precision. Watching him and his team was half of the fun of eating in ANELLO’s space. The other half was eating the fruits of their labor.

Ordering pizza at ANELLO should be easy considering the pizzeria’s succinct menu that includes just four pizzas (Marinara, Margherita, Bianca and Verde) and two toppings (E&R Sausage and Ezzo Pepperoni) and yet we struggled. After some negotiation, we ordered a white Bianca pizza featuring tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, basil & chilitepin and a classic Margherita pizza with sausage.

We also ordered locally brewed beers and a seasonal veggie starter of buttery white polenta topped with roasted and pickled peppers. The beers and peppers were great, but let’s be real, we went to ANELLO to eat pizza.

Margherita Pizza with Sausage and Pepperoni at Anello in TucsonTrue confession – this wasn’t our Margherita pizza. Ours was topped with sausage while our neighbor’s pie had both pepperoni and sausage.

Cutting to the chase, we loved ANELLO’s pizzas which fit a style we choose to call Sonoran. Both had big bold flavors, an edge of piquancy and a light crunchy crust. However our favorite was the Margherita pie.

Baked in a wood-fire oven with local mesquite wood, that crust was made with naturally leavened dough that Girod had fermented for more than 30 hours. Classic, locally-made sausage and pepperoni completed the pies and tasted great.

Pro Tip
Order a pizza with half sausage and half pepperoni if you can’t decide between the two toppings.

ANELLO is located at 222 E 6th Street, Tucson, AZ 85705, United States.

Barrio Bread

Don Guerra at Barrio Bread in TucsonDon Guerra is Tucson’s most prolific bread baker.

Barrio Bread doesn’t have tables and only sells one thing. Yet this bakery ranks as one of the best food spots in Tucson thanks to its owner and head baker Don Guerra.

Far from a typical bread baker, the former teacher calls himself a breaducator. Originally from Tempe, Guerra is one of Tucson’s most passionate food professionals. And, it’s worth noting, James Beard recognized him as the country’s most outstanding baker in 2022.

Bread Slice at Barrio Bread in TucsonPeople line up every morning for Don Guerra’s beautiful bread which is baked from locally produced flour.

Guerra’s success didn’t happen overnight.

Fascinated by flour as a child and inspired by breads he’d eaten at Poilâne in Paris, Guerra trained with artisan bread makers, opened a bakery in his garage and sold loaves from a mobile bread van while still working as a schoolteacher. And he hasn’t slowed down since opening Barrio Bread in 2015.

The Tucson trailblazer still gets his hands dirty with flour but not just any flour. His flours, which he also sells at the bakery, are heritage grains, indigenous to Arizona, which he developed with local farmers. He also owns two restaurants, a grain company and a consulting firm. And, in his spare time, he bakes bagels and makes pizza. For Guerra, bread in all forms is a nonstop pursuit.

Bread Rack at Barrio Bread in TucsonWhich bread at Barrio Bread will be your favorite?

Customers queue up at Guerra’s bakery every morning. The queue moves quickly though as shoppers select breads like Cinnamon Raisin, Pain de Kino, Whole Wheat Sesame and Guerra’s signature Heritage boule with a saguaro stenciled on top.

After tasting a few of his breads at the shop, we were pleased to encounter Barrio Bread at many Tucson restaurants. Since one visit wasn’t enough, we popped back over for Guerra’s pop-up pizza night, a family affair involving two types of pizza baked in the shop’s ginormous bread oven. We wonder how long before there’s a new pizzeria in town.

Pro Tip
Arrive early at the compact Broadway Village shop to avoid the disappointment of a ‘sold out’ sign.

Barrio Bread is located at 18 S Eastbourne Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85716, United States.

The Coronet

Coronet Dining Room in TucsonThe inside of The Coronet’s adobe building feels like a French bistro with Sonoran influences.

Located in a 160-year old adobe building, The Coronet doesn’t serve Sonoran cuisine. And, yet, The Coronet is one of the most modern restaurants in Tucson. It’s also one of the city’s most eclectic restaurants with a dimly lit dining room, pub-style bar, market cafe, gift shop and outdoor patio all at the same location.

The restaurant’s menu is equally eclectic with a variety of dishes that span the globe. Owner Sally Kane takes pride in these dishes, some of which were inspired by her past world travels.

Shrimp Patacones at Coronet in Tucson

Guajillo Grilled Pork Tenderloin at Coronet in Tucson
Highlights of our dinner at The Coronet included a Shrimp Patacones starter and Guajillo Grilled Pork Tenderloin served with smoky paprika risotto and roasted broccolini

We gladly jumped on board, i.e. started our meal, at The Coronet with a Butter Lettuce Wedge before diving into dishes like Shrimp Patacones, Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Curry and Guajillo Grilled Pork Tenderloin. Served on crispy fried plantains, the Shrimp Patacones was the most interesting dish with shrimp salad made with roasted corn, jalapeño, pomegranate arils, mango amba and crispy chorizo.

The Coronet sources many of its products from local vendors like Barrio Bread (see above). However, not everything is locally sourced. We were particularly amused to see an entire tinned gourmet seafood menu section featuring tins sourced from Portugal and Marou chocolate bars from Vietnam.

Pro Tip
Check The Coronet’s website for its live music schedule.

The Coronet is located at 198 W Cushing Street, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.

The Cup Café

Inside Cup Cafe in TucsonThe Cup Café is a happy place located inside Tucson’s historic Hotel Congress.

Dining at The Cup Café is an experience that starts with a walk through the stately Hotel Congress’ lobby. This walk leads to a bright and airy space decorated with exposed pipes and funky chandeliers studded with wine bottles. There’s also a spacious patio that doubles as a prime people watching spot.

To say we enjoyed our brunch at Cup Café is an understatement. Between its buzzing vibe and the tasty cast iron baked eggs we ate, our return was practically inevitable. We couldn’t get those eggs out of our heads plus we were really in the mood for a hamburger.

Bacon Cheeseburger at Cup Cafe in TucsonThis Real Thing burger lived up to its name with a half pound beef chuck patty and assorted toppings.

We discovered a different vibe and menu when we returned for dinner a few nights after our weekend brunch. The restaurant was less crowded and the vibe was more low key. However, the hamburger was just as good as we hoped it would be.

Called the Real Thing, this burger came with 1/2 pound beef chuck patty, butter lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickle and a potato bun. Adding cheddar cheese and bacon was an easy decision that we didn’t regret.

Alas, our Southwest Caesar Salad was a disappointment with its pedestrian mishmash of grilled chicken served over flavorless lettuce. Accordingly, we recommend eating a Real Thing Burger unless you want to try the restaurant’s Drunken Fish Tacos instead.

Pro Tip
Order a Barrio Bread starter if you don’t have time to visit the bakery.

The Cup Cafe is located inside the Hotel Congress at 311 E Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.

Seis Kitchen

Cochata at Seis Kitchen in TucsonThis cup of Cochata may have been the best thing we drank in Tucson. Seis Kitchen made it with cold brew coffee and horchata.

Located inside the open-air Mercado San Agustin, the original Seis Kitchen had us after just one sip. Granted, that sip was Cochata, the restaurant’s unique blend of cold brew and horchata with cinnamon sprinkled on top, which was just one of the daily aguas frescas on offer.

As for food, the award-winning eatery serves dishes inspired by street food in six different Mexican regions for breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner. And, while our meal happened to be in the morning, that didn’t stop us from sampling guacamole, handmade tortillas, oven-roasted salsas and, of course, dessert.

Fun Fact
Seis translaes to six, i.e the number of Mexican regions represented on Seis Kitchen’s menu. These regions are Baja, Mexico City, Northern Mexico, Oaxaca, Western Mexico and Yucatan.

Open wide! The burritos at Seis Kitchen are a bite and a half.

Seis Kitchen isn’t fancy, there’s no table service and its prices would easily fit into the cheap eats section of this guide. However, dishes like Chilaquiles Tradicional and an El Jefe Breakfast Burrito were as good, if not better, than dishes we ate at fancier Tucson restaurants. Serving our Churros with cajeta, a delicious dipping sauce made with condensed milk and cinnamon, sealed the deal that started with our first sip of Cochata.

Pro Tip
Check the chalk board for daily food, dessert and drink specials before you place your order.

Seis Kitchen has multiple locations. We ate at the Mercado San Agustin located at 130 South Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ 85745, United States.

Five Points Market & Restaurant

Inside Points Market and Restaurant in TucsonFive Points operates as both a restaurant and store. While we chose to beat the heat by sitting inside the dual-purpose space, there’s also an outdoor patio that’s ideal for chilling and people watching.

We can still remember the novelty of eating our first USA-made kouign amann in San Francisco in 2013. Ask us back then what the heck that glorious French pastry was and we would have said queen a-what?. Fast forward to today and the flaky Brittany-based cousin to the croissant has massively expanded its footprint to most major cities across the USA and the world.

Kouignamann with Goat Cheese at Five Points Market and Restaurant in TucsonFive Points Bakery and Restaurant baked this Kouign Amann with a generous amount of herbed goat cheese.

Sure enough, the first thing from Five Points’ eclectic display of baked goods that caught our eye was a kouign amann. The cafe’s cookies looked fab too but that kouign amann was a stunner that we couldn’t resist. We were simply dazzled by its additional layer of herbed goat cheese baked into the four cornered viennoiserie.

It was a luscious treat only made better by the kind of excessive local touch we expect from great American food. But that cheese-filled kouign amann one just one thing we ate at Five Points.

Sausage Sandwich at Five Points Market and Restaurant in TucsonNot your every day sausage sandwich, this open-faced beauty topped a slice of house brioche with a chiltepin-sage pork sausage patty, Dreamflower Garden chives and sharp cheddar. Local tomato jam and Sonoran honey butter provided the finishing touches.

The cafe hit Daryl’s breakfast sweet spot with a sausage sandwich that featured a hyper-local house made sausage patty studded with piquant chiltepin and other spices. It was a savory wonder served open faced on brioche bread and topped with a thick layer of melted white cheddar cheese. As for Mindi, she loved her generous huevos rancheros – a mountain of tortillas, beans and eggs that was also topped with cheddar cheese.

Five Points serves more lunch-focused fare as well. At the time of our visit, options included a pulled pork torta, an appetizing vegan smoked beet sandwich and a unique cobb salad with fried potatoes and poppy seed vinaigrette.

Pro Tip
Bring a shopping bag to shop for housewares like candles, local organic produce, wines and flowers before or after your breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Five Points Market & Restaurant is located at 756 S Stone Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.

Tito & Pep

Tito and Pep in TucsonMod decor sets the tone at Tito & Pep, a popular Midtown Tucson restaurant.

After working at various Jean-Georges restaurants, Chef John Martinez clearly had both culinary chops and a vision when he opened Tito & Pep in 2018. The restaurant’s decor is mod and its menu features a variety of interesting dishes that the restaurant describes as Tusconan.

Wine and cocktails flow freely in the 60s retro dining room and at the restaurant’s bar. There’s also a mesquite wood-fired grill in the kitchen that chefs use to prepare many of the restaurant’s dishes.

Fun Fact
Martinez named Tito & Pep after his grandmother and great-aunt who were actually named Dorothy and Marie.

Grilled NY Strip Steak at Tito and Pep in TucsonTito & Pep served our Grilled NY Strip with roasted chiles, charro beans and onion.

Practically every local recommended the Midtown Tucson eatery to us whether we asked for recommendations or not. The chic, retro bistro is clearly a favorite for both date nights and special occasions.

While we wanted to love Tito & Pep, we simply liked it. Perhaps we would have loved it had the staff been more welcoming and attentive. Was it post pandemic malaise? We’re not quite sure. We feel a return visit is in order on our next swing through Tucson.

Pro Tip
Don’t skip Tito & Pep’s curated wine list which includes bottles from Argentina, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the US. Ironically, despite the restaurant’s Tusconan food, we didn’t notice any Arizona wines on the list at the time of our visit.

Tito & Pep is located at 4122 E Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85712, United States.

Boca by Chef Maria Mazon

BOCA by Chef Maria Mazon in TucsonThe sign in the back of BOCA’s dining room stating that “our salsas are hotter than your wife” provides a clue about the best thing to eat at this particular Tucson restaurant.

We were excited to eat tacos at Boca after rooting for Chef Maria Mazon during the 18th season of Top Chef. She was a popular cheftsetant that season and a key reason why Tucson hit our radar.

And it’s not just us. Mazon received a coveted James Beard award nomination in 2022 and has been featured in various media, both print and tv, across the nation. Her reputation for cooking authentic Sonoran Tacos is second to none.

We’re glad we ate at BOCA but it turns out that our expectations were in the wrong place. In retrospect it’s a more of a fun taqueria geared to students as opposed to a chef-driven restaurant. The food, especially the salsa, is solid and the beer selection is extensive.

Taco at BOCA by Chef Maria Mazon in TucsonWe wanted to love the overstuffed Tacos at BOCA. It turns out that we loved BOCA’s salsa more.

We were surprised that Mazon’s over-stuffed tacos lacked the kind of elegance we would expect from a pedigreed chef. They quickly fell apart when we lifted them off our plates. (We were told by management that the issue had something to do with the restaurant’s tortilla machine.)

However, we loves Mazon’s range of spicy salsas even though the habanero left our mouths in a 15 minute coma. Mazon apparently rotates BOCA’s unique salsa flavors on a daily basis. Our favorites were chipotle and carrot jalapeño.

Pro Tip
Start you meal with deep fried BOCA Balls filled with chipotle mashed potatoes and coated with panko bread crumbs.

BOCA by Chef Maria Mazon is located at 533 N 4th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705, United States.

Additional Tucson Restaurants

Neon Sign at BOCA by Chef Maria Mazon in TucsonThe food in Tucson may or may not change your world. Either way, it will make you happy.

We’re confident that you’ll like our favorite Tucson restaurants but understand if you want to try one or more of the following additional spots:

Tucson Cheap Eats

Chinese Food at Noodleholics in TucsonWhile most of Tucson’s best cheap eats involve tacos and burritos, spots like Noodleholics serve tasty food from other parts of the world.

While the Tucson’s restaurant game is strong, its cheap eats game is arguably stronger.

This is a city where fast food chains take a back seat to dozens, if not hundreds, of local joints. Some serve American food and other specialize in Asian food. However, most of these eateries are located in shacks on 12th Street or what the city has dubbed The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.

Could there be a better food crawl concept than driving along a street filled with taquerias and stopping at as many as your stomach will allow? We think not. We also think that this is where you should start your exploration of cheap eats in Tucson.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

Taqueria Pico de Gallo in TucsonTaqueria Pico de Gallo is difficult to miss on Tucson’s 23 Miles of Mexican Food. It’s also difficult to resist.

Located in a bright yellow building with red trim, Taqueria Pico de Gallo is far from a hidden gem. Locals are well aware that this Tucson taqueria serves some of the city’s best cheap eats from a menu filled with reasonably priced burros, quesadillas, soups, tacos, tortas and tostadas. At the time of our visits, none of these items was over $20 and most were under $10.

The best way to convey how much we liked the food at Taqueria Pico de Gallo is to start by saying that we ate at the casual eatery twice in one week. Yes, since one visit wasn’t enough, we returned for a repeat performance as our final meal in Tucson.

Tacos and Salsas at Taqueria Pico de Gallo in TucsonWe liked these tacos so much that we returned to Pico de Gallo and ate them again.

Not wanting to miss out during our initial visit, we tried a variety of tacos filled with beef cheek meat (Cabeza), spicy shredded beef (Barbacoa) and fish (Pescado) on a combination of flour and corn tortillas. Filled with chopped cabbage, hot peppers, cilantro and pico, each came with pickled carrots and red onion on the side.

Since that first visit wasn’t our last visit, we knew exactly what to order when we returned – two flour tortilla tacos – Lengua (tongue) and pescado (fish.) We also drank horchata served from a ginormous white round cambro. We may have also sneaked in a cheesy, meaty quesadilla too.

Pro Tip
Sit and wait for your number to be announced after you place your order and pay. It’s hard to miss since the restaurant makes its announcements in both English and Spanish.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo has multiple locations. We ate tacos at the original stand located at 2618 S 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.

Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones

Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones in TucsonCalling Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones a restaurant is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more of a food cart with an attached vehicle.

Despite their popularity in Tucson, Sonoran Hot Dogs weren’t invented in the Arizona city. That credit goes to the Sonoran city of Hermosillo located 250 miles south of Tucson in Mexico.

However, while we haven’t yet traveled south of the border to Hermosillo, it’s difficult to imagine the original hot dogs being any better than the ones we ate at Tucson’s Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones.

Fun Fact
Sonoran Hot Dogs are wrapped in in bacon, grilled and stuffed in soft bolillo buns. Typical toppings include jalapeño peppers, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, pinto beans and tomato.

Sonoran Hot Dogs at Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones in TucsonThese loaded Sonoran Hot Dogs at Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones didn’t need any toppings. We added them anyway.

We ate several Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson and the ones we ate at Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones were our favorites. But why? It certainly wasn’t due to a fancy dining room or large menu.

Maybe we liked Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones so much because each loaded wiener was served in a toasted bun, came with a grilled pepper and cost just $4 at the time of our visit. Maybe it was because of the cooler filled with salsa verde, tomatillo and shredded cheddar. Or maybe it was because of the huge jar of Valentina hot sauce that we couldn’t resist.

Actually, it was for all of these reasons.

Pro Tip
Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones has a small outdoor dining area unless you prefer to eat your Sonoran Hot Dog in your air conditioned car.

Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones is located at 1140 S 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.

Los Tacos Apson

Tacos Apson in TucsonWhile you can and should expect great tacos at Los Tacos Apson, don’t expect a fancy dining room.

Locals have flocked to Los Tacos Apson on 12th Avenue since the barebones taco shop opened in 2001 and most order tacos. Sure, Los Tacos has other Sonoran foods like quesadillas and burros on its menu, but tacos are the star of the show here. After all, the word tacos is in the joint’s name.

Located on Tucson’s Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, Los Tacos Apson is locally famous for its asada although it also sells tacos filled with barbacoa, al pastor, tongue and tripe. There are also combination tacos like the Hass that’s filled with carne asada, cheese, and green chile and a ‘big boy’ Apson Taco with carne asada, cheese, green chile, onion, bacon and mushrooms.

Our first two Los Tacos Apson whet our appetite for more tacos.

The asada and lengua (i.e. tongue) tacos we ate were so beautifully charred and full-flavored that we almost felt bad to add condiments. However, our trepidations disappeared after we noticed a colorful condiment bar filled with various pickled vegetables and salsa.

It was a good move. We enjoyed our dressed tacos so much that we ordered seconds which we washed down with milky house horchata. 

Pro Tip
Los Tacos Apson is named after the iconic Sonoran rock band Los Apson. Owner Franciso Jamiver Durazo’s father was the band’s drummer.

Los Tacos Aspon is located at 3501 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.

El Güero Canelo

El Guero Canelo in TucsonEl Güero Canelo is Tucson’s most famous spot for eating Sonoran Hot Dogs.

Most people who eat just one Sonoran Hot Dog in plete their mission at El Güero Canelo.

Open since 1993 and located on The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, it’s a solid option that’s both big and spacious. Plus, it sports a James Beard award in recognition of its timeless appeal and owner Daniel Contreras’s commitment to serving quality regional food.

This regional food doesn’t just include Sonoran Hot Dogs. Burros, caramelos, quesadillas, tacos and tortas are also on the menu. That’s all well and good but food travelers like us go to El Güero Canelo to eat Sonoran Hot Dogs.

Sonoran Hot Dog at El Guero Canelo in TucsonEl Güero Canelo’s Sonoran Hot Dog is a local favorite.

El Güero Canelo offers three different dogs – Sonoran Style (the standard), Sammy Dog (two bacon-wrapped franks in one bun) and Chucho Dog (with beef sausage). They all come in a soft bun and are topped with beans, grilled & fresh onion, tomato, mayo, mustard and jalapeño sauce.

We shared a Sonoran Dog during our Mexican food crawl with no regrets. Priced at $3.99 at the time of our visit, it was easy to eat and didn’t break the bank.

Pro Tip
Don’t miss the massive toppings bar filled with veggies, cheese, salsas and more.

El Güero Canelo has multiple locations. We ate at the restaurant located at 5201 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85706, United States.

Rollies Mexican Patio

Rollies in TucsonThe dining room at Rollies Mexican Patio is both colorful and festive.

We suspected we were in for a unique dining experience as soon as we parked our car at Rollies Mexican Patio during our Mexican food crawl. After all, it’s not every day that we’re greeted by a piñata perched atop a tall pole.

That piñata was a sign of good things to come from a Tucson chef that spins traditional Mexican dishes to make them his own. Matteo Otero opened the original Rollies Mexican Patio on 12th Avenue in 2018 and named it after his Rolled Taco dish. Some of his other creative dishes include Flat Enchiladas, Birria Ramen and Concha Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Rolled Taco at Rollies in TucsonIs this a Rolled Taco or is this a Taquito? The answer is yes to both.

In an ideal world, we would have ordered a variety of Otero’s dishes. However, our focus was to eat the former caterer’s Rolled Tacos which were filled with chicken, fried to order and topped with spicy rojo sauce. We had a revelation as soon as we saw the Rolled Tacos that you probably have as well.

If you’re thinking that Rollie sounds like Mexican Taquitos, you are correct. We thought the same thing since both Rollies and Taquitos are essentially fried tacos. You’re also correct if you think they sound crunchy and delicious because that’s exactly what they were.

Pro Tip
Head to Rollies Mexican Patio on a Thursday or Saturday if you want to slurp Otero’s Birria Ramen.

Rollies Mexican Patio is located at 4573 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85714, United States.

Noodleholics

Dry Guilin at Noodleholics in TucsonWe didn’t miss broth when we ate these Dry Guilin noodles at Noodleholics in Tucson.

Asian food in the USA has come a long way and we miss it when we’re in Europe. Sure, there was always a fine assortment of Asian eateries in east coast American cities for as long as we can remember. But now, with the expanding forces of travel, education and globalization, it’s practically impossible to not find good Asian food from coast to coast. While in Tucson, we found good Asian food at Noodleholics.

At first glance, Noodleholics seems unassuming enough with its strip mall corner locale and generic gray tile floored space. But belying its somewhat interesting combination of dry and wet noodle bowls is an array of slammin’ Chinese and Taiwanese dishes inspired by regions including Guandong, Sichuan and Guangxi. We ordered several of these dishes with abandon and ate them with gusto.

House Wonton Soup at Noodleholics in TucsonWe slurped this bowl of House Wonton soup until the last drops were gone.

We always appreciate quality wontons and textbook char siu pork. Noodleholics does both of these things well. Our Dry Guilin Bowl placed barbecued meat over a mound of fresh rice noodles and topped both with roasted peanuts, pickled long beans and fresh cilantro while our House Wonton soup was a comforting bowl of yum with a melange of pork wontons, barbecued pork, shrimp and veggies.

Other items of note on the Noodleholics menu include Salt & Pepper Fried Wings and Steamed Dumplings. We can say this since we ate both and wanted to lick the plates.

Pro Tip
Optional proteins at Noodleholics include beef shank, bbq pork, chicken, crispy pork, pig intestine, shrimp and tofu.

Noodleholics has multiple locations. We ate at the Central Tucson location at 3502 E Grant Road, Tucson, AZ 85716, United States.

Additional Tucson Cheap Eats

Salsa at Tacos Apson in TucsonCheap eats are good eats when they come with fresh toppings like these we ate at Los Tacos Apson in Tucson.

We won’t blame you if you want to eat even more cheap eats in Tucson since, after all, they’re cheap. Here are some additional spots worth a visit:

Tuscon Desserts

Churros at Seis Kitchen in TucsonDipping this Churro into cajeta, a delicious dipping sauce made with condensed milk and cinnamon, was a delightful way to end our meal at Seis Kitchen.

Eating dessert in Tucson poses one challenge for those who love eating savory Sonoran dishes – saving enough stomach space. Assuming you’re up to the challenge, the following spots won’t disappoint your sweet tooth urges:

Monsoon Chocolate

Chocolate Bars at Monsoon Chocolate in TucsonMonsoon’s chocolate bars aren’t just bean-to-bar creations. They’re also miniature works of art.

Adam Krantz brought years of chocolate experience to the table when he opened Monsoon Chocolate in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. His bean-to-bar chocolate operation has quickly become a local favorite and has also achieved national recognition, racking up numerous awards along the way.

Although Monsoon wasn’t operating as a cafe during our visit, we still enjoying Krantz’s bean-to-bar products. This enjoyment involved tasting creamy, dreamy Frozen Hot Chocolate on the spot and selecting colorful bonbons to savor later.

Monsoon Chocolates with Yellow Background in TucsonYou have to admit that our bonbon selection was visually appealing. We’re pleased to to report that the colorful selection tasted as good as it looked.

It was a feat to narrow down the bonbon selection from 16 to just four since each little gem is filled with local products like Mezcal Caramel and Horchata. Ultimately, we settled on bonbons filled with Chiltepin Pepper, Exo Chocolate, Prickly Pear Caramel and Sonoran Sea Salt.

Each hand-painted bauble was remarkable for its local filling that was both tasty and of place. Don’t ask us which was our favorite since we liked them all.

Fun Fact
Monsoon Chocolate is named after the monsoons that the Sonoran Desert experiences during the summer season.

Monsoon Chocolate is located at 234 E 22nd Street, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.

Oasis Fruit Cones

Raspados and Mural at Oasis Fruit Cones in TucsonWe took time to admire the mural at Oasis Fruit Cones before we ate this Raspoado .

We weren’t familiar with Raspados until we visited Tucson or so we thought. As we quickly learned, a Raspado is the Mexican version of shaved ice and it comes with benefits.

Yes, we’ve previously eaten shaved ice versions in cities like Taipei and New Orleans. But we’ve never eaten shaved ice that’s both smothered in condensed milk and chock full of fresh fruit and ice cream.

Daryl Eats Raspados at Oasis Fruit Cones in TucsonDaryl was all smiles as he dug into our Raspado cup at Oasis Fruit Cones.

We saw Raspados on various menus in Tucson and finally tried a cup at Oasis Fruit Cones, a local favorite that has specialized in the frozen treat since brothers Alfonso and John Carrizosa opened the shop in 1983.

Oasis offers 15 different flavors that span the fruit rainbow. We opted for mango even though strawberry is apparently the most popular flavor. It was a good choice that tasted like summer in a cup.

Pro Tip
Take some time to admire the colorful ‘talking’ mural on Oasis’s wall. It celebrates various local businesses located on 12th Avenue.

Oasis Fruit Cones has multiple locations. We visited the one located at 4126 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85714, United States.

La Estrella Bakery

Counter at La Estrella Bakery in TucsonChoosing what to eat at La Estrella Bakery poses a challenge due to its vast selection of Mexican baked goods.

La Estrella Bakery has been baking traditional Mexican pastries in Tucson since 1986.

This family-run business doesn’t experiment with recipes or ingredients. Instead it bakes traditional Mexican breads, cookies, donuts and pastries ever single day of the week. The bakery also sells savory Mexican items like tamales and tortillas to its loyal customer base.

Fun Fact
In 2021, Food & Wine deemed La Estrella Bakery’s donuts to be the best donuts in Arizona. After eating a couple donuts, we don’t disagree.

Cookies at La Estrella Bakery in TucsonEating Mexican sweets at La Estrella Bakery is the next best thing to eating Mexican sweets in Mexico.

We first visited La Estrella Bakery’s location on 12th street as part of our exploration of Tucson’s 23 miles of Mexican food. The donuts were a nice change of pace from the many tacos we were eating but, to be honest, we were too full to fully appreciate the sweet treats.

Our second visit at the Mercado San Agustin was a different matter. This time, we were hungry for breakfast and could fully appreciate the Pan Dulce and Bear Claw that we ordered. It also didn’t hurt that we paired the pastries with excellent coffee that we bought at Presta Coffee Roasters located next to the bakery. It was both a winning combination and a great way to start the day.

Pro Tip
Bring a shopping bag to the original location where you can buy local spices and Mexican staples in addition to donuts and tamale.

La Estrella Bakery has multiple locations. We visited the original location at 5266 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85706, United States as well as the location inside the Mercado San Agustin.

Tucson Restaurant FAQs

What are the top foods to eat at Tucson restaurants?

Tucson is famous for its take on Sonoran foods like Sonoran Hot Dogs and Tacos.

Are Tucson restaurants expensive?

Tucson restaurants range from cheap eats to fine dining. The city has numerous moderately priced restaurants for travelers on a budget as well as fancier restaurants fit for a splurge.

Is tipping mandatory at Tucson restaurants?

Yes. Tipping is mandatory for table service. However, tipping for counter service is optional.

What time do people eat dinner in Tucson?

People typically eat dinner between 7pm and 9pm in Tucson.

Are restaurant reservations necessary in Tucson?

Yes. Reservations are necessary at Tucson’s better restaurants.

Where did Anthony Bourdain eat in Tucson?

Anthony Bourdain never filmed a Tucson episode on The Layover, No Reservations or Parts Unknown.

How far is Tucson from Phoenix?

Tucson is approximately 115 miles or 185 kilometers from Phoenix.

Where to Stay in Tucson

The Citizen Hotel in Tucson

Tuxon Hotel Pool at Night in Tucson
The Citizen Hotel and the Tuxon are two of the best hotels in Tucson.

We stayed at two hotels during our week-long stay in Tucson and highly recommend them both. These hotels are The Citizen Hotel and The Tuxon

Located in a historic downtown building, The Citizen Hotel is Tucson’s first wine-themed boutique hotel. Guests can taste and drink wine at this well-appointed hotel when they’re not soaking in a tub. Actually, they can also drink wine in the tub since each has a wine caddy. Contact the hotel directly to book a room.

Modern and fun, The Tuxon attracts travelers who appreciate the hotel’s central location as well as its hopping pool bar. Rooms are comfortable and parking is ample at this Marriott Bonvoy Design Hotel. Guests can even use the laundry room for free. You can book a room via booking.com.

Hungry for More in Tucson?

Check back soon to discover our picks for the best bars, brunches and coffee shops in Tucson. We’ll also share our favorite foods to eat in Tucson.

About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosures

Sponsorship
We thank Visit Tucson and its partners for their assistance to facilitate this and other articles.

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Original Publication Date: December 11, 2022

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