About this time of year, we Tucsonans start getting antsy.
It's hot, and only going to get hotter and that insatiable craving starts.
Beach. We need the beach.
Well, the next best thing to a sandy-bordered stretch of water is a beachy vibe. And that you can get, much cheaper than a few tanks of gas on a lead-footed drive to San Diego, at Fini's Landing. Even better, you get the added bonus of amazing views of the Catalina Mountains.
Fini's Landing - with its metal flip-flop door handles and ship-shaped bar (say that three times fast) - is all about easy-breezy from its taco and seafood-heavy menu to its laid-back atmosphere. Fini's, which opened in February in the space formerly occupied by Larocca's Classic Italian Cuisine, is a breath of fresh air to the Foothills dining scene.
Aside from a mural of a female matador dueling with a spiky-nosed fish (marlin? swordfish? I dunno - I grew up in the desert), the main décor is the view of those Catalinas. A rolling, glass garage door opens up to a chill patio decorated with a shark-fin piñata. If it weren't for those mountains, you'd swear you were in San Diego. Or Mexico. Or Florida. Fini's Landing feels like a day at the beach, only without the ocean or pesky sand that ends up in bad places.
It's a bar, so you'll find some serious happy-hour specials ($2 fish tacos and 50-cent wings - a menu expansion is in the works so more cheap eats are coming) along with serious beer. Local Barrio Brewing Co. made Beached Ale, an amber, special for Fini's, which also serves Barrio's Tucson Blonde along with selections from Tempe-based Four Peaks Brewery.
The menu is a cross between traditional bar food and taqueria fare. It's not fussy, but it's thoughtful. The chicken's all natural, the beef grass-fed and the fish in those tacos is wild-caught Alaskan cod.
"All of our fish comes from sustainable fisheries," says Scott Mencke, who owns Fini's with his partner, Doug "Fini" Finical. The eatery aims to use as many healthy, sustainable products as it can, Mencke says.
The danger at bar/restaurant combos is that food can take a back seat to the brew. But Fini's, for the most part, pays attention to the details. It makes its own hot-wing sauce, called chubasco house sauce, that's spiky with a touch of heat and vinegar-y and flat-out great in the creamy chubasco mayo. We asked for some on the side to dunk an order of crispy, battered-just-right sweet onion rings ($6.99). We also liked the Beached Ale sauce that accompanied them. A tarragon-heavy, mayonnaise-y-mustardish blend, it has some Beached Ale in it but doesn't smack of alcohol.
The tacos ($3.50), as mentioned, are taqueria style. Translation: smallish and, in the case of the carne asada version, skimpy on the meat. The La Paz fish taco, though, featured a healthy hunk of cod. Lightly battered, the fish was crisp and meaty and well-dressed with a cabbage slaw, pico de gallo and a cilantro cream. Initially, the taco eaters balked at a corn tortilla wrapping, but Fini's homemade version is light and airy, enough to convert die-hard flour-tortilla lovers.
The pangas ($11.99 for two) - named for the Mexican fishing skiffs - are Fini's take on Asian lettuce wraps. Boats of grilled Romaine hold scoops of filling, in this case carne asada and a corn and roasted poblano chicken, which was mild. The romaine lettuce swaddling the insides was on the thick side, but it was cool and crisp and a novel way to lower the calories. The accompanying charro beans were soupy and soft.
The standout of the Fini's meal, though, was the chubasco burger ($9.99). Easily one of the best in town. The patty could stand some, uh, beefing up. It was a bit small for such a hearty bun. But aside from that, the burger was so perfect that I was halfway done before I realized I hadn't put any condiments on it. Didn't even need 'em. The accompanying fries were medium-thick and, well, pretty much life-changing. The burnished outsides were ultra-crispy while the insides were soft and light. They were way too salty, and this from a gal who loves her sodium, but, with a lighter touch, these fries will be just right.
But, back to the burger.
A thin blanket of melted cheddar coated the grilled patty while strips of pecan-smoked bacon added crisp, campfire flavor. A ciabatta roll, soft and dense but not the crusty, jaw-dislocating kind, cradled the whole thing. It was lightly grilled and soaked up all the melted butter goodness coating its cut sides. The innovative touch - fried, fresh jalapeños. They were crisp and packed just enough heat. Each bite packed smokiness, a little fire, creamy cheese, buttery bread and juicy meat. A little smear of chubasco mayo and it was the perfect storm of flavor.
This burger is reason enough to skip the beach and stay in town.
Fini's Landing 5689 N. Swan Road, 299-1010, finislanding.com
• Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.
• Wine list: You'll find the West Coast represented, including - no surprise! - Flipflop Wines, along with a few high-end offerings; $5.50 a glass to $75 a bottle.
• Noise level: The high-ceilinged interior gets loud but not enough to turn you into Grandpa Simpson, "Wha? What did you say?!"
• Vegetarian options: Yes, such as black bean and guacamole tacos and salads.
• Family call: Quite kid-friendly, even if it's part bar.
• Reservations: For large groups only.
• Price range: Entrees are mostly $8.99-$11.99.