Lodge on the Desert chef Ryan Clark is in the running for Food & Wine's 2013 Best New Chef. Voting ends Monday.


Food & Wine's best new chef could be tucsonan

Ryan Clark, the talented young chef at Lodge on the Desert, is the lone Arizonan and one of only two non-Texans on Food & Wine's 2013 Best New Chef Southwest poll.

Clark is pitted against nine other chefs in the region. He was tied for first in voting that began Monday and runs until next Monday.

Vote at foodandwine.com/peoples-best-new-chef until Monday. The competition is divided into 10 regions and the chefs who get he most votes in each region will be named the People's Best New Chef.

Downtown welcomes Mexico City-style eats

There's one more culinary reason to venture downtown.

Central Mexico-inspired Penca opened last week in a fully stripped down and reimagined space at 50 E. Broadway.

Owners Ron and Patricia Schwabe spent more than a year building out the 1,800-square-foot empty shell of the 1920s building. Most of the materials the couple used were repurposed from other historic Tucson buildings they have restored through their company Peach Properties.

Penca borrows culinary traditions and follows recipes from Patricia Schwabe's native Mexico City. There's a variety of chilies, many of them roasted, and a starring role for vegetables. Everything is made from scratch, including tortillas and salsas.

The menu covers breakfast, lunch and dinner with prices running about $8 to $10 for breakfast, $10 to $12 for lunch and $10 to $20 for dinner. The international bar pours a variety of tequila, mescal and other Mexican spirits.

Penca is open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Call for dinner reservations at 203-7681. Details: facebook.com/pencatucson

Guadalajara opening fast-casual cousin

The original Guadalajara Grill is spinning off a fast-casual cousin with the opening Wednesday of Calle Tepa, Mexican Street Grill.

The eatery, in the former El Coqui Caribbean restaurant at 6151 E. Broadway, is a venture between Guadalajara owner Emma Vera and her son JorDan Fuller. Vera owns the original Guadalajara on East Prince Road, and her son has worked alongside her since the restaurant opened.

Calle Tepa's menu will include foods you would expect to find served from a Mexico street cart, Fuller said. Everything comes à la cart so you can mix up beef and chicken street tacos ($1.50 to $2.50). Enchiladas are $2.50 each and you can get burritos and burrito bowls for $6.50 to $7.

The restaurant is set to open at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. Hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Details: 777-5962.

The Abbey brings back signature burger

The Abbey rolled out a new dinner menu last week that will delight fans of its original Abbey burger.

The burger is back by popular demand and it joins other seasonal newcomers like the smoked duck bruschetta appetizer prepared with poached pear, crescenza cheese drizzled with a blueberry-pinot syrup; and a filet of beef carpaccio appetizer served with addictive housemade potato chips.

The Abbey, 6960 E. Sunrise Drive, also serves brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; until 10 p.m Fridays and Saturdays.

Cookies and Cocktails to benefit Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona is marking the organization's 100th anniversary with Cookies and Cocktails, a fundraising event centered on the Girl Scouts' ubiquitous cookies.

In addition to nibbling on savory hors d'oeuvres, guests will be treated to Girl Scout Cookie desserts created by Tucson chefs. Restaurants represented include Feast, Pastiche Modern Eatery, Hub Restaurant and Creamery, Kingfisher Bar & Grill, Bob's Steak and Chop House, and The Abbey.

Cookies and Cocktails will be from 7 to 10 p.m. March 22 at Skyline Country Club, 5200 N. St. Andrews Drive. It's $95 a person at the door. Reserve tickets ($75, $125 for a couple)at getinvolved.girlscoutssoaz.org/cookiescocktails

Epazote shows off regional eats, wines

The Hilton El Conquistador's new restaurant, Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails, is hosting four dining events that focus on regional wines and ingredients.

First up on Wednesday, Epazote will prepare a tasting menu centered on Patagonia's Lazy J2 Ranch, known for its natural grass-fed beef. The menu includes Southwestern beef carpaccio with fried poblano and braised short ribs with goat cheese mashed potatoes .

It starts at 6 p.m. at Epazote, 10000 N. Oracle Road, at Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort. The cost is $50, $70 with wine pairings.

Reservations are required; call 544-1705 or visit epazotekitchen.com .

The second dinner will be held on April 17.

Melting Pot changes menu, pricing strategy

Melting Pot, the place you go when you feel like indulging your inner fondue fascination, has undergone a transformation.

The chain, with a location at the Foothills Mall, 7395 N. La Cholla Blvd., has introduced à la carte selections to complement multicourse options. It's also restructured its pricing to include single entree items or multicourse options.

In a news release, Richard Abrahamson, who owns the Tucson Melting Pot, said the chocolate dessert pots start at $7.95 per person. The sweet and savory duet of cheese and chocolate fondue starts at $15.90 per person.

The Melting Pot is open from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Details: 575-6358 or meltingpot.com/tucson

Cathalena E. Burch