Saguaro Corners Ice House had two performances happening at the same time on a recent Wednesday night.
On the patio, a country and Western trio, dubbed the 2 Lazy 2 Ranch Band, held court as it cranked out Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash covers in a guitar, mandolin and banjo format.
The open-pit fire, keeping patrons warm while they listened, made the entire restaurant smell like a Cub Scout campground.
Inside the main dining area, guests were treated to a show of their own, as a pack of javelinas made itself at home just beyond the restaurant’s large picture windows.
The seven playful peccaries sniffed around in the dirt, occasionally jostling with one another as the sun sank behind the mountains in the west.
That alone made it worth the trip.
The delicious food was an added bonus.
Like many eastside businesses, Saguaro Corners isn’t exactly easy to get to, especially if you live in midtown or points west.
There are no quick routes to the eatery, which opened in April, a reimagining of the original Saguaro Corners, courtesy of chef Gabe Greenberg and Mesquite Homes builder Jim Campbell.
It sits a stone’s throw away from Saguaro National Park East. You can either drive for miles one way from Tucson proper to get there on Old Spanish Trail or miles from Vail coming from the other direction.
Many of the patrons sitting around us on our two visits, once for lunch and once for dinner, were either visiting the park or lived fairly close, based on their conversations.
We live near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, but we would gladly travel back to Saguaro Corners. It might even make our regular dining rotation.
Our first trip to the restaurant found us sampling some of its dinner entree selections, as well as several of its à la carte tacos.
I had the chicken enchiladas ($12.99), which wasn’t the most creative choice, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Saguaro Corners didn’t disappoint. Two corn tortilla enchiladas smothered in a creamy green sauce and a Mexican-cheese blend helped fill a plate that was rounded out by a generous helping of refried beans and rice.
Neither the beans nor the rice were terribly flavorful, but the enchiladas were full of thick chunks of pulled chicken, tender and moist. The green sauce, while not excessively spicy, sat tangy on the tongue. I found myself adding spoons full of the restaurant’s homemade salsa for an added punch.
My wife ordered the Chimichurri skirt steak ($14.99), a pile of steak strips, marinated and also quite tender, accompanied by a second pile of sliced sautéed peppers and onions. The steak was easy to chew, not overcooked , and its juices worked well when soaked into the neighboring potato wedges.
We opted for four à la carte tacos, which seemed to be the most popular items on the menu during both visits.
Three out of the four — the carnitas, mojo chicken and chicken mole tacos — came on soft flour tortillas, with the fourth taco, the Jaime, in a hard shell.
My top choice was the chicken mole taco ($3.50), which had pulled chicken, covered in a thick mole sauce that managed to stay within the tortilla and off the table, the floor and my shirt. So often, mole can be soupy, which takes away from the taste because there is none left on the meat before it hits your mouth. This was a welcome change.
My wife was a fan of the Jaime taco ($1.99), which was probably my least favorite. The beef within seemed a little overdone, though the generous amount of lettuce, salsa and cheese helped mask the toughness.
The carnitas taco ($2.99) was another winner. The slow braised pork practically melted in our mouths and was the dominant flavor in a dish that came topped with white onion, cilantro and chile verde. The mojo chicken taco ($3.50), was also pleasant, serving up another round of tender chicken chunks, pico de gallo and cheese.
We washed the meal down with Mexican milk and cookies ($4.99), which at Saguaro Corners means mini churros and a glass of spiced milk. The churros, about seven of them in all, were tough but softened when dipped in the milk. The milk itself was too spicy to drink. Each sip was like a Bruce Lee-style kick to the throat. We’ll probably stick to a different dessert the next time around.
Our lunchtime visit was just as filling. The waitress, who served us on our first trip out, remembered our drink order and we had them on our table mere moments after sitting down.
Opting for lighter fair, we started with the quesadilla ($5.99) appetizer and plunked down an extra $3.99 for chicken. It seemed bit expensive for what we received. The plate comes with four pizza-shaped slices, a mix of Mexican cheese and chicken in a flour tortilla covering. We loved the taste. They were thicker than most quesadillas that we’ve sampled in town. We just thought there would be more.
I had the Aztec Burger ($11.99) as my main dish — an 8-ounce hunk of beef on a soft bun and topped in a delightful spread of cayenne candied bacon, chorizo queso fundido and fried jalapeño chips. The burger was decadently juicy, and each layer provided a different flavor and texture. The bacon was crispy, the cheese and jalapeño chips spicy but not overbearing.
I skipped the usual fries side for an order of bleu cheese coleslaw ($1.99), which turned out to be a wise choice. Saguaro Corners shines with its unique side orders. It is surprising they are not a more prominent part of the menu. The slaw was sweet, but balanced out with thick chunks of soft cheese.
My wife ordered the Old Pueblo Mojo Chicken Philly ($11.99), which came on an equally soft roll, covered in melted Mexican cheese, onions and peppers.
She opted for the chorizo mac and cheese ($2.99) as her side, a bowl of shell pasta with a distinct chorizo tang.
We ate our food while keeping watch for further javelina high jinks.