This is another in our series on the history of longtime Tucson restaurants.
Crossroads Restaurant has been satisfying Tucsonans’ hunger for more than 81 years.
The family-owned Crossroads opened in 1936. At the time, it was a simple hamburger and hot dog stand. It eventually converted into a drive-in, which was unique at the time, as it came before fast-food restaurants were seen on every corner.
Although the drive-in service isn’t as popular as it once was, Crossroads still offers it — mainly to pay homage to their longtime regular customers who still long to order beef fajitas in the comfort of their pajamas.
Roberto Gonzalez currently owns the restaurant with his wife, Aracely. Before Roberto became the owner, his father and uncle were the main proprietors — they bought the restaurant from the original owners in 1979. Roberto and Aracely took over in 2001.
“It’s always been in the family,” Roberto says. “I didn’t want it to not be in the family.”
By the late ‘80s, the restaurant started to expand its seating area to become more of a sit-down restaurant.
“At that point, I think my uncle just wanted to keep up with the times,” Roberto says. “More sit-down restaurants were popping up in the area and places were getting nicer.”
While the seating area expanded, the menu did, too.
Aracely says the menu originally offered American food, but after the Gonzalez family purchased it, they started to offer Mexican food instead.
“Since then, I have modified the menu,” Aracely says. “But I still kept a lot of the tradition in the menu.”
She says that as times change, they adjust the menu accordingly. For example, Crossroads has started to offer more vegetarian options. But family recipes are still used.
“People tell us our pozole tastes like their grandma’s or that something else tastes the way their mom makes it,” Aracely says. “When people compare your food to their grandma’s, that means we’re doing the right thing. Our food feels very home-cooked, not like a restaurant.”
Not only is the restaurant family-owned and operated, many of the employees are also related.
“We end up hiring our employees’ kids,” Roberto says. “We have a lot of parents and kids who work here, and we just like to keep it in the family.”
The couple says that many of their employees have been with them since they took over in 2001.
“The newest employees we have, have been here for 5 or 6 years,” Roberto says. “We’re a big family.”
Employees aside, since Crossroads has been open for so long, many customers have made lifelong memories in the restaurant. Sometimes the customers feel like family, too.
“We have some people who met here when they were 18 or 19,” Aracely says. “And now they come back with their kids or grandkids, and it’s really nice to hear their stories. They feel like they belong to Crossroads and I think that’s a great feeling.”
“A lot of people used to come in with their parents, but now their parents have passed on,” Roberto says. “So they come here to remember them and they feel as if they’re coming with their dad again. Those are the ones that hit you in the heart.”
When it came time to celebrate Crossroads’ 75th anniversary a handful of years ago, the Gonzalezes threw an outdoor party. Aracely says they chose to make it outdoors as a tribute to their old-time drive-in service and the customers who stuck around to enjoy it.
For the most part, Crossroads’ history was smooth sailing.
“The 80s were good to my uncle and my father,” Roberto says. At the time, there weren’t many other restaurants in the area, so Crossroads didn’t even have any competition.
But now, there are several Mexican restaurants down the street from Crossroads. The competition hasn’t been hard on the Gonzalez family, but road construction has.
For the last two and a half months, 36th Street, which leads directly to the restaurant, has been completely closed to replace the piping and sewer system. Even worse, an iPhone’s GPS doesn’t catch the road closures, so if you aren’t familiar with the area, you really have to drive around the neighborhood to find a way to the restaurant.
And although the current construction still hurts them a bit, Roberto says the construction was actually worse a couple months prior. But lucky for them, this is the worst obstacle they’ve had to tackle so far.
As for the future of Crossroads, Roberto pointed to his kids. He and Aracely have four — three sons and a daughter.
When Isabella, 8, was asked if she wanted to run the restaurant, she quickly became wide-eyed, shook her head no, and pointed to her 14-year-old brother, Cesar. Aracely says Cesar helps on the weekends.
“The kids are the future,” Roberto says.