Sam Fox this month is celebrating the 20th anniversary of opening his modestly upscale new American restaurant Wildflower on North Oracle Road that gave birth to one of the state’s most successful restaurant empires.
“I really am so proud of where we came from. Tucson was a launching pad for my career and I am so thankful to the community,” said the Sabino High School alumnus whose company has 11 restaurant concepts spread over eight states. “So many amazing people have been part of our success, whether it was early investors or landlords or great employees and most importantly all the guests that came and supported us over the years. It’s been really so instrumental in the success of who we are and who I am.”
To say thanks to Tucson, Fox will donate $20,000 from his five Tucson concepts — Blanco Tacos + Tequila and North Italia in La Encantada, Culinary Dropout on East Grant Road, the two Zinburger locations (East River Road and East Grant Road) and Wildflower — to a charity selected by customers.
Fox is arguably one of the most successful restaurateurs to come out of Tucson, and his restaurant company, Fox Restaurant Concepts, ranks as one of the biggest and most successful in the state. He employs around 5,000 people and operates 50 restaurants around the country — six of them, including the flagship Wildflower, in Tucson. In addition to his 11 concepts, he also founded and later sold Sauce Pizza & Wine and True Food.
For Fox, these last 20 years have slipped by “in this blink of an eye. All of a sudden here you are 20 years later, and 20 years older, by the way,” he told the Star.
“You just kind of look back … how did this happen?’ It’s awesome,” said the father of two who turned 50 last month.
Fox isn’t finished yet. He has a few more ideas for restaurants and projects that will extend his reach to Nashville, Tennessee, and beyond, and bring him right back home to Tucson, where he worked in the kitchens of his father’s restaurants as a teen including Hungry Fox on East Broadway, which is still open today.
Among the ideas he’s considering is a hotel project in Phoenix where the on-site restaurants will be the focus, not the afterthought.
“It would be driven by food and beverage. Not a hotel that’s going to be an afterthought of a restaurant; the restaurants are going to be … equally as important as the hotel,” Fox said.
His favorite Fox restaurant: The healthful concept Flower Child, which has four Phoenix area locations and is located in five other states. It’s coming soon to the East Coast with several locations set to open in the Washington, D.C. area, Baltimore and Virginia. And what about Tucson? “Working on it. Working on it,” he said. “I would love to announce a location in the next 12 months.”
Of all the restaurants, this is his crown jewel: “I’m probably most proud of Flower Child and True Food, even though I don’t own True Food today. But the No. 1 restaurant I would go to and am proud of is Flower Child. It’s smart. It’s on trend and it gets used in so many different ways. It’s amazing. In Tucson, obviously Wildflower.”
The concept that went bust: “I would say Modern Steak, a steakhouse that we opened up (in the Phoenix area) that we closed (after) I think we ran it about three years. The concept was wrong. The location was wrong. And the timing was wrong. There were a lot of things wrong with that. And that was our most expensive failure, as well — a little over $5 million.”
The hardest thing he overcame in his career: “We opened Wildflower, and then we opened Bistro Zin on River. And the roughest period was when I opened a restaurant called Bloom in Broomfield, Colorado, (not long afterward). That was sort of the biggest hurdle I had in the last 20 years, moving out of Tucson, opening my first restaurant out of Tucson and it wasn’t in Phoenix, it was outside of Boulder, and making a big real estate mistake, over budget. I kind of got in way over my skis.”
Restaurants, eateries that have opened in Tucson in 2018
7 Ounce Korean Steakhouse — 4699 E. Speedway
7 Ounce Korean Steakhouse opened on July 5 at the former Sir Veza's location.
The menu for 7 Ounce, where you cook your meat on a tableside grill, includes everything from ribeyes to short ribs, pork belly to chicken bulgogi, baby octopus to fresh shrimp and lobster, and surf and turf combo platters that serve two.
Alloro D.O.C. Italian Trattoria and Chophouse — 7600 E. Broadway
A familiar face has taken over the kitchen in the Hilton East's gourmet Italian venture Alloro D.O.C. Chef Virgina "Ginny" Wooters of The Abbey is now at the helm, and is putting her signature panache into the modern Italian classics like high-quality steaks and fresh pasta. At the grand opening, chefs mixed up some Fettuccine Alfredo inside a giant wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, so let's hope for similar theatrics in the future.
American Eat Co. — 1439 S. Fourth Ave.
American Eat Co., which opened April 3, is already expanding the culinary horizons of South Fourth Avenue, a stretch of South Tucson ruled by its popular Mexican food offerings.
The new concept, which opened in what had long been the American Meat Company, sports six restaurants with cuisine ranging from ribs to poke and sliders.
There's a beer and wine bar with the latest craft selections, a coffee shop and even a butcher. Sit at a communal table or cozy up in one of the booths available in the dining area.
Americano Mexicano — 800 E. University Blvd.
The new concept where the UA's beloved Irish bar once stood is called Americano Mexicano, and it's quite an ambitious project. Food truck owner/local insurance agent David Pena wanted to take all delicious beach foods you eat in place like Rocky Point, and put them under one roof.
The menu has nachos and burros, but it also has mariscos and molcajete stone bowls like they do at Guadalajara Grill. And on the sweet side, they've got all the familiar raspados joint staples like aguas frescas and chile-laced fruits. And of course there's the bar. Ohhh, there's the bar.
Arizona Wine Collective 4280 — N. Campbell Ave.
In early February, St. Philip's Plaza added a new wine bar that focuses on wines from across this great state. Arizona Wine Collective is owned by Jeanne and Pete Snell, who cut his teeth working at the tasting room at Sonoita's Callaghan Vineyards.
The cozy spot in the former Scordato's Pizzeria has eight wine taps, six beer taps and bottles from 11 different local wineries.
Asian Sofrito — 2530 N. First Avenue
At Asian Sofrito, you can order a plate of General Tso's Chicken with a side of syrupy sweet plantains. The Caribbean Chinese fusion restaurant opened in the former home of Wild Garlic Grill on First Avenue, and has been serving the the local clientele who crave Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo and fried chicken masita. Two thirds of the menu is Chinese takeout, and they make a mean plate of barbecue pork lo mein.
Beaut Burger — 267 South Avenida del Convento
Beaut Burger is breaking a whole lotta boundaries from its little kitchen inside a repurposed shipping container. This new westside concept specializes in vegan burgers, making everything in-house, from the patty to the slow-fermented English muffin bun. (Gluten free options available!)
The plant-based restaurant is the culinary anchor at the Mercado San Agustin's new hyper-local upscale shopping center, the MSA Annex. The spacious lot west of the freeway has a minimalist vibe to it, embracing rustic browns and desert aesthetics you wouldn't think of when you hear the words "shipping container.
Berry Divine Acai Bowls — 245 E. Congress St.
Is it breakfast? Lunch? Or something in between ... Acaí bowls are everything you want them to be, and now you can grab them downtown thanks to this new family-run shop that opened in mid-January downtown.
In addition to the colorful acaí smoothie bowls you've probably seen all over Instagram, Berry Divine also makes its own soft-serve sorbet out of the frozen berries it imports from Brazil.
Besties Fish and Burger — 14 W. Grant Road
Kade Mislinksi is at it again with what he says is his final restaurant, Besties Fish and Burger. The midtown joint pays homage to the titans of fast food in what he calls "Long John Silver's meets White Castle." The specialty here is steamed burgers like they have back east in Connecticut, where Kade spent summers as a kid. Pair that with some French fries, hush puppies and battered fish and you've got the restaurant's signature combo, the BFF.
Bombolé — 100 N. Stone Avenue
You can smell the Indian food as you're walking down Stone Avenue. The rich scent of toasted spices only gets stronger as you step through the doors of the Pioneer building, into a small room with rows of baked goods on display.
At first glance Bombolé seems like it might be an Indian bakery of some sort, but those aren't samosas on the counter. They're empanadas, though not the sweet kind you might see at a Mexican panaderia. This new lunch spot fills its moon-shaped turnovers with Indian curries like butter chicken and the spiced potato aloo matar.
Cans — 340 N. Fourth Ave.
The owner of TallBoys on North Fourth Avenue has cooked up a new restaurant concept in the old home of U.S. Fries down the street.
In early May, Ben Schneider along with his friends and business partners, Parker Arriaga, Frank Bair, Gabe Rozzell and Simone Stopford, plan to launched the downtown concept.
The restaurant serves meaty sandwiches (pastrami, corned beef, turkey), salads, latkes, some Middle Eastern fare and soups, including Cans’ own take on traditional matzo ball soup.
Also, since Schneider is a long-time musician, expect there to be lots of live music.
Caps & Corks — 3830 W. River Road
The craft beer scene is going strong up in Marana with the opening of Caps & Corks in the Sprouts shopping center of Orange Grove near the I-10 freeway. The vibe here is similar to a Tap & Bottle with a little homey charm mixed in. (The owners are originally from Bisbee.) On a recent visit, the 25-strong taplist included a healthy selection of Arizona Wilderness beers out of Gilbert, which are hard to find down in the Old Pueblo.
Caravan Grill 2825 — N. Country Club Rd.
The midtown shop formerly occupied by Za'atar has been taken over by the neighboring Caravan Market, who developed a Mediterranean lunch menu with various falafel plates, gyros and chicken shawarma.
Caravan Grill still has its beautiful stone oven, which produces Iraqi Samoun breads as well as delicate Syrian pastries.
Casa Marana Craft Beer + Wine — 8225 N. Courtney Page Way
Marana’s newest homage to craft beer started pouring in June.
Casa Marana Craft Beer + Wine, 8225 N. Courtney Page Way off Interstate 10 and North Cortaro Road, has 35 brews on tap alongside a trio of wines.
The cooler is filled with 480 varieties of canned and bottled craft beers and 50 wines for package sales.
Chocolate Iguana — 431 N. Fourth Ave.
After losing its home of 28 years, The Chocolate Iguana has reopened on Fourth Avenue, less than a block from its original spot. With its crisp new paint job and colorful candy jars, it's hard to believe the space used to serve three-pound hamburgers.
A partnership with Lindy's on Fourth owner Shannon Cronin saved the Fourth Avenue candy shop about a week before they were forced out by their landlord, said chocolate Iguana co-owner Alexya Simpson. After vacating March 31, the candy shop reopened inside the original Lindy's location at 431 N. Fourth Ave. in late May.
Cobra Arcade Bar — 63 E. Congress St.
Phoenix-based Cobra Arcade Bar officially opened Friday, June 29.
The bar, which pairs classic and hard-to-find arcade games with alcoholic beverages, inhabits the 5,000 square feet of space at 63 E. Congress that was once home to JunXion Bar at the Congress and North Scott Avenue intersection.
More than 50 arcade games and pinball machines are spread across two levels, Cobra’s regional manager Topher Bray said in an interview in April, including titles such as Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Galaga and Frogger.
Craft, A Modern Drinkery — 4603 E. Speedway
The guys from Serial Grillers are on a roll, opening their latest concept Craft, A Modern Drinkery this October. The taproom is located in the former Terry and Zeke's on Speedway and Swan. Unlike its sister restaurants, Craft is solely a bar with 45 beers on tap, plus 200 in bottles or cans. The redesigned space has consoles with classic video games for customers to play while they drink.
District Tavern Eatz — 1535 N. Stone Avenue
The District Tavern is back! But this new Stone Avenue iteration has a pretty different vibe than the beloved downtown bar. It's in the former home of Classic Steakhouse, for one, which gives it more of a Western feel. They also have food now, but it's a small menu of sandwiches, quiches, whiskey ginger cookies and breakfast egg plates all day. In the evenings the space becomes an 18+ hangout with a full bar, including your favorite "special" of Miller High Life and Old Crow whiskey.
Dutch Bros. Coffee — 120 S. Wilmot Road
In September, all the buzz was over Dutch Bros. The Oregon-based coffee joint opened its first Tucson location this month in a Broadway lot that used to house a Mimi's Cafe.
El Charro, Beyond Bread at TIA — 7250 S. Tucson Blvd
A second outpost of Beyond Bread opened in mid-March at Tucson International Airport, one of four new restaurants added to the culinary lineup of the airport’s $28 million “A Brighter TUS” project.
The second Beyond Bread is along Concourse B, which also welcomed Bruegger’s Bagels and Built Custom Burgers — two of three national chains coming to the airport; Dunkin’ Donuts is in the wings — and El Charro Cafe, making its return to the airport after a 20-year absence.
El Patron — 4579 S. 12th Ave.
There's a new bar and grill next door to Rollie's Mexican Patio on South Twelfth Avenue. The space used to be a Mr. Baja Fish, but now it's El Patron Bar and Grill which serves a wide range of Jalisco-style meat and mariscos dishes, with an emphasis on the bar and live mariachi. The restaurant is part of the Taco Giro name, but these guys do delivery within a square mile of the restaurant.
Fat Noodle — 811 E. Wetmore Road
After four years serving Tucson as a truck, this ramen operation is going brick and mortar. Fat Noodle's new space on First and Wetmore was designed by restaurant consultant John Foster, and features an industrial look with lush wooden counters and tables. In addition to the ramen selections, Fat Noodle goes hard on the fusion with ramen burgers, sashimi sandwiches and even poke bowls.
Halfwheel Coffeehouse — 1832 E. Sixth St.
This new coffee counter, which opened in March, is actually part of a bike shop called Re-Cycle, which recently took up residence in a former Bernie Sanders campaign office.
Halfwheel serves Exo Roast coffee and La Estrella Bakery pastries in a bright but homey space on Sixth and Campbell.
Peak around the corner and you'll see a full-service bike shop flanking the back of the store.
Harbottle Brewing Company — 3820 S. Palo Verde Road
A brewery years in the making, Harbottle launched in early February and is the last new brewery on the books slated to open in 2018 (not counting the Borderlands/Sentinel Peak collaborative effort known as Voltron Brewing).
The brewery can be found in a strip mall on the southwest corner of East Ajo Way and South Palo Verde, next to Chopstix Chinese restaurant. It is a short drive from the cluster of breweries that reside on and around East 44th Street, including Copper Mine Brewing, Green Feet Brewing, Nimbus and, for a little while longer, 1055 Brewing.
Michael Figueira, Andy Shlicker, two figures of note on the local craft beer scene, are the brains behind the operation and run a tight ship with a casual atmosphere.
Play a round of shuffleboard between pints, or watch the bustle of traffic roll by on Ajo with friends.
Hermosa Coffee Roasters — 267 South Avenida del Convento
This local coffee roaster now has a storefront at the shipping container shopping center MSA Annex, where it sells its beans as well as an interesting selection of espresso drinks. I got down on some cold brew — you may recognize the flavor from one of Hermosa's wholesale clients The Cup Cafe — but next time I'm going back for a Shakerato with espresso and simple syrup that's shaken like a cocktail. Hermosa is more of a stand than a place to hang out, but you can grab some joe before you head over to the Why I Love Where I Live store.
Hoki Poki — 6501 E. Grant Road
This shop from Bin An that opened in the end of April lets you choose your own poke destiny.
Hoki Poki's bowls are more substantial than An's downtown venue MiAn Sushi, because you can pile on ingredients like spicy tuna, seaweed salad, mandarin oranges and more.
Indian Twist — 4660 E. Camp Lowell Drive
Open since early January, Indian Twist replaced the short-lived Twisted Tandoor on East Camp Lowell Drive.
The restaurant, affiliated with JAM Culinary Concepts, is run by Jimmy Aujla, who got his start in Indian cuisine in the mid-1990s, working for his family's eatery in Washington state.
Indian Twist has a daily lunch buffet and a bar that includes beers from India.
Insomnia Cookies — 345 E. Congress
College students with the midnight munchies have another place to score sweet treats, thanks to the opening of Insomnia Cookies on East Congress Street.
The cookie-delivery spot is located next to Hi Fi Kitchen & Cocktails and is open until 3 a.m., if you are up that late studying (and we are sure that's exactly what you are doing.)
The chain started at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 and now has more than 100 shops throughout the country.
The Tucson Cookie Co. on East Sixth Street also delivers.
Isabella's Ice Cream — 267 S. Avenida Del Convento
Isabella’s Ice Cream was set to open its third location on Wednesday at the MSA Annex downtown, the shipping container sidebar to the popular Mercado San Agustin on West Congress Street.
The shop is one of the final tenants of the Annex, a hyperlocal upscale retail center that opened in May next door to the Mercado.
One of the first businesses to open in the Annex was Kerry Lane’s Beaut Burger, a vegan burger joint that she and her husband, Ari Shapiro, have been working on for several years.
Izumi — 3655 E. Speedway
Izumi, which opened in March in an old Denny's on East Speedway, kicks the Asian buffet concept up a notch with crab legs and oysters on the menu, in addition to the usual mix of chicken, pork, beef and veggie dishes.
The fancier offerings up the price of admission to $25 per person, which will also get you all-you-can-eat access to sushi rolls, nigiri and yummy ramen.
Izumi fills a void in midtown, says owner William Cheung, who owns Hana Tokyo on South Calle Santa Cruz and Wok and Roll Asian Buffet on Wes Ina Road.
“It’s just a good location on Speedway. I think they’re lacking,” Cheung said.
Juice Envy — 1980 W. Orange Grove Road
Next time you're making a noodle run, check out the spot next door for some healthy juices and smoothies. Juice Envy opened in July inside the Orange Grove shopping center anchored by Lee Lee International Supermarket.
Formerly a Subway, the space is now owned by Tucsonan K.C. Roff and managed by his daughter Kandice Roff, who developed the menu herself.
"I know a lot of people doing yogurts and added sugar concentrate," she said. "I wanted to be so different — completely fresh — where the customers can see us make everything right in front of them."
Just Breakfast — 2510 E. Hunt Hwy
The popular Home Plate restaurant and sports bar in Marana opened a breakfast spot in mid-February.
The idea is that it serves, as its name implies, just breakfast — omelettes, eggs, pancakes, waffles and breakfast sandwiches with nothing priced over $10 — and leave the lunch and dinner to Home Plate.
Kiss of Smoke — 663 S. Plumer Ave.
Tucked back into a residential neighborhood south of Broadway, Kiss of Smoke serves wood-fired barbecue dishes like pulled pork and mesquite-smoked chicken.
Brandi Romero and her family originally started out as a competition barbecue team, but transitioned into a popular food truck and now a brick and mortar restaurant.
Kogi Korean BBQ — 4951 N. Grant Road
Kogi Korean BBQ opened in June is in the space that was once Seoul Kitchen at 4951 N. Grant Road.
Seoul Kitchen, meanwhile, moved to 6255 E. Golf Links Road, where it's becoming popular for its daily lunch buffet.
La Botana — 5526 E. Grant Road
You may have bonded with La Botana's giant micheladas and fun toritos chile tacos. Well now you can hit them up on Grant and Craycroft as well. The Mexican bar and restaurant recently opened a second location in that Ross shopping center. (You know the one with like nothing in it.) Expect the same fun atmosphere as the First and Fort Lowell location.
Le Cave's — 3950 E. 22nd St.
After more than 80 years in business, Le Cave's Bakery is leaving Tucson's south side and will move into a building known for serving up burgers and fries.
The new owners of the longtime Tucson institution are remodeling the former Jack in the Box building at 3950 E. 22nd St., near South Alvernon Way, and hope to open by early fall.
“We are really excited to continue on the legacy and keep that going in the community," said Naomi Pershing, who with her husband Chris bought Le Cave's several months ago from owner Rudy Molina Jr.
Lindy’s off Fourth 8995 — E. Tanque Verde Road
East-side residents can now get their Blue Suede Cows without having to travel to Fourth Avenue.
Lindy's opened a second location on Tanque Verde in April in the former home of Great American Steakburger.
The "offbeat" burger menu remains the same, but the space is substantially bigger and roomier, and sports a full bar area with eight beers on tap.
Monsoon Chocolate — 234 E 22nd St.
Monsoon chocolate, located on East 22nd Street, opened in May in the spot of the former La Buena Mexican Food.
They have an array of chocolate beauties that are locally made in Tucson, including some made with local chiltepin and Whiskey del Bac. But don't let the name fool you: it's not just a fancy chocolate cafe.
The menu has a hodgepodge of trendy California cafe foods and nouveau Mediterranean, like from the vibrant pages of an Ottolenghi cookbook. There's smoked avocado toast that's littered with lots of funky pickled fennel (as if it's a challenge). And then you see Mediterranean yogurt all over the place, like in the radish toast that's studded with beautiful purple cornflowers.
Nekter Juice Bar — 2905 E. Skyline Drive, Suite #167
A juice bar just opened this week next to the Apple Store at La Encantada mall. Nekter is a California chain that serves cold-pressed juices, healthy smoothies, acai bowls and gourmet soft serves with mostly vegan ingredients. My menu favorite was the Green Apple Detox juice with cucumbers, lemon, kale, fennel and ginger. It wasn't too sweet; mostly tart and spicy with a fresh taste from the cucumber.
Nick’s Sari Sari Store — 2001 S. Craycroft Road
As of April, this Filipino market now has a separate cafe with buffet-style dishes at the front counter.
Nick's Sari Sari Store is doing all the specialties like lumpia egg rolls, pork adobo and crunchy sisig, and maybe most importantly, Halo Halo, which is shaved ice with fruit jellies and purple yam ice cream.
Nomico Healthy Dessert — 595 E. Wetmore Rd.
At Nomico you'll find some Instagrammable street food, like "bubble waffles" and raindrop cakes.
But at the healthy dessert spot that opened in January, you'll also find some very unique offerings like butterfly tea and, wait for it ... cheese tea?!
It's a franchise store that originated in Hong Kong, and the only location in the United States is this one in the Old Pueblo.
Noodleholics — 3502 E. Grant Road
Noodleholics opened in midtown Tucson toward the end of April.
The restaurant is bringing homemade noodles and regional Chinese flavors to Tucson, and it's doing it in a contemporary but casual atmosphere on Grant Road.
Despite its humble Grant Road location, Noodleholics feels like some place you'd see in suburban Los Angeles, food writer Andi Berlin writes.
The trendy clipboard menu is made up almost completely of noodles, mostly from Guilin and surrounding region of southern China.
Persian Room — 9290 N. Thornydale Road
The northwest side is about to get its first Persian restaurant that will insert itself into a culinary landscape dominated by fast-causal chain restaurants, mom-and-pop Mexican and pizza joints and one of Tucson’s oldest steakhouses.
Persian Room, a sprawling 5,600-square-foot restaurant that will seat as many as 175, is expected to open in early June at 9290 N. Thornydale Road, about a quarter mile from Cortaro Farms Road. It’s the second outpost for the upscale Scottsdale-based Persian eatery, whose menu includes various kabab entrees in beef, lamb and chicken ranging from $13 to $15.
Pizza Luna — 1101 N. Wilmot Road
Tucson has no shortage of pizza places, even on the east side where culinary options — while not completely absent — fall way behind the vibrant food districts that surround downtown.
Pizza Luna, one of east Tucson's newest pizza spots, replaces Cup it Up's original location in the Trader Joe's shopping center, at 1101 N. Wilmot Road.
They serve what's called "neo-Neapolitan" pizza, according to This is Tucson's Andi Berlin.
"The dough here is cold fermented for 72 hours, which is a pivotal step in creating that perfect pizza crust with a slightly sour flavor," Berlin said in her story about Luna. "If this restaurant has any funk, you're gonna see it in the pizza itself as well as the interesting toppings; not necessarily in the atmosphere."
Proof Artisanal Pizza and Pasta — 4280 N. Campbell Ave.
Grant Krueger, owner of Union Public House and Reforma Modern Mexican opened Proof in November.
“I personally always had a soft spot for pizza and pasta,” he says.
But before Reforma was Reforma, the building was home to Italian restaurant Vivace, which has since moved three miles north to Campbell Avenue and Sunrise Drive.
Since then, Krueger said Italian fare has been missing in the area.
“We think Proof fills a void at River and Campbell,” he says.
Among the menu items are pizza, pasta, bruschetta, salad and soup. Nearly everything is made from scratch, Krueger says. There are also gluten-free and vegan cheese options.
Queen Sheeba — 5553 E. Grant Road
Tucson's first official Eritrean restaurant launched in February on Grant Road near North Craycroft, across town from the Ethiopian restaurants with which it shares many of its traditional dishes (Eritrea and Ethiopia share a border on the horn of Africa.)
Expect the types of plates that you might find at places such as Zemam's and Café Desta, with "Eritrean style" twists.
Raijin Ramen — 2955 E. Speedway Blvd.
There's a universe of ramen to explore at Tucson's first ramen house — that's if you can get a table.
Even though this specialty ramen spot opened in January, oftentimes there are still lines around dinner time to get a seat at this restaurant.
With nine varieties of ramen on the menu including white miso and black roasted garlic tonkotsu, it's easy to see why Raijin has become a hit.
Raptor Canyon Cafe — 75 E. Pennington Street
The vacant Veg in a Box restaurant on Pennington is now a homey breakfast and lunch cafe. Raptor Canyon Cafe did a brisk lunch business on my recent visit, and seems to be popular with the downtown business crowd. Order at the counter and they'll take the food out to your booth: There's a decent selection of breakfast sandwiches with housemade biscuits, but I got a breakfast burrito. They also do sandwiches and salads, plus diner entrees like mini meatloaf, angel hair pasta and fish tacos. Check out the front counter for some baked goods, like the peanut buttery Raptor Tracks.
Ren Coffeehouse — 4300 N. Campbell Ave.
Another coffee shop has opened its doors at St. Philip's plaza.
Ren Coffeehouse also has a lunch menu of paninis, simple salads and a gorgeous avocado toast with perfectly poached egg on Barrio Bread.
Rollies Mexican Patio — 4573 S. 12th Ave.
While we have yet to see how the outdoor dining experience known as Rollies will fare in the intense summer heat, the brand new restaurant on South 12th Avenue has been downright pleasant in its first few months in business.
Rollies sports a casual patio atmosphere and a menu that includes rolled tacos, vegetarian tortas, flat enchiladas and ice cream sandwiches using conchas (Mexican sweet bread). And OK it technically opened days before 2018, but we're including it in our list.
Its unique approach to popular Mexican dishes separates it from the sea of Mexican restaurants on Tucson's south side.
Serial Grillers — 7585 S. Houghton Road
Rita Ranch was abuzz in September with the opening of Serial Grillers' third location on Houghton Road. On one evening, the former Chuy's Mesquite Broiler was packed with locals ordering serial-killer themed pizzas like the Bone Collector with boneless wings, ranch and buffalo sauce. The sprawling space is three times the size of the Speedway location, and has a taplist of more than 50 craft beers.
Series 19 — 13 N. Stone Ave.
Downtown Tucson's newest cocktail bar Series 19 pours local spirits from across Arizona. It's an offshoot of Three Wells Distilling Company, which produces prickly pear spirits and more from a warehouse on Tucson's south side. The cocktail menu showcases the Three Wells line, which now includes two gins, agave spirits, vodka and even bourbon. We enjoyed the Sonoran Margarita on a recent visit.
Smokey Mo Barbecue — 2650 N. First Avenue
A Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant is breathing life into the former Shari’s Drive-In on North First Avenue.
Smokey Mo, a smoked meats and barbecue concept that also serves burgers, opened in mid-July in the old building that had been boarded up since Shari’s closed in July 2008.
“It’s all about smoked meats,” said owner Telahoun Molla.
Tamarind — 7265 N. La Cholla Blvd.
An Indian food restaurant has recently opened up its doors at the Foothills Mall.
Tamarind has a large menu of dishes from all over India, including the burrito-like kati rolls and a whole category of "Mystic Masalas." Oh, and most importantly, they have a lunch buffet.
Taqueria El Semental — Corner of North Fourth Avenue and East Ninth Street
You may remember Taqueria El Semental as the bull-themed taco truck that set up in front of The Hut on weekends. One of Fourth Avenue's most popular late night options finally has a permanent home just down the street, on the northwest corner of Fourth and the underpass. It's still a taco truck, but now there's a fancy hay bale setup where you can chill out and eat your footlong Sonoran dog. (Judging by this picture of course.)
Taqueria Los Chipilones — 1122 S. Sixth Ave.
Los Chipilones is a southside taco stand that was built on the former site of a Viking Car Wash. (Check out the car-themed street art behind the building.) It's owned by the same people as the Chipilones Sonoran hot dog stand next door, but this joint specializes in beef birria, which you can get in a taco, stuffed into a cheesy caramelo or as a soup. The menu here is rather simple, but they do make their own horchata, and the corn tortillas don't seem to come from a machine either.
Ten55 Brewing — 110 E. Congress St.
John Paul “JP” Vyborny and his partner in all things brew Chris Squires are calling their new downtown digs a beer hall.
Seating at Ten 55 Brewing and Sausage House, 110 E. Congress St., will be communal at big tables spread throughout and the kitchen, helmed by Ivor Cryderman, serves up a menu of locally crafted sausages and Belgian fries.
The Buffalo Spot — 760 N. Tyndall Ave.
A California-based chicken-and-ribs chain has opened its first spot in Tucson, launching in the former home of Cup It Up near the University of Arizona.
The Buffalo Spot, at 760 N. Tyndall Ave., started in Long Beach, California, in 2013 and has locations throughout Southern California, with one in Georgia and one in Phoenix, that opened last summer.
Buffalo Spot’s menu includes Kansas City-style ribs, traditional and boneless wings, and the chain’s signature Buffalo fries, which appears to be a pile of fries topped with a pile of chicken, covered in a wing sauce of your choosing.
The Frozen Cactus — 5769 E. Speedway
RJ's Replays on Speedway was one of two local businesses featured on a TV show called "Bar Rescue," where a "nightlift expert" goes full-Gordon Ramsay on a failing bar.
The episode hasn't come out yet, but the joint is already sporting a new name, The Frozen Cactus Ice Bar and Flame Grill.
The Hidden Grill — 4955 N. Sabino Canyon Road #113
The Hidden Grill prepares grab-and-go meals that are geared toward paleo diets, heavy on the meat and vegetables. The menu changes every week, but a recent selection included dishes like grilled chicken in a coconut buffalo sauce, blackened whitefish with honey-cured bacon, boneless pork chop with vegetables and more. You can also sign up for meal plans where they give you two meals a day for three or five days in a row, lowering the cost to about $10 per meal.
Tito and Pep — 4122 E. Speedway
John Martinez spent a decade cooking for one of the world's most famous chefs, but now he's returned to Tucson to open his own restaurant. The gourmet chef quietly opened the doors of Tito and Pep this week in the classic Speedway space that housed Zayna Mediterranean and Feast.
The midtown bistro feels extremely well-put together for somebody's first restaurant, but that's because Martinez has experience opening high-profile concepts around the western hemisphere. After getting his start as a dishwasher in downtown Tucson at the age of 19, Martinez moved to New York to work for renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Westbound — 267 S. Avenida Del Convento
Westbound is the first food and drink concept to open at the MSA Annex, a shipping container shopping center just east of the Mercado San Agustin. (The other food concepts are still a few weeks out.) The folks at Tap + Bottle have brought in a taplist of 20 different beers, eight wines and four batch-made cocktails. (Try the gin-based Orange Cucumber Rhumba with spicy dehydrated cucumbers.) The mostly outdoor concept does have air conditioning and plenty of shade, plus a small bottle room at the front.
Years Asian Bistro and BBQ — 625 E. Wetmore Road
Years Asian Bistro isn't necessarily a Chinese restaurant; The menu has Japanese yakitori skewers, Korean fried chicken and all manner of Asian specialties. But the Chinese dishes here really shine ... quite literally in fact, if you order the grilled fish hot pot which comes on a sprawling silver chafer platter. The house special contains an entire fish surrounded by lotus roots, mushrooms and other veggies in a spicy red sauce. We opted for a bowl of Shanghai Granny's Noodles and some spicy toothpick lamb, where every meaty bite is skewered on individual toothpicks. Don't eat the chiles, they're dried!
Yu Zi Wei — 2601 E. Speedway
Yu Zi Wei is the latest fun place to open during a spectacular year for regional Chinese food. With minimal online presence and a unique menu of spicy Chongqing dishes, the restaurant is a little less approachable and a little more awesome. Everyone here is coming for the sizzling fish platter, but you can make a wonderful meal out of appetizers and entrees like mapo tofu and pork ribs in griddle pot. Definitely check out our guide before you go. It'll help a lot.