You can’t spell “best breakfast in Tucson” without the three T’s.
That’s the verdict handed down by readers as Omar’s Hi-Way Chef Restaurant, the longtime diner located within the Triple T Truck Stop on East Benson Highway, took the top spot in Caliente’s Breakfast Madness competition over the weekend.
The restaurant, located off of exit 268 (Craycroft Road) on Interstate 10, called on its army of loyal customers, its friends, employees and even people just passing through town, to help clinch the win.
Decorative fliers were placed at every booth and table. Waitresses walked around the bustling front coffee shop and back dining room with iPads, asking for support. Customers were often greeted with reminders at the end of their meals to go all in for Omar’s.
“We had waitresses that were still pushing for votes at 9 p.m. on Sunday night,” said manager and restaurant namesake Omar Ramirez. “It was a lot of hard work.”
Those strategies, combined with an extensive breakfast menu served 24 hours a day, showed that Omar’s was a restaurant on a mission from the get-go, as it clobbered its opponents during five grueling rounds of competition.
It took out Alice’s Restaurant on East Pima Street in Round 1 and crushed The Hungry Fox’s double-yolked egg aspirations a week later.
Chaco’s Café on South Craycroft Road fell to Omar’s in week three, followed by The Happy Rooster Café on South Sarnoff Drive.
Omar’s had hit its stride by the time it reached Cindy Lou’s Café, also on East Benson Highway, in the championship round.
Cindy Lou’s, which has a second location in Three Points, put up a good fight. It received a steady stream of votes, more than 300 in all, even after an electrical fire in its attic on Friday caused more than $40,000 in damages and closed the restaurant’s doors indefinitely.
“We’ll get it back up and running,” owner Cynthia Bosland said.
Still, Cindy Lou’s numbers couldn’t compete with Omar’s snowballing amount of support.
“It is a great honor to be named the best breakfast place in Tucson,” Ramirez said. “There is a lot of competition out there.”
The win is a good reminder why Omar’s has managed to stay in business nearly 60 years.
Known originally as simply the Hi-Way Chef, the restaurant has been feeding hungry locals, truckers and weary travelers since 1954.
Ramirez, 59, took over as the restaurant’s executive chef and general manager 18 years ago.
The former hotel chef, having worked for both the DoubleTree and Radisson hotel chains, was hired on to bring the diner in a new direction.
“When I first heard about the job through a friend, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with a truck stop?,’ Ramirez said. “When I finally made it over there, I saw the opportunity.”
Under Ramirez, the restaurant adopted a computerized ordering system and developed an expanded menu, with plates featuring smaller portions for its retiree clientele.
“We have older customers who come in during the winter time,” Ramirez said. “They can’t eat those gargantuan trucker meals.”
The larger meals can still be found for those with bigger appetites.
Omar’s signature breakfast dish is lovingly dubbed “Omar’s Favorite,” and comes with three cheese enchiladas, three eggs cooked to order, shredded beef, rice and beans.
Also on the menu: A country-fried steak and eggs plate, “The Trucker,” 3 eggs any style with a 6-ounce prime rib steak and the “West of Warsaw,” which also has three eggs, but is served with a Polish sausage.
Ramirez said the restaurant’s biggest sellers are the more traditional meals.
“There are always those people looking for the extravagant or unique,” he said. “But on a day-to-day basis, nothing beats a couple of eggs, with bacon, hash browns and toast. It’s good home cooking, comfort food.”
Omar’s also sports a full lunch and dinner menu. Plates, such as their deep-dish apple pie dessert, have landed them on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” series and The Food Network’s “Top 5.”
Ramirez said the best part about running Omar’s is all that he has witnessed over the years.
Customers have held weddings and memorials within its walls. He’s seen members of his staff get married, babies born and the kids of longtime customers come in with kids of their own.
“I’ve seen so much and managed to support a family doing what I do,” Ramirez said. “It has been a very good ride.”
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at email@example.com or 807-8430.