Every June I have a similar "aha" moment. With the windows closed in my air-conditioned car, I find myself driving to a faraway place I'd normally never go, in search of a restaurant story.
One year I was so strapped for content that I drove down to the south side with no information but a random address. It ended up being someone's house, and there was an empty ice-cream truck parked in the driveway.
This year, my "aha" moment came when I pulled up to a place called Fried Rice Hut: Choza de Arroz Frito. I thought the Spanish might indicate Filipino cuisine, but it was actually a calculated move by the Japanese and Korean owners to appeal to the neighborhood. This ended up being an infinitely better food experience than the ice cream truck though, and I even had a great conversation about Korean spas in Los Angeles!
Which brings me to this list of new restaurants in Tucson... Things slow down this time of year, so this selection includes places on the far sides of town, like the excellent Wings on Fire in Rita Ranch. A lot of successful Tucson businesses have also used the summer to move house. Prep and Pastry, for example, is looking better than ever in the original Yoshimatsu space.
If you're not ready to make the trek out to Rita, there's a real fun cafe downtown with whimsical pastries and Korean shaved ice. HeeMee Coffee and Bakery is also right next to our offices, which may eliminate the need for the exciting drive ... But in the end, I know I'm leaving with a sweet treat.
P.S. Scroll down to the bottom of this list and you'll see a very substantial selection of upcoming restaurants. Hold tight Tucson, cool things are in store!
HeeMee Coffee and Bakery
20 E. Congress St., Suite 110, 520-207-1193
This new downtown cafe HeeMee Coffee and Bakery makes its own baguettes, cupcakes, sweet buns and Japanese cream puffs from scratch. The pastries are a mix of American and French cafe staples with unique creations from Korea and Japan. Since this place is right around the corner from our offices, we've actually visited a few times. The menu changes every day, but we really dig the Oreo matcha cake and the sugary corn dog ... yeah you got that right. It tastes like a funnel cake at the fair. They also make Korean shaved ice (pictured above). Read more about it here
Hours: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday
Fried Rice Hut
1655 S. Alvernon Way, 520-747-3920
Fried Rice Hut is an unassuming dinner spot near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Yuko Takatori's menu is almost entirely made up of fried rice and deep-fried meats, but that doesn't mean the food is greasy. On the contrary, my shrimp fried rice was actually very light and filled with fresh veggies. They also have tasty apple and cinnamon hand-pies that look like sugary egg rolls from the outside. I suggest getting some to-go and taking it down the road to Harbottle Brewing Company.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Sunday
402 E. Ninth St., 520-500-7447
You may recognize this space as The Coronet, but the Fourth Avenue restaurant is actually moving downtown later this summer. This month, owner Sally Kane transformed the original space into a cocktail bar called The Libertine. The food menu here is pared down from its days as The Coronet, with small snacks including roasted garlic hummus, toasties and walnut feta paté. But the space is hosting a lot of events, like Witchy Wednesdays with tarot readings and Sunday Showtunes singalong nights. Read more about The Coronet's move here.
Hours: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 5 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., closed Monday and Tuesday
Prep and Pastry
2660 N. Campbell Ave., 520-326-7737
The popular brunch spot moved down the road this month to a larger space with more seating and a better parking lot. This Campbell Avenue building most recently held the mariscos restaurant Casa Valencia, but you more likely know it as the original Yoshimatsu. The Japanese toys and kitsch are all gone now, and instead you'll find the hallmark minimalist design that Prep and Pastry is known for. Cool thing about this place though: The side room that used to hold Sushimatsu is now a separate bar area. Man, their bloody Mary's are so good ... Read more
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
402 E. Fourth St., 520-270-2055
Wendy Garcia's veg-Mex restaurant opened a second permanent location this month at the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue. The new spot is in a big house that was once home to local music school The Schoolhouse of Rock. Garcia recently told the Star's Cathalena E. Burch that she wants the new restaurant to be "more of a community space," where she can host events and family yoga classes. The menu is smaller and more casual than the original location, with cafe standards like lattes and juices. Expect a larger menu on weekends. Read more
Hours: Thursday through Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Monday through Wednesday
Wings on Fire
9040 E. Valencia Road, suite 100, 520-274-7292
Wings on Fire is a great local alternative to the suburban restaurant options over in Rita Ranch. This order-at-the-counter spot does an excellent job with its wings, and has some of the best French fries in Tucson. The menu sticks to fast foods like battered mushrooms and buffalo shrimp, but you can tell the cook really knows their way around a fryer. Make sure to get the garlic parmesan wings; They have a good crunch to them and a ton of cheese on top. I'll have to come back for that Wings on Fire sauce, listed on the menu with 16 chile peppers next to it!
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
On the horizon
• Tucson is getting a New York deli in mid-July. Brooklyn Rolls will serve sandwiches and bagels in the former Abe's Place at 1628 E. Sixth St., writes Gerald M. Gay.
• Two new restaurants are opening early August at Main Gate Square, reports Cathalena E. Burch. An Italian restaurant called Bacio is going into the the former Red’s Smokehouse & Tap Room, and a barbecue spot The Blind Pig will be around the corner where The Fix used to be.
• A new Turkish restaurant named Istanbul is slated to open in the former May’s Counter Chicken & Waffles at 2945 E. Speedway in mid-August, writes Cathalena E. Burch.
• The Coronet announced on Facebook that it's reopening in its new location Aug. 30. The Fourth Avenue restaurant is moving to the former Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant at 198 W. Cushing St.
• Public Brewhouse plans to open a second location in the former Sierra Bonita Vineyards tasting room, 6720 E. Camino Principal. The new Public Taphouse will open in the next couple of months, writes Gerald M. Gay.
• A sign that reads Don Carne’s: Hot Dogs, Smash Tacos and Beer was spotted next door to the Rialto Theatre at 320 E. Congress St.
• Postino, a Phoenix-area chain of wine bars, plans to open its first Tucson location in the spring of 2020. It's going into a new development at 2500 E. Grant Road, which will also house Snooze: An A.M. Eatery.