Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, and Visit Tucson have teamed up with more than 30 Mexican restaurants for the second annual "Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival — celebrating the "Best Mexican Food North of the Border" at the JW Marriott Starr Pass on Saturday, June 17.
Throughout the evening, festival-goers can nibble on unique Mexican eats — Charro Steak's summer steak salad with chicharron; Gringo Grill + Cantina's Carnitas "egg roll" with pepita-peanut sauce; and Seis Kitchen's Cochinita Pibil Street Taco stuffed with achiote-roasted pork and topped with a house chipotle crema and queso fresco. Each restaurant is bringing a signature dish that represents them and Tucson's diverse Mexican food and culture.
"If you lived on the northwest side you may not be aware of the volume of these restaurants and the sheer talent of these restaurants," said Cait Huble, SAACA's communications director. "We want to educate people on the availability of the Mexican food and all the culture and tradition that goes into the dishes being served."
Also on Saturday's menu— shrimp tinga from downtown's El Charro Cafe; carnitas tacos with habanero salsa from Reforma Modern Mexican Mezcal + Tequila in St. Philip's Plaza; "Abuelitas Dulce Arroz" or "Granny's Sweet Rice" made with rich chocolate ganache and creme bruleé rice prepared by Pima Community College's Culinary Arts program; decadently sweet churro bites from the south side Churros El Rey; salmon tacos from El Cisne Cocina de Mexico in the foothills; and duck confit tacos topped with duck cracklins from Elvira's On Congress downtown.
Many of the restaurants participating in the "Tucson 23" festival, including South Tucson's Crossroads, downtown's iconic El Charro Cafe and Tucson southside fave Estrella Bakery, are culinary cornerstones of the so-called "Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America." Between them, they have more than two centuries of history to draw from.
Relative newcomers at this year's festival include Elvira's On Congress, 256 E. Congress St., sister of Elvira's Restaurant in Tubac; and Reforma, 4310 N. Campbell Ave. at East River Road, which draws its culinary influences from central Mexico.
At Gringo Grill + Cantina, 5900 N. Oracle Road at the La Posada Lodge & Casitas, which has been open three years, Executive Chef Andy Ceron prepares a menu that focuses on Southwestern, Mexican and Latin cuisine. The 6-year-old Queen Ceviche from sisters Feliz and Reina Zaborsky creates seafood ceviche and hibiscus-infused icy drinks including lemonade and its newest concoction, cranberry and meyer lemonade.
The participating restaurants lie within the so-called "Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America," a 23-square-mile swath encompassing Tucson's cultural and culinary corridors that heavily draw influence from our neighbors in Sonora, Mexico.
Those boundaries encompass downtown and lower midtown, and the city of South Tucson while stretching to include specks of the east side and a substantial part of the Southside with generational Mexican restaurants some of which have been around 50, 60 years and longer.
"Tucson 23" was launched last summer to celebrate Tucson's designation by UNESCO as the United States' first-ever World City of Gastronomy, shining a light on Tucson's unique culinary and cultural history.