Some restaurant and bar owners around Tucson believe that the local flavor on the walls of their eateries is just as important as the flavors found in their signature dishes.
Across the city, brilliant, brightly colored paintings and other works created by Tucson artists are prompting people to think, gaze and smile while noshing on their chimichangas, shrimp and grits and pollo bolognaise.
Each restaurant has its own taste when choosing works.
Here are some local spots to get you started.
6453 N. Oracle Road; theparishtucson.com
For the last 10 years, The Parish has been all about tasty Southern fusion cuisine and good vibes, whether you are hitting the North Oracle restaurant on Mardi Gras or on a typical Friday night for dinner.
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Local art has always been part of that, according to co-owner and chef Travis Peters.
“It was a very conscious decision to include local art in the space,” Peters said. “If you know anything about me, nearly everything I do is to celebrate Tucson, to promote the city. My mom’s family has been here since 1875. Tucson is very much in our blood. It has been very good to me.”
The first art hanging at The Parish were pieces created by students at Arts for All, a nonprofit organization that offers programs to children with and without disabilities.
“A lot of these kids might not have access to the arts otherwise,” Peters said. “It was a big honor for us.”
Peters said while they have had curators for the art over the years, there has never been a set time frame when pieces go up or come down. These days, you can find a wall of funky, mustachioed men and other works by artist Donovan White, and several surrealist oil and mixed media pieces by David M. Ehlen.
“We know a lot of local artists,” Peters said. “We will reach out to people if we really love their stuff.”
Peters said while the paintings at The Parish are for sale, the works at his other restaurant, The Delta, 135 S. Sixth Ave., downtown, were commissioned specifically for that space.
Among the pieces you will find there: velvet paintings of the owners’ moms by Diane Bombshelter; a graffiti collage in the back hallway, courtesy of Monty Ses Esposito; an entire wall curated by Pop-Cycle on North Fourth Avenue; and a Warhol-esque, pop art series of gramophones by Thomas Gardner.
745 N. Fourth Ave.; facebook.com/CafeMaggie4thAve
Cafe Maggie owner Chander Vemulapalli is carrying on a tradition when he allows artists to hang their works in his place of business.
Vemulapalli has owned the cafe, formerly the long-lived Epic Café at the corner of North Fourth Avenue and East University Boulevard only for about a year, but “the art is something that goes back decades,” he said.
The cafe’s large ceilings allow for large works, abstract paintings by Kyle Zuehlke, surrealist pieces by J.M.G. Clark and a landscape on canvas by Leanne C. Miller.
Vemulapalli said he doesn’t accept any liability if works are damaged by customers.
“If I have someone fighting with their spouse and a painting gets in the middle of it, that is not my problem,” he said.
By the same token, he does not take any commission if a painting sells.
Vemulapalli said that there is no specific theme to the works that are hung at Cafe Maggie. He has veto power, but has yet to say “no” to anything.
The art brings more life to his cafe, he said, and offers a place where artists can promote their pieces.
Vemulapalli said Cafe Maggie recently started a monthly after-hours arts night in which it stays open after closing time and allows local artists who aren’t on the walls to showcase their works in a gallery format.
“The synergy of helping an artist get a little more exposure and helping the café get a little more exposure is a win-win as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Mr. Head’s Gallery & Bar
513 N. Fourth Ave.; facebook.com/mrheads
While Cafe Maggie caters more to Fourth Avenue’s day crowd, offering quiche and cookies with a side of surrealism, Mr. Head’s Gallery and Bar a few blocks south is more for the craft beer and whiskey shot crowd.
But, like Cafe Maggie, Mr. Head’s is all about the local art.
The works at Mr. Head’s can be striking. Black and white cutout characters by Donovan White line the exposed-brick walls. A large mural portraying a skeleton with saguaros coming out of the skull by local graffiti artist Rock “CYFI” Martinez greets customers on the bar's back patio.
An exhibition of works from local artist Sean Terry, the artist who painted the giant cassette tape in the karaoke lounge at the recently relocated Bumsted’s at Wonderwall, recently ended but was popular.
Terry’s paintings range from an anthropomorphic white rabbit a la “Alice in Wonderland” with a Salvador Dali melting clock in his paw, to javelinas with long legs, like the robots in “War of the Worlds,” towering over Mission San Xavier del Bac.
“We were selling one of his pieces a week,” said bar manager Ben Sattler. “He does some really cool stuff. His style hits home with Tucsonans.”
Sattler said owner Micah Blatt, a glass artist, started the bar more than a decade ago in part to showcase his work and the work of his friends.
“It is 100% commission-free,” Sattler said. “We want to make it a good experience for everybody involved.”
7153 E. Tanque Verde Road; gustotucson.com
Over the years, Glenn “Gus” Gerson has made his Italian restaurant Gusto Osteria a place where east-side art aficionados are offered a feast for the eyes in addition to the feast on their tables.
Gerson started decorating his restaurant with works by Jos Villabrille, whose large-scale murals can be found in shopping centers and restaurants all over town.
“He would have big pieces that would give us nice cover,” Gerson said. “He is such an amazing artist.”
Gerson relies these days on about five different local creators, led by watercolor artists Tracy Lynn Ross and Susan Meyer, to make his dining room look like a bonafide gallery.
Come in for Gerson’s eggplant Parmesan and pork ricotta, both house specialties, and you’ll find paintings of dogs, birds, scenic views and Southwestern themes.
Pieces can be found on every wall. Works rotate seasonally.
“These are the best artists I have had here,” Gerson said, “If we sell one of their pieces, they are usually ready with another. They put everything together nicely.”
The only problem, Gerson says, is when a piece he loves goes to a customer. You can find several paintings that have hung in his restaurant now hanging in his home.
“My wife and I always say we are lucky to have these artists,” Gerson said. “They take good care of us.”
Restaurants and bars that opened in the Tucson area in 2022
Oh My Chicken
Park Place Mall Food Court, 5870 E. Broadway
Korean-style fried chicken
Website: Oh My Chicken
This new mall vendor serves some of the best fried chicken in Tucson
Mountain Mike's Pizza
4362 N. Oracle Road
Website: Mountain Mike's Pizza
The restaurant is known for its 20-inch pies.
Outside Danny's Baboqivari Lounge, 2910 E. Fort Lowell Road
Aurelio and Morgan Garcia opened their food stand in September.
This new food stand serves two of our favorite comfort foods: burgers and tacos
Jackie Tran opened this food truck in November. It can be found at Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Road, most of the time.
Check out Tran's Fats website for other locations.
Tucson's favorite foodie Jackie Tran just opened a food truck
Rollies Mexican food truck
Rollies Mexican Patio opened its second location with a food truck at the MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento, Nov. 1, 2022.
Tucson favorite Rollies is opening a food truck at the MSA Annex
Houlden’s Rise Above
Owner Hannah Houlden opened this brick and mortar vegan bakery at 5029 E. Fifth St. this year.
The bakery is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until items are sold out. Houlden's pastries can also be found at several coffeehouses around Tucson.
Mojo Cuban Kitchen and Rum Bar
1929 E. Grant Road
Mojo Cuban opened Oct. 30, 2022.
Tita Tita is a pop-up restaurant serving Filipino food. Owners Philip Rieff and Cody Webster hope to open in a brick and mortar location in the future. Go to titatitaus.com to see where it will pop up next.
There's a new spot serving Filipino food in Tucson, from lumpia to BBQ
The Cookie Plug
150 N. Campbell Ave.
Cookies are baked fresh daily. More locations will open in Tucson next year.
Two Hands Corn Dogs
2786 N. Campbell Ave.
Website: Two Hands Corn Dogs – Campbell (usakor.com)
Two Hands Corn Dogs opened its first Tucson location October 12, 2022. This unique eatery features seven Korean-style corn dog options, plus fries and elote.
Two more Tucson-area locations are in the works.
Rudy’s “Country Store” & Bar-B-Q
2130 E Ajo Way
Rudy’s specializes in all things barbecue from their popular brisket to smoked turkey breast, chicken, ribs and pulled pork. Meat is sold by the half-pound — ranging from $6.99 for sausage links to $10.99 for brisket — and sides are a la carte.
Nattha's Bann Thai Asian
6970 E. 22nd St.
Nattha’s Bann Thai Asian, located at 6970 E. 22nd St., opened around June and serves up Thai and Cantonese dishes from mussaman curry to Pad Thai.
Website: Nattha's Bann
By the Bucket
2130 N. Kolb Road
By the Bucket sells hot spaghetti to go in a bucket, meatballs, meatball subs, deserts and cold drinks.
Peace, Love and Pops
814 E University Blvd
299 S. Park Ave
The restaurant at 299 S. Park Ave. will reopen, after a six-year closure, on Friday, June 3, with the original breakfast and lunch menu that dates back to 1989.
Texas Burrito Company
1570 E. Tucson Marketplace Blvd
This new restaurant on Tucson's south side is run by Jason Scott, who incorporates his Texan roots and barbecue into traditional Sonoran food.
Ren Bakery and Espresso Bar
4320 N. Campbell Ave., #43
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Baked goods from muffins and danish to scones and cinnamon rolls that are used in Ren Coffeehouse nearby, and of course, espresso.
4426 S. Sixth Ave.
Spicy candies and snacks are on the menu.
Squared Up Pizza
5870 E Broadway
This pizza spot presents Sicilian pies like you get in New York. Their pies are in the traditional Sicilian square, with a thicker base and crunchy crust.
5526 E Grant Road
Menu items are inspired by the famous painter couple, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
40 E. Congress St.
The Monica opened as an offshoot of El Charro Café. It is named for El Charro's founder Monica Flin and includes a market along with the restaurant.
6872 E. Tanque Verde Road
BoSa Donuts serves more than donuts and coffee. You can get lunch there with sandwiches and other drinks.
Bun Dock Vietnamese Noodle
3225 N. Swan Road, Suite 111
The restaurant specializes in Vietnamese Bún (Vermicelli Salad Bowls)
Cruda Mariscos & Oyster Bar
31 N. Scott Ave.
Cruda is the newest in a slew of opulent, Mexican-influenced restaurants across Tucson. It was opened by Danny Cordova in the space left when his first downtown venture, La Chingada, moved into the former location of the now-closed restaurant Cafe Poca Cosa.
994 E. University Blvd.
This lunch to late-night munchies spot has classic and vegan burgers and sandwiches and sides and a considerable dessert menu.
5955 W. Arizona Pavilions Drive
This Mexican restaurant at 5955 W. Arizona Pavilions Drive is the third location for chef-owner Seth Holzman, which include Guadalajara Grill Mexican, 4901 E. Broadway, and Guadalajara Grill Fiesta, 750 N. Kolb Road. It has the same menu of classic Mexican food.
Midtown Vegan Deli and Market
5071 E. Fifth St.
Tanya Barnett started her deli and market out of a desire to make veganism more accessible — for meat eaters and die-hard vegans alike. She asked vegans what ingredients they needed to find and placed them on her first order.
Ni Hao Tea
2800 N. Campbell Ave.
Ni Hao Tea, with this new location, serves Boba tea and smoothies.
The Century Room at Hotel Congress
311 E. Congress St.
Tucson's only jazz club, The Century Room borderlands jazz club and mezcal tasting lounge, is in the former Copper Hall banquet space at at Hotel Congress.
135 S. Sixth Ave.
The Delta officially opened on New Year’s Day. It is the downtown sister project of local favorite The Parish.
Tucsonans might recognize The Parish as a restaurant that transforms an Oro Valley strip mall into a shot of New Orleans. The Delta will feature the same Southern Hospitality it will be a bar with a grill menu instead of the Parish's gumbo.
35 E. Toole Ave.
Bata is owned by Tyler Fenton, who, with two siblings, also owns Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink. The menu will consist of foods touched by fire, whether being grilled, charred, flame dried or burned (on purpose).
Pacaws Wings & Things
6255 E. Golf Links Road
In this Series
Get a taste of Tucson with these 2022 stories by Star reporter Gerald Gay
Feast for the eyes: Amazing Tucson art to see in 2022
Intimate dining: Tucson eats to get you in the mood this Valentine's Day
Beauty and the feast: These Tucson restaurants and bars promote local artists
- 5 updates