Pictured is the Boba Lover ($12.75) at Unitea, complete with ice cream and three kinds of boba inside a bubble waffle.

Winter is always a busy time in Tucson. People who live in cold weather climates flock to Tucson like sandhill cranes; students return to class. It’s a great time to open a restaurant, with the rest of our glorious spring to capitalize on sunny weather.

At least 20 local restaurants have either opened or expanded this winter. Here’s the rundown!

Barbata

The restaurateur behind Reilly’s Craft Pizza and its basement bar, Tough Luck Club, is duplicating the concept in more upscale digs. Bata, a fine dining restaurant named after the Japanese art of cooking over open flame, was one of the buzziest restaurants of 2022. Barbata is its basement bar, designed with European flair.

Location: Basement, 35 E. Toole Ave.

For more information, check out their website.

Pictured is rainbow sherbet ice cream made by Dana Rengel at Decibel Coffee Works. It’s a Tucson take on the classic treat, including passionfruit, key lime and prickly pear.

Blondie’s Ice Cream

Dana Rengel makes ice cream at Decibel Coffee Works in the MSA Annex — and in a cute lil trailer around town under the name Blondie's Ice Cream. Harder to find are typical flavors — you’re more likely to try sweet potato pie, orange creamsicle and vegan snickerdoodle than chocolate or strawberry.

Location: While you can always find ice cream at Decibel Coffee Works, 267 S. Avenida del Convento, follow Blondie’s Instagram for up-to-date locations of the trailer.

For more information, check out their Instagram or our article.

Blue Front

The newest addition to Patricia Schwabe’s roster of chic downtown eateries is Blue Front, an upscale American restaurant inspired by her visits to the United States from Mexico as a child.

Location: 110 E. Congress St.

For more information, check out their website or our article.

Find empanadas, including fatay, left, humita, beef and others at Che Cafe.

Che Cafe Empanadas Argentinas

If you want to visit Buenos Aires, but you’re on a budget, this lovingly curated cafe on the south side is the quickest way to feel like you’re in Argentina. The cafe’s menu focuses on Argentine-style empanadas baked with wheat dough.

Location: 1998 E. Irvington Road

For more information, check out their website or our article.

Chef Brian’s Comfort Kitchen

The Instagram aficionado @tucsonwingexpert declared Chef Brian’s wings a 9.1/10. Though the celebrity chef’s menu is centered around elevated chicken and waffles, Chef Brian also offers a limited selection of vegan and gluten-free options at this Fourth Avenue eatery.

Location: 611 N. Fourth Ave.

For more information, check out their website.

Minibar

Spaghetti Club was the MSA Annex’s sensation of the summer — but as new vendors Savior and Warm Shape moved into their space after Spaghetti Club’s off-season lease ended, Minibar arrived. The stylish, small bar is run by the same folks behind Spaghetti Club, and, like its predecessor, will delight with fun pop-ups and other special events.

Location: MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento

For more information, check out their Instagram.

Okashi's vegan ube ice cream was creamier than most dairy ice creams I've had in Tucson.

Okashi Ice Cream & Confections

Each week, Dean Blair posts two eclectic menus on his Instagram page: a traditional and a vegan option, featuring pastries you can’t find anywhere else, like canelés, and always a pint of ice cream. He applies Japanese techniques and Asian flavors like Filipino ube and Japanese kinako to both his ice cream and pastries.

Location: Okashi is currently based out of owner Dean Blair's home in Blenman-Elm, but keep an eye out for his upcoming commissary.

For more information, check out their website, Instagram or our article.

Puro Ice

This Mexican-Italian ice shop downtown was inspired by the owners’ experiences with nieve de garrafa in Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s also a new brick and mortar from Tanna Cole, the force behind the beloved Mexican snack shack Tanna’s Botannas.

Location: 314 E. Sixth St.

For more information, check out their Instagram or our article.

Morgan Young grabs a bottle of whiskey from an extensive selection for a customer to taste at Batch, the whiskey and doughnut bar at 118 E. Congress, downtown.

Snake & Barrel

Batch made a splash downtown with its quaint combination of whiskey and doughnuts. Now they’ve opened a basement bar with an expanded cocktail menu and a speakeasy-adjacent vibe.

Location: Basement, 118 E. Congress St.

For more information, check out their website.

Unitea

Looking for mochi doughnuts and bubble waffles? This cute boba tea shop in midtown offers all kinds of goodies and is the second location for Ethan Pham, who got his start in Michigan.

Location: 1710 E. Speedway

For more information, check out their Instagram or our article.

Uptown Burger

You might be familiar with Daniel Scordato from his work at the long-standing Italian restaurant Vivace. He’s looking to reproduce his success in the Foothills with a refined casual burger restaurant.

Location: 6370 N. Campbell Ave.

For more information, check out their website.

Wooden Tooth Records

This vinyl record shop opened a second location on Congress Street, in the former location of the Red Room venue. The shop is outfitted with a bar featuring limited beer selections, for now, to enjoy while you browse.

Location: 108 E. Congress St.

For more information, check out their Instagram or website.

New locations

  • Blacktop Grill  This grill slinging Sonoran-style pub fare recently branched out from their flagship location in Marana to a second spot downtown. The Blacktop Grill will be supplying revelers with their loaded nachos and hot dogs at the Dillinger Brewing Company location at 402 E. Ninth St. For more information, check out their website.
  • Borderlands Brewing Company — Their sights on a second location, Borderlands Brewing Company settled into new digs in the Sam Hughes neighborhood at 2500 E. Sixth St. They brought along the talents of Chef Maria Mazon, of Fourth Avenue’s Boca Tacos, to design a limited bar fare menu to accompany their beer selection and refreshing assortment of cocktails. For more information, check out their website.
  • FireTruck Pizza Company — FireTruck Brewing Company has expanded into the pizza market. This local chain of brewpubs just opened a pizza restaurant at 800 N. Kolb Road, of course, with their typical selection of beers on tap. For more information, check out their Facebook.
  • Tuk Tuk Thai — This cult-classic Thai street food restaurant just opened its third location, this time in the Foothills at 6878 E. Sunrise Dr. For more information, check out their website.

Expansions

  • Bistro at the J  If you’ve ever enjoyed the Shabbat dinners that the Tucson Jewish Community Center caters, you’ve enjoyed the work of Chef Asher Amar. Now the JCC, 3800 E. River Road, is collaborating with Chef Asher to host kosher pop-up dinners every third Thursday of the month, through April. For more information, check out their website.
  • 5 Points dinner service  Barrio Viejo’s brunch darling has now opened for limited dinner service! The announcements have mostly been informal over social media, but they’re open for dinner with their natural wine selection Thursday-Saturday at 756 S. Stone Ave. For more information, check out their website.
  • Ensenada Street Food breakfast  This women-run food truck-cum-restaurant at 1602 S. Park Ave., known for their Baja-style tacos, now offers breakfast! They offer breakfast burritos, pancakes, and more, including an entire vegan menu. For more information, check out their Instagram.
  • Family Joint Pizzeria breakfast  Our food writer’s favorite pizza in Tucson is now partnering with Cal’s Bake Shop to launch Breakfast & Bread. The weekend special (check their Instagram to see what locations they’re running Breakfast & Bread and when) features a special menu of breakfast enchiladas, sandwiches on Cal’s conchas, and French toast, as well as a selection of Cal’s pastries.

Coming soon

  • Agave House A Mexican restaurant by the owners of Gentle Ben’s is expected to open in Main Gate Square soon, at 943 E. University Blvd.
  • Comida Park  While The Pit is embroiled with regulations from the city, food truck park Comida Park operates outside of city limits at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet, 4100 S. Palo Verde Road. Comida Park opens Feb. 10.
  • Dandelion Cafe  Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum's new grab-and-go restaurant will be run by the family behind LaCo, Ceres and Noodies. There will be sandwiches, salads and charcuterie boards available at 196 N. Court Ave.
  • Doughbird  This new Sam Fox concept, with pizza and rotisserie chicken, is coming to Tucson (2960 N. Campbell Ave.) after being launched in Phoenix.
  • Flower Child  This health-conscious restaurant at 2960 N. Campbell Ave. is like the Charrovida of the Sam Fox restaurant empire.
  • Main Event  A bowling alley with laser tag and a menu of American classics will have a 5-day grand opening, starting on March 3, where the first 200 people in line will get free bowling for a year. Find it at 4700 S. Landing Way.
  • Monsoon Chocolate’s Market  While you might already have enjoyed Monsoon’s award-winning chocolate at their flagship on 22nd Street, or at your local farmers market, they’re now opening a market of their own at 3660 E. Fort Lowell Road.
  • Tabu  This Latin-fusion bar and restaurant at 128 E. Congress St. will be expanding your understanding of Mexican food beyond Sonora.

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Watch now: Sandhill cranes come to southern Arizona from as far as Siberia. Here they are taking flight at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. Video by Ellice Lueders/This is Tucson.


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