"Let's go try something new honey, I'm sick of eating Nashville hot chicken or build-your-own Sichuan griddle fish every night! Can't we go somewhere with bison cheeseburgers or Persian lamb kebabs, or at least a plate of spicy Chinese pig brain?"
"Yes we can honey, yes we can ..."
That's basically the conversation that's been going on at my house all month (except, you know, it was me talking to my cat.) As you'll see in just a second, Tucson has a ton of new food options and it's all interesting stuff!
February was the month that Tucson met onigiri 🍙, with not one but two restaurants opening on the west side. Also, our Sichuan food scene continues to rage. Original Cuisine may be the best Chinese restaurant in the Phoenix area, and it just opened a Tucson location on Campbell and Fort Lowell.
All of these developments made me realize something new about Tucson: Whether you wanna call it collaboration or competition, our restaurateurs are watching each other very closely. When something works, like Persian food in Oro Valley for example, there's another place that pops up to do it in a different way.
Last thing I'll say right now (because I gotta finish this up so I can get some alligator roast at The Parish tonight), is that Fourth Avenue is bumping! I haven't seen that gas station restaurant this busy, well ever ... And down the street from ATL Wings, there's a new coffee roaster, more food options at The Boxyard food hall, and a Hawaiian doughnut place on the way? 🤙
802 N. Fourth Ave., 520-207-1771
Based on the early crowds, I think this Phoenix-based wing joint might have some staying power. ATL Wings opened at the Fourth Avenue service station Feb. 16, and was serving a packed house on my latest visit. Not to be confused with the now-closed ATL Wings Your Way on Sixth Street, "All the Love" has more than 20 flavors of bone-in and boneless wings. They really excel in the dry-rubbed department; Their lemon pepper wings had a great crunch and a fresh citrus zest to them. Read more.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1021 N. Wilmot Road, 520-203-8884
Divine Bovine serves creative burgers with “ridiculously high-end ingredients” like farm-raised Arizona bison. The concept is from the former owner of Brushfire BBQ, who opened his burger place in an old La Salsa on Speedway and Wilmot. He has 15 burgers on the menu, including the "Mac and What?" with mac and cheese, tomato jam and candied bacon. I'm also excited to try their triple-fried fries, which come with gravy or cheese sauce on top if you want. Read more.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday
267 S. Avenida del Convento, Mercado Annex, Suite 11, 520-367-5982
This casual Japanese restaurant is the second food option at the Mercado's shipping container shopping center, the MSA Annex. Kukai's small menu of ramen, rice bowls and takoyaki balls reads like a teriyaki joint got hip to Instagram. But that's because it's from the owners of Samurai on Oracle Road. The main star of the show here are the onigiri rice balls, shaped into triangles and stuffed with spicy tuna and more. Read more about their Tucson debut here.
Hours: Every day, 12:30-2:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.
10420 N. La Cañada Drive, Suite 160, 520-244-6113
A new Oro Valley restaurant has brought the art of the Persian kebab to a casual setting, with counter service and an open kitchen where you can see your meat being grilled. Just Kabab has a similar menu to the nearby Persian Room, but the Iranian specialties are pared down and at cheaper prices. Start out with the classic skewer of ground beef kubideh and go from there. The new restaurant is adding traditional stews like gheyme and ghorme sabzi in the future.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.; closed Sunday; subject to change
Maru Japanese Noodle Shop
1370 N. Silverbell Road, Suite 180, 520-838-0717
More Japanese food on the west side! Maru Japanese Noodle Shop is a casual counter-service spot from the people behind Yoshimatsu. But here the emphasis is on ramen and udon noodles. If you love udon as much as I do, you'll be intrigued by different styles here. In addition to the familiar beef and curry udons, they're also doing a spicy tantan udon, sweet tofu kitsune udon and a cream udon with a sauce similar to fettuccine alfredo? They also make small snacks like takoyaki balls and onigiri, stored under a heat lamp by the counter.
Hours: Every day, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Mission Coffee Imports
606 N. Fourth Ave., 520-247-7219
After years of farmers' markets, this local business recently moved into the former home of Revolutionary Grounds on Fourth Avenue. The folks behind Mission Coffee Imports purchase beans from a micro broker called Coffee Shrub, and roast them on the premises for peak freshness. They sell coffee beans by the pound or half-pound, but also by the cup. Read more from Cathalena E. Burch here.
Hours: Every day, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Arizona Republic speculated that this may be the best Chinese food in the Phoenix area. (I've eaten there, and I'm tempted to agree.) This month Original Cuisine opened another location in Tucson, which flew pretty much completely under the radar until I spotted it while visiting the laundromat next door. The Sichuan menu caters to adventurous eaters who enjoy dishes like rabbit with pickled pepper and baby ginger. The menu is a little limited right now since it just opened, but stay tuned for a full report!
Hours: Thursday-Tuesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Wednesday
Tortillas by Che West
2105 S. Sixth Ave., 520-589-9436
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Feeling So Blessed Never knew tortillas would be a business. Thankful for so many things. @josegee__ Thank you for being a ride or die type of person! I need that and I am grateful to have you as my business partner! It’s just the beginning and so much to be optimistic about. To have my kids with me while I sell these delicious disks is just icing on the top. It’s only been a week and can’t wait for Saturday to be fully open! Come by tomorrow at 10am to get fresh tortillas and pan dulce. Thank again to everyone helping get my dreams out. 2105 S 6th Ave Tucson, AZ 85713 #cheflife #flaminghotcheetos #chef #chewest #tortillasbychewest #garlicchipotle #tucson #southsixthbodega #tucsonmiamor #everybodyeats #tortilla #infusedtortillas #artisan
You may have seen Jose Zavala's colorful corn tortillas at American Eat Co., but now the local chef is opening his own storefront. Tortillas by Che West has a variety of non-GMO handmade corn tortillas in creative flavors like garlic green onion, Hot Cheetos, El Pato and more. He's also selling a variety of flour tortillas and pan dulce from La Estrella Bakery. In the future, Jose wants to host private dinners in the space, but for now you can catch one of his taco popups on Friday night.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday noon to 7 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 7 or 8 p.m.; closed Monday
On the horizon:
— A second Dutch Bros. coffee shop is opening in Rita Ranch this Wednesday, writes Cathalena E. Burch in The Star
— Holy Smokin' Butts BBQ is close to opening its second location at 6940 E. Broadway, according to this Facebook post
— The east-side beer bar Hop Street Lounge is slated to open in mid-March, writes Gerald M. Gay in the Star
— Irene's Holy Doughnuts hopes to open early March in the former Cans location at 340 N. Fourth Ave., writes Cathalena E. Burch in The Star
— A new coffee shop Crema Coffee is coming to 3725 W. Ina Road. This Facebook post show's they're currently redeveloping the inside.