Carne asada tacos at Tacos Apson

A meaty smorgasbord at Tacos Apson in Tucson consists of cheesy caramelos (top left) and various tacos de carne asada, or grilled beef.  

Shortly after Tucson was named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States in 2015, Jonathan Mabry and his colleagues began to hear from a lot of local restaurants who wanted in.

"They saw (the designation) as a powerful international brand that they wanted to be associated with," said Mabry, who now heads up the nonprofit Tucson City of Gastronomy organization formed to manage the designation. "We wanted to be thoughtful about how restaurants would use this brand, because they wanted the use of it to be meaningful."

The solution was to recognize those local restaurants that live up to the spirit of the award ... restaurants that are working to improve our food system and give us "Tucson's authentic flavors," Mabry said. After a several-month application and vetting process, the City of Gastronomy just debuted its list of 2020 Tucson City of Gastronomy Certified Restaurants. (Head to their website for a detailed map and information about each one.) 

The list is divided up into several categories, recognizing restaurants for serving local and heritage foods, as well as paying their employees living wages and using sustainable practices in the kitchen. Rather than providing a checklist, they asked the owners to explain in their own words what they do to deserve the recognition. A committee then assigned points for each application and decided together who would make the cut. 

Out of 37 local restaurants who applied, 23 were chosen. And many of them are from underrepresented parts of Tucson. Before they put out a call for applications, the committee hired a translator from Sonora to assist with promotion and outreach. The final list includes those "longtime family-owned Sonoran-style Mexican restaurants (that are) are an important part of our cuisine and restaurant scene," he said. 

So without further ado, here they are ... 

Local Sourcing

Jasper Ludwig, left, owner of 5 Points Restaurant, and farm manager Sarah Brown in their 3,500-square-foot urban backyard farm, Aug. 10, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. The pair are growing cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes melons, peppers and corn to be used in restaurant dishes and for the Sunday morning farmer's market.

Restaurants in this category source a high percentage of their foods from Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora. As part of this recognition, they've agreed to prominently display a list of their local purveyors for their customers. 

5 Points Market & Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave.

Aravaipa Farm Inn, 89395 E. Aravaipa Road

Boca Tacos y Tequila, 533 N. Fourth Ave.

The Carriage House, 125 S. Arizona Ave

The Cup Cafe, 311 E. Congress St.

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave.

El Güero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road

Exo Roast Co., 403 N. Sixth Ave.

The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, 5501 N. Hacienda Del Sol Road, suite 3

Maynard's Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Ave. A

PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road

Tito & Pep, 4122 E Speedway

Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte 

Employee Support

Reforma's duck confit with mole and chile guajillo. 

These restaurants support their employees both mentally and financially, paying at least two-thirds of their non-tipped employees above the minimum wage. Many of them also offer employer-provided health insurance and even match retirement savings accounts. 

5 Points Market & Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave.

Aravaipa Farm Inn, 89395 E. Aravaipa Road

Blue Willow, 2616 N. Campbell Ave.

The Carriage House, 125 S. Arizona Ave

The Cup Cafe, 311 E. Congress St.

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave.

El Güero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road 

Kingfisher, 2564 E. Grant Road

PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road

Reforma, 4340 N. Campbell Ave., suite 101

Rocco's Little Chicago, 2707 E. Broadway

Rollies Mexican Patio, 4573 S. 12th Ave.

Seis Kitchen, 130 S. Avenida del Convento, #100

Heritage Foods Conservation

Seis Kitchen may just have the best nachos in town. These Nachos Grande, $12, loaded with cochinita pibil pork, black beans, guacamole and more. 

These restaurants prepare traditional dishes with heritage ingredients like chiltepin pepper, or use them in creative dishes that push the envelope. 

5 Points Market & Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave.

Aqui Con el Nene, 4415 N. Flowing Wells Road and 65 W. Valencia Road

Aravaipa Farm Inn, 89395 E. Aravaipa Road

Boca Tacos y Tequila, 533 N. Fourth Ave.

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave.

The Carriage House, 125 S. Arizona Ave

El Güero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road

Exo Roast Co., 403 N. Sixth Ave.

The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, 5501 N. Hacienda Del Sol Road, suite 3

Maynard's Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Ave. A 

PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road 

Rollies Mexican Patio, 4573 S. 12th Ave.

Seis Kitchen, 130 S. Avenida del Convento, #100 

Tacos Apson, 3501 S. 12th Ave.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo, 2618 S. Sixth Ave.

Tito & Pep, 4122 E Speedway

Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte 

Reducing Food Insecurity

2616 N. Campbell Ave. Three-course dinner with choice for each course including: pork ribs, Idaho rainbow trout, flank steak, roasted portobello mushroom pasta. 5-9 p.m. $20. 327-7577.

These restaurants fight hunger in our community by regularly donating to nonprofits or charities like The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. 

5 Points Market & Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave.

Aravaipa Farm Inn, 89395 E. Aravaipa Road

Blue Willow, 2616 N. Campbell Ave.

The Carriage House, 125 S. Arizona Ave

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave.

Maynard's Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Ave. A

Regional Dishes

Sonoran Hot Dog from El Guero Canelo booth is available at the annual Tucson Meet Yourself event in Tucson, AZ. on Friday, October 7, 2016. Photo by Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star.

These restaurants serve traditional Sonoran-style flavors that Tucson is known for, like carne asada, Sonoran hot dogs and more. 

Aqui Con el Nene, 4415 N. Flowing Wells Road and 65 W. Valencia Road

Boca Tacos y Tequila, 533 N. Fourth Ave.

El Güero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road

Reforma, 4340 N. Campbell Ave., suite 101

Rollies Mexican Patio, 4573 S. 12th Ave. 

Seis Kitchen, 130 S. Avenida del Convento, #100 

Tacos Apson, 3501 S. 12th Ave.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo, 2618 S. Sixth Ave. 

Sustainable Practices

Exo Roast Co. added the Exo Bar in 2018. The Exo Bar has a capacity of 80, and shows are often free.

These restaurants use environmentally-friendly practices like using compostable takeout containers, avoiding plastic and styrofoam, or growing ingredients onsite. 

5 Points Market & Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave.

Aravaipa Farm Inn, 89395 E. Aravaipa Road

Blue Willow, 2616 N. Campbell Ave. 

The Cup Cafe, 311 E. Congress St.

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave. 

Exo Roast Co., 403 N. Sixth Ave.

Kingfisher, 2564 E. Grant Road

Mama Louisa's, 2041 S. Craycroft Road

Maynard's Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Ave. A

Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte 

Supporting Economic Development

James Beard Award-winning chef, Janos Wilder, owner of Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, plans to open an event space in what is now the Dragonfly Gallery, 146 E Broadway Blvd. Beth Daum, right, director of the gallery, says the gallery will re-open in a space at 721 N. Fourth Ave. near East University Boulevard. Janos says the name of the event space will be called Carriage House and he plans to be fully open by late January 2016. Tuesday September 15, 2015 

These restaurants improve the local economy by mentoring other food businesses, hiring graduates from local culinary schools and more. 

El Güero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, 135 S. Sixth Ave.


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