Tucson may have a vibrant Jewish community of thousands of people, but finding our food has always been a schlep. (Up to Phoenix, for the most part.)
If I could tell you how to get a decent bowl of matzah ball soup in this town, I would. But unfortunately I don't cater. 😛 So this list of Jewish foods doesn't have soup, sorry about that. But it does have chocolate covered matzah! And rugelach, and blintzes, and latkes ... We may not have a full Jewish deli or even a kosher market anymore, but we do have lots of dedicated chefs who are using their restaurants to serve traditional Jewish foods.
Here are some items I was able to track down over the past week. My list mostly sways toward Eastern European classics that you might see at a New York deli. But it's important to note that foods like falafel and Israeli couscous are also part of the Jewish repertoire. So consider this list a starting point, and if you have more suggestions make sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Hanukkah!
Potato pancakes from Polish Cottage
Much of the Jewish food we know derives from Eastern European countries like Russia and Poland. So it's no surprise that this midtown restaurant serves a lot of familiar comfort foods, like stuffed cabbage (although it's made with pork). The menu also has potato pancakes, which they call Placki Ziemniazcane ... but the dish is the same. Perhaps a little thinner than regular latkes, but still paired with sour cream and apple sauce like your mom would do.
Corned beef Reuben from Time Market
Restaurants across Tucson serve this New York deli staple, but my favorite has always been the Classic Reuben at Time Market. Their housemade pain levain bread sets it apart from other versions, but I do love their sauerkraut, which is also housemade.
Cookies and Hanukkah doughnuts from Nadines Bakery
Nadines happens to be one of the finest bakeries around town, but it's also the only kosher-certified bakery in the city. I was able to purchase challah bread rolls for Thanksgiving, but the shop also has a large variety of Jewish sweets like rugelach and sufganiyot jelly doughnuts traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. You can also purchase the iconic black and white cookie, or these Jewish themed sugar cookies to celebrate the holiday.
Chocolate covered matzo at Monsoon Chocolate
Local chocolatier Adam Krantz does a lot of his business during the holidays, and this is a fun item that can double as a Hanukkah gift. He takes Manischewitz matzo crackers and coats them in their 69 percent dark chocolate blend and then drizzles on vanilla white bean chocolate made from Ugandan vanilla beans. It's like a chocolate covered pretzel but more nostalgic.
Bagel and lox from The Bagel Joint
Best bagels in town, hands down. Boston native Michael Rudner has been running this place since 2016 and boils his bagels every morning. The bagel and lox sandwich comes with Nova lox, capers, tomatoes and red onions, just like it should.
Challah bread and matzah brie from the Café at the J
Tucson's Jewish Community Center has its own Kosher-certified cafe, which also caters Friday night Shabbat dinners for the local community. The breakfast menu has matzah brei, which is basically matzah crackers with scrambled eggs. They also do weekly challah bread orders for Friday pickup. More info here.
Rugelach and challah bread from Beyond Bread
The bakery at this popular sandwich joint does some of the best rugelach I've had in recent memory. During my visit this week, the strudel-like pastry was stuffed with a sweet raspberry filling, with pink sugar crystals on top. Beyond Bread also does challah bread on Fridays.
Blintzes and latkes from Claire's Cafe in Catalina
Chicago-native Claire Johnson is a commanding presence who makes some killer potato latkes. But Claire's also has a full breakfast menu of omelets, pancakes, French toast and more for the non-kosher kinda folks. During my latest visit, I split an order of the cheese blintzes, a bagel and lox platter with some spectacular buttery salmon, and the crispy latkes.
Shakshuka from The Coronet
Forgive me for realizing this existed so close to deadline, and not giving myself enough time to try it. Because this looks amazing! Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish that has ties to the Jewish religion, and is just starting to get popular around these parts. Coronet's version, available for breakfast and lunch, has a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas, Feta cheese and an egg on top. I can't wait to taste it with some fresh flatbread.