Eat Like a Tourist

Eat Like a Tourist: Tucson

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Eegee's grinders, cookies, drink and fries (with ranch, obviously)
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Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails (Credit: Tim Fuller)

You've heard the refrain, and it's a noble one: "Eat like a local." But what if you want to be an unapologetic tourist and try an Arizona restaurant you've been hearing about for years? There's a reason these places are famous, right? This edition of "Eat Like a Tourist" takes us to Tucson.


Why it's famous: Cult following

What started as two guys selling frozen lemonade out of a truck has now—40 years later—blossomed into a 24-location Tucson staple to which travelers make pilgrimages any time they're in Southern Arizona. Specializing in its signature frozen drink with chunks of fresh fruit, Eegee's also serves sandwiches and baked goods. If you opt for a frozen beverage (which you should), go for lemon or strawberry, or try one of the new flavors highlighted each month for a limited release. Fans of Eegee's love that the company is committed to their community and environmental involvement; Eegee's makes it a priority to donate time, food and money to local charities, and strives to be a zero-waste company.


Why it's famous: Helmed by a James Beard Award winner

Under the direction of Janos Wilder, a James Beard award recipient in 2000 for "Top Chef in the Southwest," Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails is in good hands. Wilder began his culinary career at a pizza parlor in Menlo Park, Calif., when he was a teenager; he's since become one of the top chefs in the country, as evidenced by his award-winning Tucson restaurants Janos and J BAR. He also launched the modern-food truck Wild Johnny's Wagon and authored a pair of best-selling cookbooks ("Janos: Recipes and Tales From a Southwest Restaurant," and "The Great Chiles Rellenos Book"). The cuisine at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails features culinary traditions from all over the world—Indo-China, Africa, Latin America—in addition to ingredients indigenous to Southern Arizona. Start with the hamachi tostada, then move on to grilled pork tenderloin with papas bravas and romesco sauce.


Why it's famous: Legendary Sonoran hot dogs

Daniel Contreras was born in Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, and opened his first hot dog stand in Tucson in 1993. Today, Contreras owns and operates three Tucson-based El Guero Canelo restaurants, another in Phoenix, a meat market in Tucson and a tortilla factory in Magdalena. The menu at El Guero Canelo highlights the hot dogs (obviously), which are made in traditional Sonoran style: bacon-wrapped and topped with pinto beans, grilled onions, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise and jalapeño sauce. So notable and beloved are El Guero Canelo's franks, they won the "American Classic" award from the James Beard Foundation in 2018. In addition to the hot dogs, El Guero Canelo's menu offers burros, tacos, tortas and other Mexican specialties.


Why it's famous: A downtown hot spot

Located in a historic building on Congress Street in the urban renaissance that is Tucson's downtown, Hub's hipster cred comes from its ever-changing lineup of more than 40 funky ice cream flavors. Not Your Granny's Coconut Cake, Pistachio Orange Blossom and Guava Tamarindo Chamoy rub elbows with Mexican Wedding Cookie and classics like Salted Caramel and Banana Cream Pie. Homemade and organic, the ice cream is available as a grab-and-go treat, but we recommend sticking around to enjoy it with a cocktail or glass of wine at Hub's bar and lounge—open until midnight and perfect for night owls.


Why it's famous: Old-school cowboy dinners

In keeping with dusty Old West traditions, Silver Saddle Steakhouse uses a custom steel and brick mesquite wood grill and pit. The pit produces temperatures that can exceed 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pit master yanks on an antique buggy wheel with welded horseshoes to raise and lower the cooking grate over the fire. During the golden era of cowboy cookery, mesquite wood lent a unique flavor to the standard fare of beef. Silver Saddle continues this tradition, in addition to making sure you leave stuffed. The dinner menu keeps things simple and classic, featuring a juicy 24-ounce porterhouse, a premium 10-ounce New York Strip and a full pound of fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs.

David Duran

About the Author: David Duran

David Duran is an award-winning travel writer who has been to all seven continents and more than 75 countries and counting.

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