I had one major goal on my recent week long trip to Arizona. Test, examine and grade the best dishes at as many Mexican Restaurants in Tucson as possible within a 7-day period. Thanks to some great advice from locals, the Tucson Mexican Restaurants Challenge turned out to be a great success. I managed to hit 6 different traditional Mexican Restaurants in 7 days. I hope you enjoy the results of this experiment because the maid service at my hotel sure didn’t!
My Favorite Mexican Restaurants in Tucson:
El Charro Café – Carne Seca Plate
I arrived in Arizona on Cinco de Mayo, the perfect day to start my Tucson Mexican Restaurant Challenge! I searched online for “Best Mexican Restaurants in Tuscson” and talked to some friends from Arizona who directed me to the nation’s oldest family run Mexican restaurant, El Charro Café in downtown Tucson. After reading Gourmet Magazine and US Today rave about it I was convinced.
I arrived around 9pm to find the festivities in full swing. The restaurant and adjoining bar, Toma, were packed with honorary Mexicans, so I grabbed a spot near the bar to wait for a table. A few Dos Equis later I was seated at a small table towards the back of the restaurant. The menu was overwhelming and the décor was as traditional as it was tacky.
The waitress sold me on the Carne Seca Plate that everyone raves about. They dry, seasoned Angus beef on the roof for hours before shredding and serving it warm tortillas, rice and beans. To me, it just tasted like well-seasoned beef jerky. It was dry but flavorful and the tortillas were delicious. I asked for a side of Mole to juice it up a bit.
Cost: $28.58 (with beer and tip) Grade: 4.3/5 Site: elcharrocafe.com
Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant – Chicken Enchiladas
I usually don’t trust restaurants that sit in the back of plazas, but Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant came highly recommended (I guess Willie Nelson is a big fan). The vibe was very authentic and unlike El Charro Café, had an entire Mexican staff, which just feels nice. Before dinner was even served, Rosa’s won on two categories. 1. It was definitely the most colorful of Mexican Restaurant in Tucson, with beautiful wall murals depicting Mexican pueblos and people. And secondly, Rosa’s had the best salsa I tried all week. It was spicy but oh so flavorful. Without hesitation the waiter/manager recommended the Chicken Enchiladas with the red sauce… done and done. I’m not even a big enchilada guy but those puppies were amazing. Cheesy and packed with chicken, I polished off the over size plate in a matter of minutes. Delicious!
Cost: $18.10 (drink and tip) Grade: 4.5/5 Site:
La Indita – Chicken Tamales
La Indita Mexican Restaurant near the University of Arizona was a darker, quieter version of Rosa’s, with traditional wall paintings and a full Mexican staff. Everything was good but nothing blew my socks off. The Chicken Tamales were excellent and the beans were delicious. It was definitely a great meal for the money.
Cost: #13.58 (drink and tip) Grade: 3.8/5 Site: La Indita via Yelp
El Molinito – Carne Asada Tacos
El Molinito was definitely the biggest Mexican Restaurant in Tucson that I had the chance to visit. I settled in at the bar and tore up some real good carne asada tacos. The meat was tender and plentiful and mixed up with the beans in a warm tortilla… ooooh lordy that’s good. I wish they would have come a little fresher with the pico de gallo and supplied more avocados but the meat picked up any slack.
Cost: $14.80 (beer and tip) Grade: 4/5 Site: elmolinitos.com
Taco Bell – Fresco Bean Burrito & Chicken Taco
I believe the Taco Bell Mexican Restaurants in Tuscon have additional locations across the country, but it made for the perfect snack during a busy week. I went with a chicken taco appetizer and the fresco bean burrito for my main dish. Both were pretty simple, yet with an additional hot sauce packet, they were instantly kicked up a notch. The restaurant itself isn’t much to look at, but because of their speed and efficiency this Mexican restaurant is perfect for quick trip south of the border when you’re on the move.
Cost: $4.12 (no drink or tip) Grade: 2/5 Site: tacobell.com
Café Poca Cosa – Pollo con Mole Negro (Chicken with Black Mole)
A broke the bank on my final Mexican Restaurant in Tucson. I was hearing great things about Café Poca Cosa all week so I finally called and made a reservation for 1 on Friday night. I was a little hesitant to go because reservations for 1 can get a little depressing, but I sacked up and had an incredible food experience. The menu was limited, 12 items to be exact, but the waitress guided me through each dish as she explained how acclaimed chef/owner, Suzana Davila, had prepared them. My mind was made up before she moved on to number two. I’m a HUGE mole (mol-a) fan, really, I’d drink it like a smoothie if it wasn’t weird and they had the Pollo con Mole Negro just screaming my name. Without a moments hesitation I ordered it up with a glass of Argentine Malbec and settled in for an epic Mexican mouth party. While I was waiting, Suzana came up and gave me an opportunity to practice my Spanish a bit. She’s originally from central Mexico and wanted to create Café Poca Cosa to show people that there’s so much more to Mexican food beyond tacos and burritos. Her passion for food and culture was inspirational and it spilled over into every dish. As we were talking she had someone else bring me a sample of another pulled pork dish that was truly incredible. The mole turned out to be just as impressive, as was the rice, beans, chicken and atmosphere. The only thing missing from this amazing Mexican cuisine experience were friends to share it with (because then I could have tried more dishes).
Cost: $40.82 (Wine and tip) Grade: 5/5 Site: cafepocacosatucson.com
Based on all the different advice and opinions I received, I could have easily stayed in Arizona a month trying all the different Mexican Restaurants Tucson has to offer. Next time I’m going to Mi Nidito to try their Chile Relleno, El Guero Canelo for their sonoran hot dog and some handmade tortillas at Guadalajara Grill.
The Best Mexican Restaurants in Tucson Ratings:
Urban Spoon rates the Best Tucson Mexican Restaurants
10 Best rates the 10 Best Mexican Restaurants in Tucson, AZ