The Welcome Hospitality crew has for three years worked to build restaurants with reputations that live up to their name. With both Welcome Diner and Welcome Chicken + Donuts in central Phoenix proven successes around town (PHOENIX named the latter a Best New Restaurant last year), the brand turned its eyes to the south. So what happens when a Phoenix foodie favorite meets a recently UNESCO-designated World City of Gastronomy? A whole lot of yum.
Welcome Diner Tucson immediately captures that homey, retro feel of the Garfield original – just sized up by five. The historic midcentury space first emerged on Broadway Boulevard in 1964 and operated as the beloved Chaffin’s Diner until it was sold to Welcome’s Sloane McFarland and Michael Babcock last December.
McFarland and Babcock kept much of the original architecture intact, but added plenty of recognizable Welcome Diner touches: cherry red neon, bright teal paint and light butcher block wood countertops. Photos from the diner’s decades-long history hang on the walls. Past and present, Phoenix and Tucson come together.
The diner’s new menu continues that equal parts classic, equal parts new balance. If you're not one for change and still only crave the jack fruit fries or Big Jim sandwich, don't despair: They await you in Tucson. But trying a new Welcome Diner Tucson dish will reward you with new Asian and Southwestern twists on the old school Southern meals the original Welcome Diner mastered.
Our table’s favorite was one of the day’s appetizer specials: fried “chicano-yaki” octopus masa balls buried under a jicama-orange salad, achiote sauce, avocado and cotija. Sweet, crunchy with just a bit of spice, they started disappearing before I could even grab a photo. I’ve seen photos of the fusion dish pop up on their Instagram since then, so there’s hope of a promotion to permanent menu item, or at least revolving guest star. Other highlights included my Pima Grits – delicious, hearty grits and perfectly charred okra and shrimp – and the smoked trout and blue corn sopes.
General Manager Wayne Coats was more excited about Welcome Diner Tucson’s expanded cocktail service than almost anything else at the new restaurant, and for good reason. The Tucson-exclusive drinks are all big steps up in complexity. He recommended the Frappe Guey – a milky absinthe and creosote concoction – as a dessert drink. And if you’re on a budget, come during happy hour, where $4 gets you a perfect whiskey sour.
If You Go
Welcome Diner Tucson
902 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson
5 p.m. – 2 a.m. everyday
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