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January, 2009, Page 56
photos by Nicole Roegner
A culinary tour of Tucson turns up six surprisingly scrumptious dining options.
Say “Tucson” and I hear “Mexican food.” Not to diss my local ladies, Carolina and Rosita, but I’ve had pretty much the best Mexican meals ever when visiting our southern neighbor. Mexican restaurants there offer more variety and options, and the quality of ingredients and care that goes into preparation are invariably superior, too. In short, Tucsonans seem to consider Mexican food a cultural treasure and, as such, revere it in a way we rarely see in the Valley.
That said, I promised myself on this Tucson taste trek that I was going to eschew Mi Nidito, El Minuto and Las Cazuelita and, for once, expand my culinary horizons. I put out some feelers to my Tucson contacts and was immediately advised to get myself to Chile Verde: A Taco Joint, “a wildly popular” new downtown Mexican restaurant. As Tony Soprano would say, “Whaddya gonna do?” So I went.
This is a spiffy looking little joint. Painted in fresh citrus colors, the good-sized room smoothly meshes rustic (sturdy mesquite tables) and contemporary (sleek persimmon orange glass light fixtures). Orders are taken at the front counter, beverages are self-served, and a spot at the bar affords a glimpse of the wood-fired grill and its succulent contents.
Salads average $8.50, plain tacos are two for $6, tacos especiale run two for $7.50, and burros range from $4 for beans to $8.50 for a deluxe model. This is a terrific product starting with the frites-style cone of sturdy chips and four different help-yourself hot sauces and pico de gallo.
Regular tacos are soft, built on corn or flour tortillas depending on the contents, and the tortillas are grilled until just crisp and firmed up. Especiale is the word for the toasty version bursting with sweet shrimp and garnished with green-leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes. The signature chile verde taco that consisted of spunkily seasoned tender beef bound with melting white cheese is more than the sum of its parts. The day’s special was a pair of carefully fried, regulation ground beef tacos that were light and greaseless. Each lime-green plate is carefully arranged and contains a small bowl of either creamy refries or toothsome rice, along with a wicked but irresistible grilled jalapeño.
No reason here to change my opinion of Tucson’s exalted place in the Mexican food firmament.
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