Mexican Cuisine Tucson Style

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - by Charles Siskin

We went out west, southwest really, to visit friends in Tucson several months ago. I’d promised my friend, former Chattanoogan, Mike Deitch on several occasions that I would be present at one of his three children’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. There are not direct flights anywhere here but Atlanta, Houston, Nashville the usual suspects. But with the advent of Southwest Airlines a couple of years ago it became possible to make the journey if you were willing to fly through San Diego. Who wouldn’t want to miss a chance to spend three hours in the San Diego Airport?

Nevertheless a promise is a promise and I wanted to do this before you had to fly through Buffalo as well. Besides my wife had booked us into one of those famous Tucson spas I’d read about for a number of years.

Furthermore Mike is a connoisseur of authentic Mexican food. This is not the stuff at Taco Bell or the fancy Cantina Laredo restaurant we have here that makes the guacamole at your table along with the Margaritas for double digit prices.

We flew in early one am from a convention in Las Vegas, picked up our rental car and made our way into downtown where we had this outstanding breakfast at the Cup Cake Restaurant in the garden of the landmark, Congress Hotel.  It was a knock out. Not Mexican but baked eggs served in a cast iron skillet along with ham, leeks, gruyere cheese and their excellent “hotel “potatoes.

To me this was reminiscent of one of those breakfasts you might have found out on the range after rounding up cattle. Imagine having breakfast out on the open range surrounded by cactus and, OMG rattlesnakes! Well actually the classic “Blazing Saddles” campfire meal might be a more likely scenario.

After hooking up with Mike he gave us a walking tour of downtown Tucson and brought us to Café Poca Cosa on our quest to sample what Mike considers true Mexican cuisine. Here at Poca Cosa we feasted onsupurlative Mexican cuisine through the imaginative  skill of Suzana Davila the charming chef/owner who also happened to be a good friend of Mike’s.

The meal was a revelation (note: the menu changes twice daily) and I had a plate especially designed by the owner  that consisted of variety of items plus one done in a mole (mo lay) sauce. That is the famous sauce used in Mexican cooking that contains a variety of chilies and dark chocolate. Combined with other ingredients you most likely would not be aware that there was chocolate in this sublime sauce.

It was a perfect introduction to what I consider authentic Mexican cooking which I had a limited experience with many years ago in Mexico. There I had lots of Tortilla Soup because I fell ill almost immediately upon arrival and Tortilla Soup, the Mexican version of the better known Jewish Chicken Soup by any other name is what I grew up on, and perfect in times of minor illness.

Nothing of the sort happened in Tucson. There I feasted on many outstanding Mexican dishes the climax being a fabulous breakfast at Teresa’s Mosaic Café on a Sunday morning in the company of local citizens. Their open kitchen consisted of two ladies, Senoritas por favor, who were making both flour and corn tortillas on a flat griddle. Certainly not like anything we get in packages at Publix.

On my plate there was one Enchilada de Queso, stuffed with cheese that had been baked and was covered in a mild red sauce topped with  more cheese.. Also there were black beans and eggs sunny side up, my choice, and chorizo which was cooked and crumbled on the plate as well plus those amazing tortillas. Way more food than I could ever eat but so tasty it was hard to resist.  It deserved a Dos Exquis beer but not at 10 a.m. for this cowboy!

Taquerias are in abundance in the area. Just Google Taquerias in the Tucson area and you will be overwhelmed by all the 4 and 5 star restaurants in the area. That is not a surprise as you are just steps from the Mexican border and if there is any part of the Mexican culture I applaud it is their love of food and of course their zest for living but above all their love of their children. I witnessed that during our morning breakfast. Their devotion is without peer.

Let me not overlook two other outstanding food experiences in Tucson neither of which was Mexican but worthy of mention. The first is a roadside restaurant you might find in one of those books that specialize in such places. This one is called, Daisy Mae’s and is straight out of Li’l Abner.  I never saw Mammy and Pappy Yukom and they weren’t celebrating Sadie Hawkins Day, however we were celebrating our anniversary that night and it was the perfect place for my bride of almost half a century because of her gluten condition.

That said Mike asked that we meet him at Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse where the beef is cooked at a pit just outside the big glass windows we were seated near. The portions are so big that my bride and I shared the 9 oz filet and the humongous baked potato while Mike dug into the baby back ribs. It was all a beef lover’s dream.

Lastly after a visit to one of the canyons one early morning before the sun would cause you to have to make a pit stop at the  burn unit of the local hospital, we found ourselves near another of Mike’s recommendations. This time an elegant Italian restaurant, Vivace.

Luckily it was open, barely, for the lunch crowd which appeared to be older locals who came for the food as well as the wine and cocktails. It was a perfect Saturday where you had your choice of sitting in their exquisite verdant gardens or inside at a window that faced onto the gardens with those awesome mountains just beyond.

We feasted on mussels in a superb broth and an Antipasto platter with prosciutto and eggplant with pine nuts, grilled asparagus and goat cheese and garlic spinach. What a great way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

After arriving home Mike sent me a note that we missed Tucson Tamale. “They make everything from scratch” he noted and went on to describe the tamales that are smashed flat in a pan with a little olive oil and topped with fried egg and warm salsa.  Reason enough to return.

If you go:

Café Poca Cosa

110 East Pennington Street

(520) 622-6400

 

Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse

2735 W. Anklam Road

(520) 792-8888

 

Tersa’s Mosaic Café

2456 N. Silver Drive

(520)624-4512

 

Vivance Restaurant

6440 N. Campbell Ave

(520) 795-7221

 

Congress Hotel

311 E. Congress

(520) 622-8848


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