From carne seca to Sonoran dogs, Tucson has a well-deserved rep for a hot food scene centered on its version of Border-Mex. But hold the frijoles. This culinary tour is taking a different route, and as you’ll see, the Old Pueblo has many tastes.
Whether a lucky consequence—thanks, mom and dad—or a reaction to having written three Vegas guidebooks, I do not get buffets. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort’s Blues, Brews & Barbeque Sunday Brunch reminds me that it’s all in the translation. As a starting point, the “champagne” is not from Chateau Regrets; it’s a special bottling by Iron Horse. Hopheads can satiate themselves with local microbrews, including a delectable porter when I was there in January. From real horseradish at the carvery to three Hawai’ian Islands worth of fruit, banana-leaf snapper to a raw bar of oysters and green lips, savory baby backs to sushi, handmade tortillas and guac to chile verde … there’s none of the yellow for Cousin Eddie. OK, if you’re an egg, spuds and Jimmy Dean kind of guy, they have that stuff, too. 11 am-2 pm Sunday. 7000 N. Resort Dr.; 520-299-2020.
DOWNTOWN Kitchen+Cocktails is the brainchild of Janos Wilder, who years ago put non-burrito Tucson on the grid with his French-southwestern fusion at Janos Restaurant. Wilder traces all over the map at DOWNTOWN, his third and newest outpost, seemingly and thankfully without compass. All over. If a classic pot au feu isn’t the ticket, then go for the cochinita pibil—done the Wilder Way, of course, which means a loin chop and not the de rigueur slow-roasted, shredded pork shoulder. A lively bar scene continues post-dinner and live music colors an already vibrant room Thursday-Saturday nights. (And check the website for seasonal cooking classes.) Lunch and dinner served daily, starting at 11 am. 135 S. 6th Ave.; 520-623-7700.
Also new to the downtown food scene, 47 Scott does something that’s achingly popular now, but it’s done so well there’s none of the wannabe pretense or caricature: welcome to American comfort food. Whatever the seasonal menu offers, get some of the mac-and-cheese, made by someone who knows it all starts with Bechamel and runs through to bacon ends so perfectly wood-smoked that when you get home you’ll finally toss that bottle of Liquid Smoke. And it’s fresh. When I wouldn’t shut up about the sweet-tart grape tomatoes and rocket, the server laughed and said, “Thank him,” as the local grower walked by with another armload of produce. 47 Scott is nearly as righteous for its herb-tinted and other interpretations of retro cocktails. Designate a driver and have the Basil Collins and the bacon “washed” Old Fashioned. Opens at 11 am for midweek lunch and dinner from 5 pm Monday-Saturday. 47 N. Scott Ave.; 520-624-4747.
Tapatio and maple syrup do chicken justice. If Tapatio ain’t your hot sauce, May’s Counter offers eight or 10 other options. Opened last fall, May’s is getting traction for a twisted spin on American regional faves. With chicken and waffles, grouper sandwiches, okra, greens, and shrimp and grits, that region screams “Gone With the Wind.” Then you note the chilaquiles, jalapeño jack and chile-sauce ketchup on the burger, and an array of the-West-rules-in-brews craft beers. One all-day menu covers three squares, with an 8 am opening on weekends and 10:30 midweek. 2945 E. Speedway Blvd.; 520-327-2421.
I only recently stumbled across Vero Amore on a tip from a local friend. The line out the door suggests it’s no secret. Vero specializes in Neapolitan pizza, which is as much a technique or attitude as a style. In translation, that means training in Naples and an 800+ degree volcanic brick oven, and house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, prosciutto from Parma, salumi from Genova and thin-but-not-NY-style-soda-cracker-thin crust that’s perfectly al dente. Lunch and dinner daily starting at 11 am. Two locations, the most convenient of which is at 3505 N. Swan Rd.; 520-325-4122.