Tucson, Arizona


Catalina Foothills

We’re back from Tucson, slightly tanner and rounder than when we left. Both of which are signs of a good getaway spent cuddling, singing and driving with the top down.

What follows is not meant to be an authoritative guide. It’s simply a rundown of what we ate and did. Although…I am taking the liberty of adding asterisks next to the things I’d highly recommend.

Pictures, or lack thereof, are also not an indication of how amazing a place was. I tried really hard to be ‘in the moment’ on this vacation. So much so I hardly even busted out my DSLR. Pretty much what I did get was taken with my iPhone! 

El Güero Canelo

tacos

The Carne Asada taco special was reasonably priced. (Just $9 for 3 tacos and a drink.) But, they weren’t anything to write home about. The salsa bar was more extensive than what we get in the PNW. It had several kinds of salsas and sauces, sliced cucumber, sliced radishes, and cheese. And…it had this container filled with huge grilled green onions and jalapeños. That was my favorite part – the grilled green onions. They were so sweet and the most magic texture. (I think we’re going to add those to our arsenal!)

What we should have gotten, what the man on the plane told us to get but I was SO fixated on having tacos I didn’t follow his seasoned advice, was the Senora Dog. It’s a bacon-wrapped frank, topped with a jalapeño sauce. Two ladies at the table next to us ordered them and they looked darn good!

***BLANCO Tacos + Tequila 

Go for Happy Hour. Sit at the bar. You won’t be disappointed. The Happy Hour discounts were substantial. The service was on point. And, the tacos were served on freshly made tortillas ($3.5 each HH). We ordered one round, devoured them, and promptly ordered another.

margarita

Skip the dip trio ($4 HH). Sorry, but it was pedestrian and everything else – including the complimentary chips and salsa – was just so much better.

The Crisp Shrimp ‘Po Boy’Torta was also pretty darn tasty ($4 HH). Served on a brioche bunch, the shrimp was crispy. The slaw was tangy. And the bun brought a punch of sweet that just rounded it all out.

As for drinks, we didn’t have one we didn’t like. But, the Caliente Michelada was my favorite ($6 HH). A lot like a shanty, it featured a mix of spicy tomato juice, lime juice, tequila, and beer. Of the margaritas, Garrett liked the Skinny Margarita ($10.50) the best, but the Classic Margarita ($9 / $6 HH) was also quite good. If you like something a bit fruitier, the Pomegranate Margarita ($10 / $6 HH) and the Hibiscus Flower Margarita ($10 / $6 HH) were nice.

***5 Points Restaurant and Market

Huevos Rancheros

Sourcing local from sustainable farmers and purveyors served this popular breakfast-lunch spot well. While their menu wasn’t extensive, if every dish that passed our table tasted as good as they looked and smelled, you couldn’t go wrong.

We had the Huevos Rancheros ($11 + $1 for farm fresh eggs). The sauce packed a little bit of heat, the tortilla was super crispy, the egg yolks were decadent, and a lovely helping of avocado came on top.

Open Faced Egg and Sausage Sandwich

Our second dish was the Sausage Sandwich ($13), a play on 5 Point’s Eggelston Sandwich ($7). It was served open face on a buttery slice of brioche. The thick sausage patty was spiked with sage and topped with a garden chive and cheddar omelet. A healthy handful of arugula finished it off, bringing a peppery burst of flavor.

smoked salmon benedict

We liked 5 Points so much we stopped on the way to the airport. I had the Smoked Salmon Benedict ($13). It was an unusual combination of smoked salmon, herb cream cheese, poached eggs and balsamic reduction. I’d definitely get it again, but I might ask for a little less cream cheese next time.

Garrett had the Bandito Blanco ($11) – a potato pancake topped with a healthy portion of shaved ham, poached eggs, and a mornay sauce – a cheese loaded béchamel sauce. It was good, but the potato pancake got lost in all the flavors.

El Charro Cafe

Margaritas on tap and flavorful guacamole made this Tucson restaurant a good spot for a quick bite at Happy Hour. The bottomless chips and salsa didn’t hurt either.

***Ken’s Hardwood Barbecue

Tucked between car dealerships and repair shops, Ken’s didn’t attract a ‘late night’ crowd. (They closed at 8:00 PM.) But this BBQ joint threw down some ultra-tender and flavorful meat. The brisket plate was fabulous. It came with your choice of two sides and cornbread ($14). On Tuesday’s their Taco Tuesday special featured 3 tacos stuffed with their house-made sloppy joe meat ($6). A mixture of their brisket and ribs, these handheld babies smelled so good I didn’t even take a picture before diving in!

*Tucson Tamale

tamale

Voted the ‘Best Tamales in Tucson’, these were certainly the best tamales I’ve ever had. Tender and loaded with meat, the tamale plates came with two choices of sides and all you want access to the salsa bar ($7.89).

Harvest Restaurant

Happy Hour here was a decent deal, featuring a good discount on drinks and appetizers. We split the Short Rib Tacos ($12.50 / $10.50 HH). The meat was on the sweet side, but definitely tender. We also shared the Relleno Burger ($12.90). It was good, but the real star of the meal was the sweet potato fries.

Also note, Harvest let us split our burger for a small fee ($1.50), giving each of us a full-size helping of our side.  Go for the sweet potato fries (+$.75). They’re some of the best I’ve had.

***The Parish

Frog Legs and SandwichIf the frog legs are still on the menu, get them ($10). Bacon wrapped and served with creole remoulade (a spiced mayonnaise dip), these frog legs might just be the best ‘chicken wings’ you’ll ever have.

We also split the Slow Smoked BBQ Adobo Pork. It came with a hearty topping of vinegar-sauced slaw ($12).  Totally tasty. Be sure to check out the hush puppy side substitute (+$1). They’re worth it.

And, don’t overlook the drink menu, comprised of house-infused spirits ($9) and an exceptionally curated collection of beers on tap ($5 – $7). I particularly liked the Dutch Well Water, a cucumber-infused gin with fresh lime juice, peach bitters, and lavender water.

***Contigo Latin Kitchen

Located at The Westin, Contigo Latin Kitchen is on the swanky side. So go ahead, make it a night and dress up a little. We sat at the bar, because March Madness. But the patio also offered beautiful sunset views. Happy Taco Hour was from 4:00 – 6:00. It featured a pretty hefty discount on drinks ($5) and tacos (2 for $5 / 4 for $9). Unfortunately, we’d spent a little too long lounging around and missed it.

What we did have were exceptional tapas. (This whole trip has been amazing. We’ve shared practically every meal – Garrett often eating ¾ of each dish, leaving me with the perfect excuse to eat ice cream!!!)

The Pinxtos de Cordero featured thick pieces of lamb skewered with onion and peppers ($16). Smothered in a slightly sweet Moroccan BBQ glaze, they came topped with mint and a cucumber salad.

The Pimiento Rellenos, piquillo peppers stuffed with shrimp and cheese, were okay ($8). What we really loved were the Bombas Contigo, potato and bacon croquettes ($6). They weren’t all that attractive, but what they lacked in appearance, they made up for in flavor and texture. Crispy exteriors were loaded with bacon and creamy potato. Served with a spicy red sauce, we could have eaten several plates of these.

We also shared the Alcachofas, grilled artichokes ($14). I’d definitely order these again. They’d been tossed in spicy oil and were served with an aioli dipping cause. Definitely on the messy side, but well worth the greasy fingers.

Though not on the menu as its own item, ask about the roasted bone marrow. It was served with another dish, but the bartender agreed to give it to us on its own. Smooth like butter, with a sweet and almost nutty flavor, it made me want to lick the bone caveman style.

For drinks, I had the Poquito Picante – gin, lemon, jalapeno, cilantro, and cucumber ($10 / $5 HH). It was probably one of the best drinks I’ve had on the trip. Garrett has the Latin Smash – rye whiskey, mint, cane sugar, and lime ($10 / $5 HH). He asked for half the sugar additives and on his second round got an extra shot of whiskey added. It was so good he took a picture of the menu.

*Baja Cafe

Tucked in a strip mall, the Campbell Baja Café is practically ringed with TVs. On weekends we’d been informed waits can be 45-minutes to an hour. But at 8:00 AM on a Friday after Arizona lost, we got a table in no time!

The menu’s extensive. Garrett had the corned beef and eggs ($11.99). The corned beef was tender and flavorful. It came topped with the house-made cheese sauce. It is definitely with getting.

Bloody Mary

I tried the enchiladas with chicken and two poached eggs, but would get one of the Eggs Benedict if I go back. They just seemed so big, I couldn’t pull the trigger. But the Bloody Mary’s garnished with bacon ($10), that was a total winner!

Mt. Lemmon Drive

Mount Lemmon

cactus

This drive was okay. There were lots of bikers and slow drivers, so if you’re looking to cut loose, it might not be for you. But the views are lovely and there are a lot of lookouts, including one of Seven Falls. That was pretty neat to see the falls from above before we hiked to them three days later.

***Colossal Cave Mountain Park 

Colossal Caves

Located about an hour outside of Tucson, the Colossal Caves are a dry cave system with more than 3 miles of charted underground paths. The parks system runs several different tours. The standard tour ($18) is about 45 minutes and suites for individuals with limited mobility.

Colossal Caves

The Ladder Tour is a bit more intense ($38). It runs for 1.5 hours and involves scooting on your butt, sitting in utter darkness, scrambling up ladders (some of which were too narrow for Garrett’s size 12 feet), and walking along man-made cliffs. This was the one we did and it was awesome. I was a little freaked out about the dark crawl out of the dark hole, but our guide was great and I made it okay.

There’s a more intense tour, The Wild Cave Tour ($84.99). It includes a belly crawl and free climbs of at least 30 feet. It might have been fun, but knee pads and elbow pads were strongly recommended, so we passed.

***Seven Falls Hike

seven falls hike tucson

Just over 8 miles and with an elevation gain of 726 feet, hiking to Seven Falls isn’t the craziest hike, but it sure is lovely. The water was running, which is a huge benefit. I wouldn’t go if it wasn’t. That was one of the prettiest parts, especially because they create a creek that runs through a steep rock-walked canyon. There are seven water crossings, none of which are too difficult and if you go in the morning, nearly the entire hike is shaded.

seven falls hike tucson

It is also worth noting, you’ll need $5 in cash to pay for day parking. Bring exact change or you’ll have to over-pay.

 





About Mikaela Cowles

I’m a food-gobbling, book-reading, aspiring photog. Born and raised in Seattle, I love dancing in the rain, bouquets of fresh basil and green grass between my toes. I like how kneading butter into flour makes my fingers soft. I’m passionate about all things sweet potato. I prefer my coffee black, my scotch on the rocks and my steak bloody. I hunt, when I have time; play basketball; and hike. I’ve been known to laugh so hard I hyperventilate. And, I’m the owner of Making Language Count, a boutique freelance writing business.

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