Where to Go

A Foodie’s Guide To Tucson, Arizona

Enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine in the Old Pueblo

The Vacationeer
Downtown skyline of Tucson, Arizona, with Sentinel Peak at dusk

If you’re looking for a sunny spot with mild temperatures and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on a winter vacation, it’s hard to beat the American Southwest. Tucson, Arizona, is a popular winter destination where fantastic food, scenic parks and a vibrant arts community beckon travelers to explore and stay awhile.

Foodies seeking something special may be interested to know that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has designated Tucson a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. A nod to the city’s Mexican and Native American culinary traditions, this first-of-its-kind honor in the United States led the city to proclaim itself home to “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in the U.S. 

Tucson’s Mexican Roots

Tucson’s claim to fame as a Mexican food mecca is tied to its history as much as its proximity to the border. Founded as a Spanish military fort in 1775, it remained part of Mexico when that country gained its independence in 1821 and was acquired by the United States about three decades later. 

Traditional Mexican nopal cactus salad with cheese on a decorative plate   

To this day, it’s easy to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine at restaurants operated by some of the same families who founded them generations ago. Whether you’re looking to try a Sonoran-style hot dog, a terrific street taco or edible nopales from a prickly pear cactus, you’ll find what you’re craving here.

Read on for some of Tucson’s top-rated Mexican restaurants.

First, Where To Stay

Stay close to downtown at Varsity Clubs of America – Tucson, where tastefully furnished Studios and Suites include partial kitchens with fridges, so you can bring home leftovers from your dining adventures to savor for a second day. Or stay amid amazing mountain scenery at the 500-acre El Conquistador Tucson, a Hilton Resort near Saguaro National Park and great hiking trails.

Head Out For A Morning Meal

Horchata coffee with almonds, rice and cinnamon   

Start your day with a hearty Mexican breakfast at Seis Kitchen, where you can enjoy a warm cochata (coffee blended with horchata) and a breakfast burrito customized with chorizo, green chiles, avocado and more.

The house Seis Sauce is a chipotle crema made on the premises. Locals also rave about the breakfast tacos.   

Nana’s Kitchen is another option, where you’ll find Huevos a la Mexicana (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and green chiles), Huevos Con Carne Deshebrada (eggs with shredded beef, green chiles, tomatoes and onions) and more alongside traditional American fare.         

Try An Award-Winning Hot Dog

Three homemade Sonoran hot dogs topped with bacon, mustard and mayonnaise   

No visit to Tucson would be complete without sampling a Sonoran-style hot dog. Try one of the best at El Guero Canello, which won a 2018 America's Classics award from the James Beard Foundation for their version. The famous fast-food restaurant’s Sonoran Dog comes with bacon, tomato, beans, mayo, mustard and jalapenos.

Taste A Bit Of History

El Charro Café is touted as the United States’ oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. Serving Tucson diners since 1922, it now boasts three additional locations, including one at Tucson International Airport.

Another claim to fame is that El Charro’s founder invented the chimichanga, essentially a deep-fried burrito. While it can’t be unequivocally proven, the story of how this may have happened is amusing.

Other popular items on the menu include cheese crisps and Charro Nachos for starters followed by the Carne Seca Relleno, Mojo de Ajo Shrimp Tamale and more. 

Dine Among The Stars

A frequent draw for celebrities, Mi Nidito is one of the busiest restaurants in town. Photos of famous people who’ve eaten here adorn the walls, and a large sampler meal called the President’s Plate is named for U.S. President Bill Clinton who once ordered it. It comes with a bean tostada, birria taco, chili relleno, chicken enchilada and beef tamale. 

Even if you aren’t a fan of traditional Mexican food, you’ll find plenty of dishes worth trying among the many great restaurants in Tucson. Between meals, be sure to venture out and experience all that this unique part of the country has to offer, from hiking and sightseeing to museums and more.

Read about some of the marvelous things to do in Tucson here.

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The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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