From Desert to Dish
To know Tucson is to love its culinary traditions, some dating back thousands of years.
Worldwide, our remarkable “foodie” culture has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, Tucson was designated the very first U.S. United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Top of FormBottom of FormUNESCO) City of Gastronomy. And today, Tucson remains an impressive member of a global elite list of cities recognized for thriving cultural food traditions.
What makes Tucson’s fare unique is the influence of Mexican and Native American traditions. Tucson’s cuisine tells a story that embraces an ancient past. Area farmers and ranchers have kept our agricultural legacy vibrant, providing local chefs and mixologists with inspiring indigenous ingredients such as chiltepins, cholla buds, prickly pear syrup, mesquite flour, tepary beans and white Sonoran wheat to create culinary masterpieces.
James Beard recognition is one of the highest honors a chef can achieve and Tucson has more than its share of winners and runners-up. Beard, a world-renowned cookbook author, was a pioneer in the local food revolution. The foundation created in his honor showcases the exceptional talent and culinary arts achievements of chefs across the country.
Local James Beard award-winning chefs include:
- Don Guerra, Barrio Bread, Outstanding Baker Award Winner (2022).
- Janos Wilder, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, American Classic Award (2018).
- El Guero Canelo, Sonoran Hot Dog King, American Classic Award (2018).
- John Martinez, Tito & Pep, Outstanding Restaurant Semifinalist (2022).
- Maria Mazon, Boca Tacos y Tequila, Best Chef Semifinalist (2022).
- Mi Nidito Restaurant, Outstanding Hospitality Semifinalist (2022).
- Stephen Paul, Hamilton Distillers, Outstanding Wine, Bar and Spirits Producer Semifinalist (2022).
Other exceptional chefs who have put Tucson on the “foodie” map are Carlotta Flores, matriarch of the Flores family and its renowned 100-year-old El Charro restaurants and Tyler Fenton of Reilly Craft Pizza whose new restaurant Bata was named as one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in 2022.
Festivals and food trucks
Tucson is also known for its amazing food festivals and assortment of food trucks (more per capita than New York City) and, of course, amazing restaurants.
If you’d like to experience an assortment of truly wonderful local foods, attend one of our many popular food and beverage festivals including:
- The Agave Heritage Festival, hosted by the Hotel Congress, is a celebration of all things agave including tequila, mescal, cuisine, art, history and so much more. This year’s event is April 27 – 30.
- Tucson Craft Beer Crawl is a great way to explore downtown Tucson while enjoying tastes from 30-plus brewers at 12 fantastic venues. This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.
- The Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) Crush Gala features wine, craft beer, a rich assortment of local cuisine, fine art, music and dancing. The 2023 event is on Saturday, March 18.
- Iron Chef Tucson provides a front-row seat as two top Tucson chefs compete for the Tucson Iron Chef title. The event also includes tasty food and beverage samplings. This is a summer event with dates to be announced soon.
- Savor Food & Wine Festival, hosted by the Southern Arizona Arts & Culture Alliance (SAACA), Local First Arizona and Tucson Botanical Gardens celebrates Tucson’s culinary reputation and features regional foods, wines, craft brews, live music and more. Mark your calendar for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
- The Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival, hosted by SAACA, features the best 23 miles of the Mexican food in America and also includes Latin music and dance, cocktails and beer. Stay tuned for 2023 dates.
- The Willcox Wine Country Festivals demonstrate how southeastern Arizona’s elevation, climate and soil support the creation of some remarkable Arizona wines. Enjoy tastings, artisan foods and non-stop entertainment. Stay tuned for dates for the May 2023 Spring Festival.
There are lots of opportunities to experience why Tucson’s culinary reputation is well deserved.
Here’s to living the good life in Southern Arizona!