March 16, 2015
So beautiful here! The sky is blue, mountains ring the city, and all around us the cactus are in bloom, spreading a surprising carpet of yellow, pink and red. The air sparkles.
"What do I eat in Tucson?" I asked friends. And the universal answer was this: Go to the Anita Street Market and order a red chile burrito.
The Anita Street Market is exactly what its title suggests: a humble market on Anita Street, in an ancient (and extremely picturesque) barrio on the other side of the tracks. You can't help feeling that you've walked onto the set of some old Western movie about a dusty town near the border. It's a surprise, then, to enter the market and find that the place is incredibly friendly. (And there's a lovely little picnic area outside.)
The tortillas – some the huge Sonoran size – are extraordinary. And the red chile is the real thing; slightly spicy, chewy, filled with flavor. I absolutely loved it.
The other "must have" in Tucson is a Sonoran hot dog. For that we went to El Guero Canelo, which might be the cleanest fast food place I've ever patronized. The hot dog itself is wrapped in bacon, served on a soft bun that looks like a canoe and topped with a large and improbable array of ingredients that includes beans, chiles, onions, tomatoes, canned mushrooms and cheese. I thought I'd take a bite; I inhaled the entire thing.
The irrepressible Janos Wilder took us (David Tanis, Jean-Pierre and Denise Moulle), on a small tour of his favorite places, which included the truly fabulous Mariscos Chihuahua on Grande street. (There are apparently many Mariscos Chihuahua, but they're independently owned and not a chain. So don't go to the wrong one.)
There are many reasons to come to this restaurant: the seafood is fresh, the limes plentiful, the salsa incredibly appealing. But for me the piece de resistance was Mexican scallops unlike any I've ever tasted. Called "manos de leon," (lion's paws), they are eaten sliced and raw. I've never had scallops as sweet as these; I felt I could have gone on eating them forever. (I ate one with the jalapenos, which was a mistake; these scallops are far too delicate to be bullied by chiles.)
We also had fantastic ceviche which we ladled onto crisp tortillas, topped with sliced avocados, squirted with juice from the tiny delicious local limes and some of the exceptional salsa.
We didn't try any of the cooked dishes – but given the quality of what we ate I can't wait to go back for that. We ended with this fantastic "cocktail" of small, tender shrimp.
From there we went on to Tacos Apson, one of the funkiest, funnest taco places I've ever encountered.
The fantastic ribs are cooked on an ancient grill, coming off crisp, chewy and completely delicious. We topped them with onions, salsa, cucumbers, radish and more of that wonderful juice from the tiny limes, then folded them into the tortillas. As David Tanis tends to say, "I like this."
The tongue was also great; they were, unfortunately, out of cabeza, but if you're interested in exploring various innards this is the place for you. They offer just about every possible part of the beast, including tripe.
Other highlights of my time in Tucson included a trip to the farmers' market at the race track, where I found these gorgeous greens
This refreshing turmeric and ginger tonic
and best of all, these absolutely incredible purple asparagus, which I ate raw, nibbling them all the way down to the bottom. My first taste of spring, and quite a promise.
I'm at the airport now, and I suspect more winter is in my future. But there's a lot more to explore in Tucson. I'll be back.
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