enchiladas and prickly pear juice seis kitchen tucson

What Food is Tucson Known For? 17 Delicious Foods to Try!

If you love delicious food, Tucson is the city for you. What food is Tucson known for? Tucson has a huge variety of tasty restaurants, but they are known for having incredible Mexican and Sonoran food and sourcing local ingredients. Tucson, Arizona actually became the first city in the entire United States to be designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Gastronomy.

Why is Tucson a UNESCO City of Gastronomy? Tucson has a rich history of multicultural foods and takes pride in using local ingredients from the Sonoran desert. The food here is as authentic as it gets, and there is a non-profit organization founded after the designation that has a mission of “growing a sustainable desert community by supporting our creative food cultures.” You’ll definitely want to spend some time exploring the food culture in Tucson while you’re visiting, it’s one of the best.

1. Birria

Birria is a Mexican dish that consists of a rich stew made with lamb, beef, or even goat. It’s often served as a broth with cilantro and onions. What you’ll most commonly see on the menus is quesabirria tacos (make sure you get the dipping sauce too!). We had these at Amelia’s and they were DELICIOUS. But you can also find other things like birria quesadillas, birria ramen (Rollie’s), and even birria pizza (El Rustico).

Bottom line: if you see birria on the menu, you’ll want to try it!

2. Mexican Pastries

Tucson is located just 60 miles from the Mexican border and is known for having incredible Mexican cuisine. La Estrella bakery is conveniently located inside San Mercado Agustin (where you can also find coffee shops or one of our favorites – Seis Kitchen). They make fresh bread and pastries every single day with nothing being premade. We loved the Hebillas, but they have a ton of other options daily including tortillas and fresh bread! AND, these pastries are super affordable so you won’t feel bad about grabbing a bunch for your group.

tacos with a pastry from estrella bakery tucson

3. Prickly Pear

The Prickly Pear is a cactus that is native to the Sonoran Desert, and it’s edible! If you see vibrant pink drinks floating around the bar or restaurant, there’s a good chance the flavor is Prickly Pear. The flavor is sweet and tart, and you’ll most commonly see it on the menu as a margarita flavor. However, you can find a number of other prickly pear flavored food items including sauces, desserts, beer, and more. Prickly Pear season is in August, so if you want the freshest of the fresh, August is the time to try it.

4. Enchiladas

If you have never had enchiladas, when you’re visiting Tucson is the right time to try them. Enchiladas are corn tortillas wrapped around a filling, but unlike burritos, they are covered in a sauce. You’ll have to choose red sauce (more traditional enchiladas), or green sauce (made from tomatillos). I’m partial to the green sauce, but both are making my mouth water as I write this! Almost every Mexican restaurant will have enchiladas on their menu so you won’t have to look too hard.

enchiladas and prickly pear juice seis kitchen tucson

5. Sonoran Hot Dogs

Sonoran hot dogs may be one of the most unique foods in Tucson. These hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and grilled, they are topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and usually mayonnaise, mustard, and jalapeno salsa. You can find Sonoran hot dogs at a lot of different places including BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs and El Guero Canelo.

6. Tamales

Tamales are delicious and maybe our favorite on the “what food is Tucson known for” list! It’s made from cornmeal dough and fillings (usually some type of meat or vegetables) and it’s wrapped in a corn husk. If you’re wondering what food is Tucson known for? Tamales may be quite high on the list! We loved the tamales at Tumerico, a Latin vegan/vegetarian restaurant that was recently voted Yelp’s #1 restaurant in the USA for 2024. Some other good spots for tamales are St. Mary’s, El Charro Cafe (more on that below), or the Tucson Tamale Company.

7. Horchata

Mexican horchata is a plant based milk typically made from rice and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar. This was high on our list to try when we were in Tucson and it did not disappoint. We had regular horchata at Seis Kitchen (so tasty!) and several different horchata lattes – we loved the one at Barista del Barrio.

man drinking horchata seis kitchen tucson

8. Chilaquiles

If you’re looking for a traditional Mexican breakfast in Tucson, you’ll want to try chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are corn tortillas cut up and lightly fried. They are typically topped with salsa, eggs, refried beans, cheese and more. They are almost like breakfast nachos, but even more delicious! This was another dish we loved at Tumerico, but there are several excellent places in town to get chilaquiles. You can also check out La Chaiteria (Tumerico’s sister restaurant) or Buendia, both of which also made Yelp’s Top 100 list for 2024.

9. Eegee’s

Eegee’s is a local fast food chain that started in Tucson and now exists all over Tucson and Phoenix. You’ll want to stop by for an Eegee, a italian ice dessert that comes in a variety of flavors depending on the month. It’s the perfect treat for a hot day, and it’s one of the best cheap eats in Tucson. You also won’t want to miss the iconic ranch fries, or if you’re hungrier you can try a Grinder – one of their popular sandwiches.

10. Chimichangas

Rumor has it that chimichangas were accidentally invented in Tucson. El Charro Cafe, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the USA that has been continuously run by the same family, claims it was invented there when their founder accidentally dropped a burrito in the deep fryer. The story goes that she dropped the burrito and said a Spanish swear word that resembles the word chimichanga. Since they are a family friendly restaurant, the name was quickly changed to chimichanga, and the rest is history! There are a few other Tucson restaurants that also claim they invented the chimichanga. Regardless, you’ll definitely want to visit El Charro Cafe and try and chimichanga while in Tucson. Might as well tick both off on the same visit – we had a great experience at El Charro Cafe!

11. Carne Seca/Machaca

Carne seca translates directly to “dried meat” and machaca is what it becomes when it is rehydrated and mixed with spices. You can find this on a number of menus, but most famously at El Charro Cafe. They actually dry their beef on their roof! You can also find machaca on the menu at Barista del Barrio, where you’ll find some of the best breakfast burritos you’ve ever had.

Ready to plan the rest of your Tucson vacation? Here is the Best 5 Day Tucson Itinerary with Kids. We’ve got you covered with the best hikes, places to eat, and more!

12. Churros

Another must try food in Tucson is the melt in your mouth, deep fried, pastry dough coated in sugar and cinnamon – churros! A good kid friendly place to get churros in Tucson is Just Churros. Opt for just the churros or get them with ice cream if you’re feeling fancy. You can get churros at a lot of different Tucson restaurants, so if you’re already out for dinner, save a little room for dessert and try the churros.

woman with a baby eating churros from just churros tucson

13. Tacos

Eating tacos in Tucson is a no-brainer. If you come to Tucson and don’t get a taco, did you even really come to Tucson?? I’m not even going to pretend to know where to find the best tacos in Tucson because there are so many options. However, I would highly recommend you check out Tucson Foodie for all the best recommendations for tacos and other specific foods!

14. Burritos

Here is another no brainer on what food is Tucson known for. Breakfast burritos are a must while visiting Tucson. Make sure you check out Barista del Barrio, a popular Tucson spot for coffee and breakfast burritos. Make sure to check the hours before you visit and be prepared to wait in line for a bit – trust me it’s worth it. You’ll also want to make sure and try regular burritos. Again, there are so many different options so get to exploring the food scene and find your favorite burrito!

breakfast burrito from barista del barrio tucson arizona

15. Vegan/Vegetarian Food

I touched on this a bit before, but Tucson is a hot spot for good vegan and vegetarian food. Visit Tumerico, La Chaiteria, Charro Vida, or just order vegan food from the menu of other restaurants you’re visiting. This city will have you wondering if you really need to eat meat ever again, with the flavorful local ingredients used you won’t even know the difference.

16. Bread

Make a quick stop by Barrio Bread to pick up a loaf of delicious homemade bread in Tucson. They centuries-old baking techniques and locally grown heritage grains to make their bread fresh daily. Check their hours before you go, and don’t wait until the last minute. They usually just go until they sell out of their daily inventory. Barrio Bread has a list of accolades a mile long, and they are definitely deserving of all the awards. Plus, they make their loaves beautiful in addition to tasting good.

17. Coffee

Tucson’s expertise at creating flavorful masterpieces doesn’t stop with food. Tucson’s coffee scene is definitely worth exploring if you drink coffee. Here’s a little list of fun coffee drinks we enjoyed in Tucson!

couple with coffees at barista del barrio tucson
  • Barista del Barrio – try the horchata or mazapan flavors
  • Exo Roast Co – an aesthetic coffee shop located in the barrio, try the Mole Dulce coffee if you’re looking for a unique flavor
  • Presta Coffee Roasters – located in Mercado San Agustin so you can grab a pastry from Estrella, a coffee from here, and sit in the courtyard
  • Tumerico – we were already here eating and we really liked their iced coffee drinks (mazapan, horchata)

I hope you enjoyed this article on “what food is Tucson known for”! We absolutely loved visiting Tucson and eating all the Mexican-Sonoran food, delicious desserts, and other unique foods that Tucson has to offer. If you’re visiting Tucson, make sure to check out our other posts to help you have the absolute best Southern Arizona vacation. Happy travels!

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