The Most Underrated City: Tucson

underrated cities

 Most Underrated City: Tucson!

Tucson made Travel & Leisure’s List of the Most Underrated Cities. In fact, Tucson was ranked #3 on a list of 31 underrated cities.

It’s not all wild, wild west culture and year-round golf in this laid-back, nature lover’s paradise; With a population of 500,000+, Tucson has much to offer residents and vacationers alike.

Tucson’s natural beauty is enhanced by the magical weather patterns. Monsoon rain storms, rainbows, breath-taking sunrise and sunsets that always astonish locals and tourists alike.

Surrounded by mountains and The Saguaro National Park, Tucson attracts all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. The Tucson mountains bring together hikers, cyclists, rock climbers, bird watchers, storm chasers; all thrilled with what Tucson has to offer.

Downtown Tucson has an amazing list of attractions. Decade-long efforts to redevelop the area have resulted in top-rated restaurants for one. Tucson was also named UNESCO’s City of Gastronomy for one reason; the restaurants. Restaurants like The Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails and Poca Cosa.

In 2015, Tucson was even given this prestigious award for being a foodie’s paradise. Tucson was the first city in America to receive this honor. The city was also rated as most playable city for kids and families.

Tucson Awarded City of Gastronomy

Tucson UNESCO Award for Creative City of Gastronomy
Tucson UNESCO Award for Creative City of Gastronomy

UNESCO Awards Little Ol’ Tucson as Creative City of Gastronomy

Darren and I have been saying it for years; Tucson has Outstanding, Amazing, Spectacular, Delicious, Unique, Hard to Find Anywhere Else, Marvelous, Take Your Breath Away, Extraordinary Food! Thanks UNESCO for agreeing, sort of.

UNESCO recently awarded Tucson with the highly prestigious honor of being the first and only city in the United States to earn the title of, “Creative City of Gastronomy.” Tucson has made the New York Times!

What is Gastronomy?

Gastronomy – gas·tron·o·my – ɡaˈstränəmē/ (noun)

No, it is not a hybrid of gas and astronomy. It’s true you can see the stars very clearly here from Tucson especially from Kitt Peak National Observatory which houses the largest and most diverse gathering of astronomical instruments in the world, and it’s also true we love our beans in Tucson– beans beans the magical fruit… very funny. No, GASTRONOMY is the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food and the cooking of a particular area.

After living here for most of my life, I have dined out a lot and here’s what I can tell you about Tucson food.

Tucson Food

We Love Calle Tepa, a Great Mexican Restaurant in Tucson, City of GastronomyFilled with mom and pop shops, one-of-a-kind eateries and unique hole-in-the-wall cafes, Tucson is a Foodie’s Paradise. This is especially true, if the delicious, hard-to-find-elsewhere, Southwest, Mexican culinary style lights you up! There’s no doubt about it, Mexican food is a specialty and treasure in the Sonoran Desert. The rich history of this area lends itself to many homemade restaurants (and Food trucks) that showcase traditional family recipes.

If that’s not enough, a surplus of quality places and a community of people who appreciate food has inspired people to be creative and innovative. No matter what preference, traditional or adventurous, all pallets can be satisfied in Tucson.

You can try all kinds different dishes here, many of which, explode with flavor from all the different kinds of chili peppers. Some of them are strange like eating nopalitos aka cactus and some of them are mouthwateringly bold and unique like our famous Sonoran Hot Dogs.

Note:

Do not try a Sonoran Hot Dog if you want to enjoy hot dogs the “ballpark way” again, these bad boys are wrapped in bacon, grilled and loaded with beans, grilled jalapenos, sour cream, salsas and I don’t even know what else but they are something to be experienced.

But that’s not all, you can pair your food with local off-the-beaten-path tequilas and agave-derived liquors or with wine from the nearby vineyards in Soniota, AZ just minutes South of Tucson.

As a whole the Mexican food in Tucson in unparalleled with any part of the country including Southern California, New Mexico and Texas, Sorry other states but Tucson does Mexican food like no other! As good as it is, Mexican food is not the be all–end all for this little foodie mecca. There are many other food styles to be enjoyed from a wide array of different styles of Asian Cuisines, a plethora of Indian food places, BBQ, nice Sushi Restaurants, Italian food, Steak Houses and some vegan and vegetarian places as well.

The UNESCO City of Gastronomy Award

Tucson has always been a city of gastronomy but it was officially designated a World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and is the first city in the United States to receive such a designation.

There are eight Cities of Gastronomy worldwide—

  • Popayán, Colombia
  • Chengdu and Shunde, China
  • Östersund, Sweden
  • Tsuruoka, Japan
  • Jeonju, South Korea
  • Florianopolis, Brazil
  • Zahle, Lebanon
  • Tucson, United States

Some of Our Favorite Restaurants in Tucson

There are so many brilliant places to eat here and these are just some of our favorites:

We Love North, a Charming Restraunt in La Encantada Mall in Tucson, City of Gastronomy

ZinBurger

ZinBurger is one of the most happening restaurant development groups in town and all of their restaurants are wonderful. Specializing in burger sandwiches you can build your own creation with options such as organic beef, bison, chicken, ahi tuna and veggie burger served with french fries, sweet potato fries, fried zucchini and more. Everything here is yum and there are multiple locations around town!

Penca

Penca is one of my favorite fancy Mexican food places to eat. The food here is so creative and fresh. Homemade chips and 4+ different varieties of fresh salsa daily. Penca has all of your traditional dishes with a twist and the cocktail menu is amazing as well featuring fresh squeezed juices and homemade beers and sangria to delight.

Cafe Poca Cosa & The Little One

This family owned restaurant has 2 locations that are both downtown a few blocks from each other. I recommend the chef surprise dish which is a random sampler make of three of the chef’s nightly dishes. The Little One is a cash only breakfast and lunch cafe featuring some of the favorite menu items off of Cafe Poca Cosa’s menu.

Urban Fresh

Stop into Urban Fresh and be sure to try their freshly squeezed juices. Also, try the salads and wraps. Most of the food, if not all of it, is organic. Check out their rotating lunch special; always delicious. You could also grab a fancy salad or healthy wrap to go.

Ermanos

Ermanos is a wine and beer bar that also specializes in locally grown fresh foods. Everything on the menu is so fresh and mostly local. The wine and beer menu is expansive and it is right on 4th Avenue and open late!

Tucson wasRecently Named the First UNESCO City in North America for GastronomyThe Hub & The Hub Ice Creamery

The Hub boasts a diverse menu of homes style cuisine making this  a great selection for families, large groups or even a first date. After dinner enjoy as scoop of some of the best ice cream in town; it’s homemade!

Martines

Another of my favorite Mexican food restaurants featuring secret family recipes. This place is so charming and delicious. Filled with beautiful art, this place has some seriously cool vibes and it’s BYOB! I recommend trying the veggie tacos or veggie mole burrito but everything is mouth watering.

Time Market

Time market is a great coffee shop and small grocery store filled with healthy, hard to find items. The pizza and salad are to die for and so is everything else.

5 Points Market

This is a go to breakfast and lunch spot for us. Everything here is good: the salads, the sandwiches and the coffee. Plus, there’s a small healthy grocery market in the back with specialty selected items. It’s located downtown near the Ice House Lofts on Stone and 17th Street.

BK Tacos

This is one of our go-to’s for Sonoran Hot Dogs and tacos. This authentic taco shop features a ginormous, help yourself salsa and salad bar with every kind of salsa and taco fixing you could imagine. They also have homemade sangria and a fantastic drink menu. They are open late and it on 1st Ave just North of the University of Arizona.

The New York Times Mentions Saguaro National Park

The New York Times recently released an online, interactive list of 52 places around the world where travelers can be a part of the solution, rather than a problem. Because you know us, you know that we are only bringing this to your attention because they mention Tucson! Yep, the good Old Pueblo is in the media yet again. Okay, okay, more specifically they mention the beautiful Saguaro National Park. This national treasure can be found on both the east and west sides of Tucson. Nearly 2 million of the namesake cacti call these 2 parcels of land home and give our desert its distinctive look.
A plaque at the Saguaro National Park displays the cacti growth
A trail plaque from the Saguaro National Park.
As alluded to by the NYT article all 52 places on their list must have a problem to need a solution. In our case, the problem is that we have very few new saguaros, a species that is a notoriously slow grower. Think 75 years old to get its first arm, and not reaching its full height of 45 feet until 200 years old. So, a declining population of these stoic giants is a problem, not just for Tucson but for an entire ecosystem. The article highlights a local conservation project where volunteers work year-round pulling buffalo grass. Why does 1 weed need so much attention you might ask? There are a couple of reasons. The first is because it’s a non-native species that takes much-needed nutrients to other native plants. And secondly because due to climate change, we’ve been experiencing hotter summers. These withering temperatures dry out the buffelgrass and provide ample kindling for wildfires.
Saguaro National Park volunteers put on backpacks
Saguaro National Park volunteers get ready to tackle buffalo grass. Emma Gibson/AZPM
You can help mitigate the buffalo grass by volunteering with the Saguaro National Park. They organize clear-ups year-round. If you don’t want to be outside but still help out, that’s ok too! Find all volunteer opportunities here.

Buzzfeed ❤️ Tucson, And You Will Too!

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Not that we’re surprised but Tucson makes the news again! This time Buzzfeed author Anna Maria Glavan gives a glowing review of what makes Tucson the best city in Arizona. I mean, we know it, but it’s always nice to receive recognition from others.

The Reasoning

Joe Pagac's Latest Mural in Hamel Park
Joe Pagac’s Latest Mural in Hamel Park
Glavan lists 21 things that she believes makes Tucson the best city here in AZ. We’re going to look at a few to see if we agree! Actually, we’re just going to compare her list to ours and see how we do. Out of 21 reasons she lists, we’ve already covered these.
  1. Murals, near the top of her list was the mural hunt. It’s true, no matter where you go in Tucson you are bound to stumble across some amazing public art. 
  2. San Xavier Del Bac, truly a landmark here in the Old Pueblo. Known as the “White Dove of the Desert” it’s a must see for locals and visitors alike.
  3. La Estrella Baker, not surprising. Recently acknowledged by the Washington post for their amazing Pan de Muerto.
  4. Saguaro National Park, this is a go to for hikers and photographers.
  5. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, yup we have that one too. It’s a great place to see a lot of native flora and fauna in one place.
  6. The Mexican Cuisine, Glavan even taunts that “I bet Phoenix can’t call itself a city of gastronomy.”
  7. Historic 4th Avenue, a great place to find an eclectic slice of Tucson.
  8. Shopping, there is no shortage of great places to shop, seriously take your pick.
  9. Tucson Museum of Art, this museum is bigger on the inside. It has a surprising collection of both regional and contemporary art with some classics thrown in for good measure.
  10. The Mercado, including the MSA Annex. Sprawling open markets to find coffee, food, and of course more shopping.
  11. Raspados! Of course our favorite place to get them is Sonoran Delights.

Our Conclusion

Maria Glavan has got everything we have and more. It’s time for us to go out and round out our own list. We hope this list is tempting you to make a visit, and if you’re already a local go check out something new!  Check out the original article on Buzzfeed! https://www.seetucsonhomes.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/21-Things-That-Prove-Tucson-Is-The-Best-City-In-Arizona.pdf