Sonoran Restaurant Week brings fresh flavors and new dining experiences to Tucson

For newcomers, Southwestern cuisine may seem simple. Maybe they think Tex-Mex or their local Mexican restaurant or chimichangas and spicy flavors.

While you can find all of these things in a place like Tucson, Southwestern cuisine, especially Sonoran cuisine, is more complex.

In 2015, Tucson was named the nation’s top food city by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. Not only does this designation come from the creativity of our local restaurants with fusion principles from different countries, but it also comes from the ancient tradition that Tucson restaurants bring to the table.

“[The designation] has to do with heritage grains and the use of ancient crops here in the region,” said Sally Kane, owner of The Coronet at 198 W. Cushing St. downtown. “Restaurants use these products to celebrate ancient grains and heritage items.”

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Since then, Tucson has been officially put on the map as a safe haven for foodies; however, the restaurant scene slowly took hold in this area long before the city was designated.

“Food is part of the culture, but food is the culture here,” said Caleb Orellana, owner and baker of Cal’s Bakeshop, an at-home bakery participating in Sonoran Restaurant Week 2022.

The week started on Friday September 9 and ends on September 18.

Since 2019, Sonoran Restaurant Week has been a celebration of Tucson’s food scene.

This year’s event includes more than 100 restaurants across the city. Foodies can enjoy prix-fixe menus featuring $25, $35, and $45 entrees from eateries like Ghini’s French Caffe at 1803 E. Prince Road and the historic El Charro Café, whose flagship restaurant at 311 N Short Ave. celebrates its 100th anniversary.

“Events like [Sonoran Restaurant Week] create a moment to intentionally celebrate our food, not just when you feel like it,” said Shazieh Gorji, owner and operator of Agave Pantry at 4752 E. Third St., which will feature Persian love cakes and caramels from specialty for the event.

Sonoran Restaurant Week lets the Tucson community try new flavors, twists on dishes from their favorite places, and a new way to experience food. So what do the restaurants that make this event possible think of Sonoran Restaurant Week and its Sonoran culinary roots?

Diverse yet authentic, innovative yet true to Tucson, Sonoran Restaurant Week is a beautiful contradiction. The event can be explained in different ways.

“The way this event is run, it’s supposed to be extremely inclusive,” said Courtney Fenton, operations manager at her family’s Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St. downtown. “It’s a great introduction to Tucson’s food scene, and it’s a fun way to work your way through different restaurant offerings.”

Although this is only the fourth annual Sonoran Restaurant Week, celebrating Tucson’s rich and diverse food scene has been at the forefront of restaurant focus for much longer. Paul Murrell, general manager of the Monterey Court Café at 505 W. Miracle Mile, believes events like these should be of the utmost importance to Tucson’s food community.

“If you don’t support the local scene, your downtown and fourth avenue go to Applebee, TGI Fridays I mean, do you really want your downtown food scene to be Panera? Murrell said.

“A lot of what we do is based on uniqueness,” said Reza Shapouri, owner of Harvest Restaurant at 10335 N. La Canada Drive in Oro Valley. “I want to put something on the menu that no one else is offering. And if you can find something like that, you’re not getting the full experience.


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


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