Tucson: Culinary Adventures

The modest original location of Tacos Apson on S 12th St in Tucson. Source: Google Street View (because I forgot to take a photo when I got there - distracted by hunger)

One of the disappointments with my previous visit to Tucson was that I had been too indecisive to seek out some of the local Mexican restaurants for which Tucson is known. Instead I went to a local chain called Sir Vezas that seemed promising, because the founders have Mexican heritage, but it turned out to be more of a sports bar.

Tacos from Sir Vezas in Tucson in 2016. Looks like I forgot to take the photo before I started eating. Funny to think this photo was probably taken with an iPhone 5.

I was determined not to let that happen again this time, so I put authentic Sonoran tacos right at the beginning of my itinerary. After reviewing Yelp, Google, and Reddit, I determined that there was one place that usually shows up in everyone's top 3 tacos for Tucson: Tacos Apson. This is a multi-generational family restaurant operating from an old building with walk-up windows for service. Tip: Although I don't think Apson is a Spanish name, I noticed everyone pronounced the vowels with a Spanish pronunciation and the accent on the second syllable. I got there late in the lunch hour, but still had to wait a good 10 or 15 minutes just to place my order, and another 10 or 15 to get it. The service was slow but I think it was worth the wait.

I was disappointed that my first choice, the taco al pastor, was not available, but they did have one of my other choices: the Apson. I ended up with an asada, a barbacoa, and the Apson. The Apson was the best by far, and the most well balanced, with plenty of mushrooms with multiple types of marinated meat, all provided with three small containers of shredded cabbage, hot red chili sauce which looked homemade, and the characteristic creamy green sauce from Sonoran cuisine that is usually served on Sonoran hot dogs. Apson also has Sonoran hot dogs and other plates but I stuck to tacos. I recommend Tacos Apson if you ever visit Tucson, it's a good example of the Tucson Sonoran taco shack.

The Taco Apson after I put cabbage on it. Unfortunately, I again started eating before I took photos the other two tacos were gone. I was very hungry! I guess I'm not cut out to be a food blogger. I get distracted by the food too much.

After lunch, I went over to Saguaro National Park, a new park for me. After seeing the sites and doing the loop drive with some side hikes, I was hungry again. I checked into my AirBnb on the north side of town and visited a nearby restaurant called El Cisne. This restaurant was "fancy" Mexican cuisine. It was dimly lit and the servers wore black. Sauces were made with wine and cream in the French tradition.

A La Veracruzana from El Cisne. I'll try not to get my shadow on the photo next time.

I ordered the A La Veracruzana, an Oaxacan style dish of chicken with peppers and onions and a lemon-tomato sauce, accompanied by fried rice and my choice of black beans, along with a craft wheat beer and a Pacifico. To my surprise, they also served a side of long slices of lightly sautéed zucchini, squash, and carrots. I've never had anything like that in a Mexican restaurant. Honestly the beans were the best thing. It wasn't bad, and I might go back in the future, but it didn't meet my expectations for a Mexican restaurant, especially one that is more pricey. The vegetables were cut into too long of slices to eat easily without cutting. That seems silly to me. Cutting a meat filet is one thing but I see no reason to have to cut carrots to fit them in your mouth. The menu is interesting though.

The last place I visited was simply a local neighborhood restaurant-bar called Risky Business (the Tanque Verde Road location), which despite the name was quite tame. I had a grilled three cheese sandwich (havarti, provolone, and parmesan) and roasted tomato soup - satisfying contemporary American bar food. I had a couple of local craft beers with it. The restaurant was selected more from convenience than any other reason, and also I was looking for a break from Mexican food for a meal. Although it was nothing fancy, they have a huge menu of mostly contemporary American cuisine. It's the kind of place that is "safe" for people with neutral paletes but it isn't adventurous or outstanding. The service was friendly but there were regulars at the bar who all knew each other and looked at me like I was an alien. It was kind of a Cheers for elderly white people bar, though I saw younger couples in the dining room. If I'd stayed another day I would have gone for more Sonoran cuisine.


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