Food and drink: Dining out in the Old Pueblo

By Andrew O'Neil
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 14, 2005

Some families prefer visiting with each other while feasting on a gourmet meal and a nice bottle of wine in a soft, candlelit atmosphere.

Others might desire something a bit more casual - like a widescreen television, pitchers of beer and a few shot glasses.

No matter what kind of culinary experience parents and students prefer, Tucson has something for everyone, from elegant five-star eateries to local favorites that celebrate the region's unique flavors.

"We have a lot of Southwest-style specialties," said Sherry Graham, assistant manager and coordinator of special events at the Old Pueblo Grille, 60 N. Alvernon Way.

The restaurant on Alvernon is the flagship location, but there is a second location at 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd. near the Foothills Mall.

She said the menu runs the gamut from traditional fajitas to the exotic cilantro cream-stuffed chicken breasts.

"It's not just enchiladas and tacos," said Chris Chavez, the general manager of Old Pueblo Grille.

He said some of their specialties include a chili-dusted salmon and a pesto-crusted sea bass.

Chavez said the Old Pueblo Grille offers a full-service dining experience, including patio dining and a full bar, where it offers a wide variety of specialty margaritas.

He said his restaurant is one of the more upscale restaurants Tucson has to offer, and that it is a popular choice for Family Weekend.

"A lot of the students like to bring their families in - especially from out of town," Chavez said.

For those who want to taste the Southwest in a more casual environment, the El Charro Café is truly a Tucson institution, and it boasts five locations around the city.

The original location was established downtown in 1922, and since then other locations have been added to showcase a unique menu.

"It's a Tucson Mexican restaurant," said Frank Deon, the manager of the El Charro Café, 4699 E. Speedway Blvd.

He said that means there is no Tex-Mex food there and just a little Sonoran flavor.

"It's our own style," Deon said.

He said one of El Charro's specialty entrees is the carne seca, a dry beef dish that has been marinated in spices for days and is served with onions and chili peppers.

Deon said each location offers the same menu, but that the original downtown restaurant has become somewhat of a tourist attraction because of its history in Tucson.

In addition to some of these local favorites there are, of course, several student-friendly destinations to explore like Maloney's Tavern at 213 N. Fourth Ave.

"It's an awesome place to hang out," said Nick McCalmont, one of the managers at Maloney's.

He said his bar is known for its large selection of domestic and import beers as well as a friendly staff.

McCalmont also said he beefs up the number of bartenders and waiters throughout Family Weekend, as Maloney's is a popular choice for parents and students alike.

"A lot of people just want to show their parents where they go out," he said.