Tucson Top 5
I moved to Tucson back in 1998 and instantly fell in love with the desert weather, unique scenery, and most of all, the bohemian artsy vibe of Tucson with a touch a quirk. I came for one year to go to grad school, and ended up staying for eight years. Tucson has changed a lot since 1998, and it has only gotten better, especially the craft beer and local coffee roasters, and local specialty markets where you can find both, along with some great eats. These are Tucson’s Top 5 of each, in my opinion.
Craft Beer and a Good Time!
Craft beer is HUGE in Arizona, and Tucson has really gotten into the spirit of the brew. There are great craft brews to choose from all over town, and some pretty great venues where you can find them. Here’s my Top 5 list of hangouts to enjoy a craft beer, local or international, and a good time when I come home to visit in the summer.
Tap & Bottle
Tap & Bottle opened with a bang a few years ago and it has been busy ever since. It’s on 6th Ave in an old refurbished warehouse space, along with Exo Coffee (great coffee!). Tap & Bottle has craft beer and wine on tap, with selections changing daily. They also have a variety of unique bottled beers in the coolers at the back. They hold beer tastings and loads of events all year round, have a good happy hour, and there’s always a food truck outside with good, cheap eats. There are two things that make this place my favorite. The selection of quality craft brews and the atmosphere. There’s just some good energy in this place, friendly people, and loads of great beers.
Good Oak Bar
I loved Good Oak Bar at 316 E Congress from the first moment I walked in. It’s across from Hotel Congress and a relative newcomer to Tucson, but became a fast favorite because it is AWESOME and serves up unique cocktails, as well as craft beers from all over Arizona. I love the atmosphere here. Nothing pretentious about it, and the bartenders are very knowledgeable about the craft beers, local and regional whiskeys, and liquors they serve here. The bar food here is fantastic. They focus on quality, not quantity. Highly recommend the BLT with sweet potato chips, house-made. All of their beers are crafted in Arizona, and they have their own liquors they flavor with fresh herbs and other ingredients. I highly recommend the Old Fashioned.
Thunder Canyon Brewery (downtown)
Thunder Canyon has two great locations, but the one downtown is funky and fantastic and my favorite. They serve their own beers which they have been crafting for a long time. The original Thunder Canyon location is one of Tucson’s first craft breweries, starting long before the trend began. The downtown location serves craft brews from other locations as well, and has good food and a great atmosphere. It’s a big space in a refurbished warehouse on Broadway, with comfy couches in front and a very unique way of hiding their bathrooms. Big bar, lots of tables, friendly faces, and lots of fun to be had here.
The Dusty Monk Pub
This pub on N Court Ave is a quirky, lively, cool hangout that has an awesome selection of Belgian and German beers, and my favorite which is Trappist and Abbey beers brewed by monks in Belgium. They have lots of craft beers from all over the world, beer tasting events, and the piano bar night is a unique and much-welcomed form of entertainment in Tucson. The beer garden outside has a great vibe, and you can order up some good grub from La Cocina next door. The chile relleno plate is outstanding.
1702 Pizza & Beer
1702 is located on the main drag in Tucson at 1702 Speedway. They serve up 46 craft beers on tap that change regularly and never disappoint. It’s near the UofA but the quality of beer, food, and atmosphere is the perfect trifecta that draws people of all ages. They’ve got an extensive list of bottled beers as well, so never fear if what you want isn’t on tap. When you read the list of beers, you’ll want to order a flight just so you can taste as many as possible. The pizza is here is outstanding with some pretty unique combinations, but more about that in another Top 5 post.
Top 5 Cool Local Markets
Neighborhood markets are still alive and well in Tucson, and locals still love them. We will drive across town to visit someone else’s neighborhood market! These five markets are loaded with personality and each one has something truly unique about it.
Rincon Market at Tucson Blvd and 6th Str is a Tucson institution, open since 1926. A few years ago when it caught on fire and had to close for several months to repair and rebuild, the neighborhood had withdrawal symptoms. Rincon has a cool vibe and a kind of bohemian atmosphere. Here you can get great coffee at the full-service coffee bar in the center, some great pastries, or a fresh salad you make yourself at the salad bar. They have an amazing deli and lots of seating, inside and out. The selection of beers and wines here is pretty impressive. You can definitely find some unique labels. And yes, it’s an actual grocery store, and no, the prices aren’t jacked up just because it’s a locally owned specialty market. They also have a meeting room for parties, and they cater!
Johnny Gibsons Market
This downtown jewel, opened by the owners of Rincon Market just a few years ago, gave Tucson’s vibrant downtown a much-needed full-service specialty grocery. Like Rincon, they have a fantastic deli and produce section, groceries at normal prices, and a café that serves up great coffee from Yellowbrick Roasters, a local roaster. But one thing you can’t miss here is their amazing selection of wines and craft beers. If you’re looking for a beer with unique twist or a weird name, they’ve probably got it. They have a courtyard in the back where you can enjoy a great deli sandwich and a cuppa joe. They also sell local jams and bbq sauces from We B Jammin’ Farms. Blackberry coffee jam? Yes please! I loved it so much I took jars back to Kuwait with me.
This small Middle Eastern market is walking distance from my house and I love it. This is the place to go in Tucson for all things Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek, Indian, Moroccan, the list goes on and on. But what makes it really special is the take-out restaurant in the back. Their food is outstanding. Falafel, kebap, doner, salads, it is all just so good. I live in the Middle East, and I still can’t wait to go here when I come to Tucson. Baklava, dates, spices, labneh, yogurt, it’s all fresh and I haven’t found a lot of these foods in any other market in Tucson. They also have halal meats. If you’re in the market for a sheesha pipe or a Turkish tea pot, you can find those here too, along with a selection of Turkish coffees.
They don’t sell alcohol here, but if I’m recommending great locally owned markets in Tucson, I have to recommend this one.
Roma Imports on S. Vine is Tucson’s premier Italian market. You can buy their homemade entrees made with fresh ingredients in their frozen section (sausage and peppers, oh my!) and cook them at home, and feel like you’ve been transported to Italy. There’s quite a story behind the owner, Lilian Spieth. Born in India, raised in Israel, married in Germany, and somehow we were lucky enough to get her in Tucson to open this amazing, authentic Italian market. She bought this small store over 20 years ago in Barrio San Antonio. The selection of deli meats and cheeses will make your mouth water, and the pastas and olive oils, Italian coffees, and even specialty vinegars will make you see how unique this gem really is. I actually don’t know if they sell Italian beers here or not, but this market favorite had to be in my Top 5 list anyway.
Thanks to Koreen for sending me these great pictures of Roma Imports.
Time Market on University Blvd offers up fresh produce, groceries, and a pretty great beer and wine selection. But if you ask me, the real reason to come here is the restaurant, the bakery, and of course, the coffee! The bakery has gorgeous and tasty artisan breads. They began roasting coffee in 2007 and this venture turned into yet another great, locally owned café called Exo Roast Co on 6th Ave, two doors down from Tap & Bottle. These coffee varieties are rich and complex and just really excellent. The restaurant is open seven days a week, three meals a day, and I highly recommend the wood-fired pizzas with some truly unique combinations.
Top 5 Local Cafes (that make Starbucks look like amateurs)
When I return to Tucson in summer after nine months away, I can’t wait to go to all of my favorite coffee places. There are so many great roasters in Tucson, I honestly don’t know why we still have Starbucks or how they are still in business. Most people don’t think coffee when they think of Tucson, but people here love their cafes and they know their coffee. Here are my Top 5 picks making me homesick right now.
Cartel Coffee Lab
This awesome coffee hangout has three locations in Tucson, but the Broadway location downtown is my favorite. It is spacious and almost elegant, and if you need to get some work done, this is the perfect place. Their menu is simple and their coffee is complex. They have espresso, filter drip, teas, gorgeous homemade pastries, and they even serve beer. But the coffee and the atmosphere is the real reason to come here. A seat by the window is the perfect place to people watch. They also have a wholesale business, so if you’re impressed enough, ask about getting it delivered to your door.
I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the spacious, industrial interior. Their use of wood and metal just makes my heart throb. I somehow managed to get out of Tucson without ever taking a picture in here. I’ve requested a couple from them and am waiting for a response.
Savaya Coffee Market
I have a soft spot in my heart for all things Turkish, having lived there for a year and visited many times, and Savaya is no exception. The Turkish owner knows what he’s doing. I had never heard of this café until I discovered it on East Broadway a few years ago, but they’ve been open since 2009. This photo is from their Broadway location. I love the atmosphere here and the staff is so great, but all of their locations are pretty irresistible. They roast many varieties of coffee from all over the world daily, right in Tucson. Their inviting café with friendly experts are ready to explain their many methods of brewing and their coffees on offer for the day. You can taste before deciding.
They now have four locations in Tucson, including Oro Valley and Dove Mountain north of Tucson. On any given day, they have 15 – 30 unique varieties to choose from. You can also attend coffee tastings here, but you’ll need to schedule online.
Raging Sage Coffee Roasters
This coffee roaster and café is located in an old (I think adobe…) refurbished house right on Campbell Ave and they have a great outdoor seating area. If you can resist getting a sweet treat or a quiche from their incredible display, then you are a stronger human being than me. They are famous for their scones and I end up with one every time I go here. Their coffee is strong and rich and they have many varieties to choose from. The smell when I walk in is intoxicating. They also ship their coffees and have over 15 varieties from all over the world. They call themselves a small micro-roastery on their website, but their flavor is big and their sustainable concept is a winner.
This café is in a unique location on Tucson’s west side in the Mercado San Agustin public marketplace. This marketplace has really helped to revitalize this neighborhood in Tucson. There are a number of local shops and restaurants in the marketplace, and you can sip your Stella’s inside while you take a stroll and look at the goods, or while sitting in the courtyard enjoying the sunshine. Stella’s coffee beans are roasted by Presta Coffee Roasters, also in Mercado, which started in 2014. Their many unique varieties of outstanding java are all sustainably sourced. Their shop is gorgeous and welcoming, and so is their staff. Just look at the pictures on their website and you’ll want to go here.
I somehow managed to get away from Stella Java without a photo of my own. This one is used on their website and it’s a perfect picture of their tempting little window…
Crave Coffee Bar
Crave is on East Broadway, and their eco-friendly approach to coffee is paying off big time. This art deco café serves up coffee so beautiful you will surely take a photo before drinking it, although apparently I didn’t because I can’t find one! It’s a comfy place where you’ll want to stay a while and enjoy something sweet with your latte. Fatmir Morina moved to the US in 2010 with a dream to bring a real European coffeehouse to Tucson. They serve only fair-trade, organic coffee and they roast all their beans in house. It’s the only coffee house in town that I know of that stays open till 10:00PM every night, except Sun and Mon when they close at 9:00PM. Gotta sleep some time. Thanks, Fatmir, for opening this gem.
I have contacted Crave for photos to use and am waiting to hear back from them. In the meantime, check out their elegant but comfortable, and very spacious interior on their website. There is no other cafe even remotely like this in Tucson.