Category Archives: Arizona

Tucson’s Best Coffee

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Tucson’s Presta Roasters has one of the nicest entrances to a coffee shop I’ve ever seen

Now, this is what I call dedication. As I’m sipping a sumptuous Americano at Yellow Brick Coffee, in a Tucson industrial area, co-owner David Perreira is carefully tending a machine that roasts just five pounds of beans at a time.

This, folks, is not mass production. It takes a lot of roasting sessions to yield the 150-250 pounds of beans a week that goes to discerning Tucson restaurants, brew pubs, subscribers and dedicated folks willing to venture to this out-of-the-way location.

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David Perreira tends his tiny roaster at Yellow Brick Coffee

David and sister Anna are sufficiently passionate about tracing the source of their single-origin beans that they often visit growers in far-flung places such as Kenya. It’s all part of the process of wooing discerning customers, five pounds at a time.

Yellow Brick Coffee
3220 South Dodge Boulevard, #1, Tucson
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm. Closed weekends
520-226-4068

Presta Coffee Roasters, in central Tucson, is my definition of what a cool, elegant coffee shop should be.

The first impression is the sleek, streamlined design: a slat-covered, dappled-sun walkway leading to a reflective, glass-walled entrance. Inside, a John Prine duet is playing on the eclectic soundtrack, while a William Wegman photo book, of his dressed-up Weimaraner dogs, rests on a Danish coffee table. Racing bikes are mounted high on a wall, reflecting owner Curtis Zimmerman’s former life as a professional cyclist; a “presta” is a high-pressure valve on road bikes.

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Racing bikes on the wall at Presta Coffee Roasters

And the coffee. An achingly slow cold-brew drips into a large bottle. A Chemex carafe fills, a pour-over drains. My Americano half fills a desert-coloured stoneware mug. Nothing is hurried.

Like the other patrons, quietly sipping their drinks while immersed in a book or screen, I melt into my seat, not wanting to leave.

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Fresh-roasted coffee to go

Presta Coffee
2502 North 1 Avenue, Suite 100 (one other Tucson location)
Tuesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
520-333-7146

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Build it Right and They Will Find You

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Roma Imports is out in the middle-of-nowhere industrial Tucson

One of the unexpected pleasures of getting to obscure food and drink establishments is driving through interesting neighbourhoods you’d otherwise never discover.

Of course, heading into the boondocks means occasionally getting lost or turned around. And in every new city I explore for great, cheap eats, there’ are at least a couple of times I mutter, “This café can’t possibly be located on this residential/industrial street.” Until suddenly, there it is.

Such thoughts come to mind as we’re trying to find Roma Imports, an Italian deli and grocery southeast of downtown Tucson. We’re driving around an industrial district, with no sign of any place selling food. Just as I’m thinking we’re lost, thar it be, all by its culinary lonesome.

This is definitely the right place, judging by the line of cars out front and the stream of customers emerging with plastic bags of takeout. This impression is confirmed as soon as we enter the front door.

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The deli looks small until you keep walking back and back

The building is narrow but goes on forever. On the right are coolers filled with fresh Italian meats and cheeses and scads of interesting appetizers (roasted garlic, prosciutto-stuffed figs, balls of fresh mozzarella, cauliflower fritters). The long left flank is jammed with frozen takeout items: lasagna, tiramisu, curries, cookies, saag paneer.

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Italian deli sandwiches don’t get better or cheaper than this

Way at the back are tables, where we tuck into hefty Italian sandwiches ($8), featuring plentiful meats and cheeses stuffed into crusty slabs of baguette. There’s enough for two meals here. We then load up on sufficient marinated goodies for a light supper of appetizers.

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Roma has scads of interesting, unusual deli items

As we head out, I ask our server how long Roma has been in this out-of-the-way location. “About 18 years,” she says. So, if you build the best Italian deli in Tucson, people will find you, even if, like me, they’re not sure where they’re going.

Roma Imports 
627 South Vine Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Thursday 9 am-6 pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday

How About Duck Confit and Cabernet Cherries for Breakfast?

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Prep & Pastry is a bright Tucson breakfast joint with some eclectic dishes

“What’s your signature breakfast dish?” I ask the waitress at Prep & Pastry, a joint with a varied menu in central Tucson.

Without pausing, she replies: “The duck confit skillet. It’s what everyone comes for and writes about on Yelp and TripAdvisor.”

Sold.

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Now here’s something unique at breakfast: duck confit with Cabernet-braised cherries

The $12.75 dish certainly stands out from the same-old breakfast standards. When have you heard of ingredients like Cabernet-braised cherries and goat cheese mousse… at any time of the day, let alone seven in the morning? The standouts, though, are the slightly salty, shredded duck, excellent roasted fingerling potatoes and a couple of over-easy eggs. As a bonus, it’s served in a cast-iron skillet.

Prep & Pastry
3073 North Campbell Avenue (one other Tucson location)
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, weekend brunch 7 am-3 pm

A Fast-Food Burger Chain I Can Support

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In-N-Out Burger is lifted right out of the 1950s

Fast-food chains are the antithesis of what I promote in this road-food blog, which is good, independently owned, affordable restaurants.

But a western U.S. hamburger chain, In-N-Out Burger has long attracted a cult-like following among hip food lovers. And when I saw Anthony Bourdain extolling the virtues of In-N-Out’s thin, crispy patties, I figured I had to check it out.

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In-N-Out is a family run, Southwest US, chain based out of California

After a couple of years of procrastinating, I finally find myself pulling into an outlet in Kingman, Arizona during a long drive between Tucson and Las Vegas. And I must say, I’m suitably impressed.

Now, don’t expect a gourmet burger made from freshly ground sirloin, cooked medium rare and topped with blue cheese and charred hot peppers. But this California-based, family run southwest U.S. chain is definitely a good step above the usual fast-food suspects.

The first thing I notice when entering the spotless premises is the 10 or more cheerful staff behind the counter, each wearing a white shirt, paper hat and red aprons secured at the back with a giant safety pin.

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My companion says the place reminds her of the 1950s. Which makes sense, considering In-N-Out was founded in 1948 and has kept many of its practices and ingredients unchanged over the years.

The second thing I notice is the concise menu: three types of hamburgers along with fries, shakes and a few other drinks. That’s it!

I order the double cheeseburger, for a whopping $3.60. When the most-pleasant attendant asks if I’d like onions, I jokingly ask if they’re caramelized. “No, but would you like them grilled?” he responds.

To me, this indicates the burgers are cooked to order—a suspicion confirmed by the several minutes it takes for the food to be ready. Everything is nicely presented, with the burgers half exposed above the paper wrapper.

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The burger wrapper tells the story

The burgers are straight forward—adorned with lettuce, tomato and sauce—but well executed with toasted buns and flavourful, nicely crisped thin patties. The thin fries could be hotter but are otherwise tasty, as is a vanilla shake you could stand a spoon in.

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Nice, crisp, inexpensive burgers

My overall impression is “fresh”, both for the food and the fresh-faced staff. Simple, but simply well done.

In-N-Out Burger
1770 Beverly Avenue, Kingman, Arizona
Daily 10:30 am-1 am, except 1:30 am closings Friday and Saturday

It’s the Selection That Counts

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I’m always on the lookout for local microbrews. And Tucson’s Plaza Liquors delivers

“It looks like a dump,” my companion observes as we pull up to Plaza Liquors & Fine Wines in central Tucson.

Mind you, her admitted preference in beer is “rat’s piss,” so I’m not taking her opinion too seriously. I’m relying more on the advice of the barista and a customer at nearby cutting-edge-cool Presta Coffee Roasters. I figure coffee aficionados know where to pick up good local micro brews.

Bingo! As soon as we push open the Plaza’s strip-mall doors and enter the dimly lit interior, I know we’re in the right place. In behind a guy swirling and sniffing a glass of California Pinot are rows of global craft beers stuffed into every nook and cranny. And I like the way they’re organized, by country and by style, such as IPAs, porters and lagers.

Most importantly, from my perspective, is a whole shelf of Arizona beers, which is harder to find than you’d think. There’s Arizona Trail Ale and Road Rash IPA from That Brewery (okay, not an inspired name) in Pine, Arizona. And there’s Lost Highway Double Black IPA from Flagstaff’s estimable Mother Road Brewing Co. And the piece de resistance: a fine selection from Tucson’s fabulous Iron John’s Brewing Company, worthy of the $8-plus for a big bottle of small-batch goodness.

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You can’t beat Iron John’s when it comes to Tucson beers

The lesson, as always: don’t judge a place by its location or exterior. It’s the inside that counts.

Plaza Liquors & Fine Wine
2642 North Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Daily 10 am-9 pm except Sunday noon-6 pm

Pints & Poses: Yoga Meets Beer in Tucson, Arizona

Pueblo Vida, Tucson Arizona

We slip into Pueblo Vida, in Tucson, for some sampling right after the weekly yoga session.

It seems yoga has infiltrated nearly every aspect of western life. So why not beer?

At Pueblo Vida Brewing Co., in downtown Tucson, it’s called Pints & Poses. On Sundays at 10:30 am, the pub tables are rolled to the walls and the mats laid out for a guided one-hour session of yoga. All that stretching is rewardedwith some elbow bending: a pint of Pueblo microbrew, all for the bargain price of $5.

Of course, we arrive just after the sweaty posing’s completed (I’ve never seen so many glowing bodies in a pub) and head straight to the tasting table. We order a flight of four samples—ranging from the Northwest IPA to a breakfast stout—all delicious, noontime refreshments.

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I’ve never seen so many healthy, fit folks in a pub as at the Pints & Poses session at Pueblo Vida

The 2.5-year-old Pueblo Vida is a rather exclusive brewery. You can choose from some 10 beers on tap at the pub, fill a growler or purchase a very limited selection of cans. You can also find the brewery’s products at a scattering of pubs and restaurants in the Tucson area. Good luck, though, locating it at your local beer merchant.

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Now, this is my idea of taking flight

But don’t get bent out of shape. Just show up for the next Pints & Poses session. It’s only an hour of contortions before the suds start flowing.

Pueblo Vida Brewing Co.
115 East Broadway Boulevard, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Thursday 4 pm-10 pm, Friday 2 pm-11 pm, Saturday noon-11 pm, Sunday noon-8 pm