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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson street food grabs locals

    Gordon Bates / Arizona Summer Wildcat

    Gordon Bates
    Gordon Bates / Arizona Summer Wildcat Molcas

    When a friend suggests going out for dinner, dining in front of a food truck parked next to the street under a tent is probably not the first place that comes to mind.

    That’s a shame, really. With its blend of various food cultures, nascent urban sensibilities and many oft-empty parking lots, Tucson is in a good position to offer residents opportunities to pretend they’re Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern the next time they step out the front door.

    There is the usual, and understandable, concern over cleanliness and safety, but sit-in restaurants and drive-thrus can be just as haphazard to eat at — just check out KVOA’s regular Restaurant Report Card feature. Besides, the vendors are making cheap, fresh food to order right in front of you.

    Whether you’re a newcomer to Tucson, a longtime resident or someone in between, summer is a great time to eat some street food at night. Here are a few places that are easy on the wallet and worth a trip:

    Molcas Mexican Grill

    Near Grant Road and Stone Avenue:

    Why go to Molcas at night? Its lighting — really. Instead of white fluorescent lighting, Molcas uses a canary-yellow lighting reminiscent of a 1950s neon diner sign. After sitting under such a light for a while, the street takes on a purplish overcast.

    The food at Molcas isn’t as psychedelically disorienting, thankfully. There are, of course, the Sonoran-style hot dogs ($2.40 regular, $2.90 jumbo) with their signature dog wrapped in crisp bacon, nestling underneath sautéed onions, and topped with salsa verde, mayonnaise and mustard.

    But the fritangas — fried foods — and the well-stocked salsa bar, a rarity among such food trucks, distinguish Molcas. The sopes ($3 each) are like tostadas, but instead of fried taco shells, Molcas uses thick cornmeal-like bread to support the mound of beef braised in a spicy broth, julienned lettuce, chopped tomatoes and crumbly queso fresco. It also comes with a side of the beef’s juices that, oddly enough, taste like pepperoni. Similar to taquitos but bigger, the larguchonas (3 for $4.50) are also worth ordering.


    Near 22nd Street and Park Avenue:

    Maico brings the atmosphere of the typical Mexican restaurant to an outdoor setting with its picnic tables covered in red-and-white striped tablecloth, air conditioning and music that mixes tejano, norteño, ranchera, along with pop and dance.

    The birria ($6.49) is definitely worth trying. This is a meat stew — Maico uses beef — that starts with a broth based on dried roasted peppers, which leads to a crossroad of flavorful possibilities. At Maico, birria can be ordered as an entrée or as a bowl of stew. Both come with flour or corn tortillas, finely chopped white onions, cilantro and halves of limes. The meat is succulent and tender, and the broth will have you wiping your plate or bowl clean with your last piece of tortilla. Other menu highlights are the taco cabeza ($1.50) and the Arizona burrito ($4.50).

    If you have any grievances to air out against the state of Arizona after you’ve finished eating, you can pay a quick visit to Rep. Raul Grijalva. His Tucson office is right across the street.


    22nd Street and Country Club Boulevard:

    Located in the Food City parking lot, Obregon’s offers a good, though limited, menu. But the real reason to stop by Obregon’s is the churro stand. An ingeniously-designed Spanish cousin to the doughnut and the funnel cake — whose ridges are perfect for holding onto such toppings as cinnamon sugar or chocolate sauce — a fresh churro is difficult to resist.

    It doesn’t come fresher than the stand, which has a machine that exudes the characteristic star-shaped dough in the deep fryer.

    On a weeknight, it’s not unusual to see families drive up to the stand, order churros (5 for $3, 1 for 90¢), sit in the parking lot and let the aroma of fried pastry dough fill the air for a moment before taking their first collective bite. It makes for a great, comforting end to a long night of food exploration.

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