DIN­ING OUT on desert cui­sine

Saturday Star - - TRAVELLING TASTEBUDS -

ONCE a com­pact bas­tion of artists, ec­centrics and drifters, Tuc­son has bil­lowed across the sur­round­ing Sono­ran Desert like a dust storm, pro­pelled largely by an in­flux of re­tirees.

The restau­rant scene has ex­panded in step, but ves­tiges of the Old West re­main, along with traces of Tuc­son’s his­tory as a Mex­i­can pue­blo (the US ac­quired it in 1853), and some of the top es­tab­lish­ments hide in plain sight in the lively and eclec­tic Fourth Av­enue dis­trict near the Univer­sity of Ari­zona cam­pus.

But don’t get stuck there: the cac­tus-rid­dled moun­tains and washes ring­ing the city de­mand aim­less wan­der­ing, and the re­sult­ing thirst will prime you for Tuc­son’s dom­i­nant cui­sine – the craft cock­tail sits on the menus like a weath­ered Stet­son. If you’re seek­ing real Mex­i­can food or in­no­va­tive Amer­i­can chefs, fear not. You won’t leave dis­ap­pointed. Dan­ish.

While ta­cos are en­joy­ing a cre­ative re­vival na­tion­wide, few pur­vey­ors can claim the same le­git­i­macy as Maria Ma­zon, chefowner of Boca Ta­cos Y Te­quila. Born in Tuc­son and raised partly in her an­ces­tral home­land of Sonora, Mex­ico, Ma­zon says she was driven to cook af­ter work­ing in Amer­can­ised Mex­i­can restau­rants and wit­ness­ing the hor­ror of plates “smoth­ered in yel­low cheese and sour cream”. Her re­sponse? Tor­tillas topped with lively con­coc­tions in­clud­ing shred­ded pork sim­mered in a fresh tomatillo sauce, fire-roasted pep­pers, cit­rusmar­i­nated sal­mon, strips of rib­eye steak and the five-star grilled oc­to­pus with sautéed onions and gar­lic. Equally im­pres­sive are Ma­zon’s home-made sal­sas, which she ro­tates based on avail­able fresh in­gre­di­ents – from rasp­ber­ries and chick­peas to herbs and ex­otic chill­ies. Don’t be dis­suaded by the line in­side the door (it moves fast), and def­i­nitely be per­suaded by the 100 brands of te­quila be­hind the retro-hip­pie bar.

Rus­tic cool meets desert heat at 47 Scott, a down­town bistro with up­scale food and ur­ban decor, and – de­spite the fre­quent bus­tle that ac­com­pa­nies pop­u­lar­ity – a laid-back vibe. Owner Travis

Reese opened 47 Scott in 2010 in a space that once housed a peepshow par­lour. Now, the sight­lines ex­tend through the nar­row din­ing room and out into a shady brick pa­tio and, from the right van­tage, into the ad­join­ing speakeasy Scott & Co, which is renowned for its daz­zling cock­tail menu. Start with a mar­garita, then ease into ba­con­wrapped dates or buf­falo chick­en­style fried cau­li­flower (one way to get kids to eat their veg­eta­bles), an heir­loom tomato salad featuring house ri­cotta toast, and, fi­nally, 47’s sig­na­ture en­trée, phyllo-wrapped chicken, with spinach, goat cheese, Yukon Gold pota­toes and chicken jus. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

Pic­ture: Prep and Pas­try

1. French toast with mac­er­ated berries and can­died al­monds at Prep and Pas­try.

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