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Tucson, Arizona: For the Food

Enjoy delicious food on a budget in a city that draws its culinary inspirations from Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American influences.

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Looking out of a balcony 'window' into the La Placita village and downtown Tucson city skyline.

Why: Two words: Sonoran dog. Sure Tucson’s high-end fare fires up foodies. But it’s the affordable eats—like the aforementioned bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed in a roll and smothered with pinto beans, salsa, onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard—that tempt the taste buds of epicureans on a budget. “For dining on the cheap, I typically hit up a taqueria, such as Tacos Apson, Maico, or Taqueria Pico de Gallo for tacos that can be less than two dollars,” says Adam Lehrman, head foodie and founder of the Tucson Foodie online food magazine. “Burritos hover around six dollars. And of course, Sonoran dogs are typically around two dollars, as well. And although it can be quite the gut bomb, the Indian fry bread taco at Café Santa Rosa is killer.”

Where: Tucson is located on Interstate 10 in southern Arizona, about 70 miles north of the United States-Mexico border. The closest international airport is about eight miles south of downtown.

When to Go: Winter is peak tourist season, meaning hotels fill up quickly at high-season rates. A more affordable option (space permitting) is camping at Catalina State Park. Avoid going from January 28 to February 12, when thousands of rock hounds are in town for the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, the biggest show of its kind in the United States.

Cheapest Route: Since Tucson is spread across a 227-mile area, driving is the most convenient option. If arriving by plane, train, or bus, you can get around the university area, Fourth Avenue, and downtown on foot and by streetcar, bus, and bike. Consider renting a car for at least a day to expand your dining options.

Music for the Flight (Curated by Spotify):

What to Pack: Bring a bike or rent one. Tucson regularly ranks as a top place to pedal. The metro area boasts roughly 500 miles of dedicated bike lanes plus the Loop, more than a hundred miles of shared-use recreational paths.

Best Places to Eat and Drink: For an authentic Sonoran dog, Lehrman recommends BK Tacos, El Güero Canelo, and the El Perro Loco food truck. For a two-in-one taste sensation, try a BOCA Tacos y Tequila taco dog—a Sonoran dog wrapped in a homemade flour or corn tortilla or cabbage wrap. Add the chips-and-salsa appetizer to sample chef Maria Mazon’s daily lineup of fresh and wildly inventive salsas (think ingredients that can include blueberries, garbanzo beans, horseradish, and poblano peppers) served with fried-to-order chips.

Cultural Tip: Sample a variety of fare from local independent chefs at a Tucson Food Truck Roundup. Roundup days, locations, and featured mobile kitchens vary. Typically, the pop-up food court includes an eclectic mix of menu options such as empanadas, grilled cheese sandwiches, cupcakes, shrimp tacos, and platanos maduros (fried sweet plantains).

Inside Tip: South Tucson, downtown, and lower midtown are part of the city-designated Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food. The 23-mile area north of Valencia and south of Grant (look for the purple-and-white signs) is where you’ll find some of the most authentic Mexican eateries and bakeries.

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