TOPIC OF THE WEEK: Tucson's top restaurants for foodies on a budget
Illegal Pete's is one of the many restaurants along Main Gate Square on University Boulevard in Tucson, Ariz. "Pete's" serves Mexican food in a build-your-own style.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing atmosphere or a traditional meal, Tucson’s range of restaurant options is perfect for any foodie on a college student’s budget. We asked our staff to dish on their favorite food joints that are not only close to campus but won’t break the bank.
Priya Jandu - Choice Greens
Choice Greens is my favorite sandwich/salad place in Tucson, no contest. It’s on Speedway Boulevard, about a five-minute drive from campus, and it’s well worth the detour. Choice Greens is locally owned, and they’re a great option if you’re in the mood for something healthy. They’re known for their customizable chopped salads, but they also have soups, sandwiches, salads, grain bowls, paninis and mac and cheese. My go-to order is the caprese panini. It’s super simple, just mozzarella, spring mix, tomato, spread and olive oil on ciabatta but it’s incredible and I recommend it to everyone.
Jillian Bartsch - Illegal Pete's
My favorite restaurant in Tucson is Illegal Pete's. This is my favorite restaurant because they are always playing good music and the food is great. I also like it because the location is convenient with it being right on University Boulevard.
Jake Toole - Zemam's
One of my favorite food spots near campus is an Ethiopian restaurant called Zemam's. Zemam's is a Black-owned business that was started by Amanuel Gebremariam, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Ethiopia and then opened the restaurant in 1993. In 2014, a second location, Zemam’s Too, was built.
To best enjoy the menu of Zemam's, I would bring some friends or family with you, since Ethiopian food is best for multiple people. The way the menu works is you pick a number of dishes, either meat or vegetable (both of which are delicious), and then all the dishes you ordered come on a large portion of injera. Injera is a traditional Ethiopian bread that you use as your utensil to eat your meal. Support Black-owned business in Tucson and eat an incredible meal at Zemam's.
Jacob Mennuti - Anita's Street Market
Two words: breakfast burrito. The menu at Anita's Street Market is big, but the blending of bacon, egg, ham, chorizo and cheese wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla is the reason why it's one of my favorite restaurants near campus. Everything is authentic and made fresh to order. The outside is decorated with a colorful mural and is hidden away on the west side of Tucson, and when I say "hidden," I mean hidden. Trust your GPS, you're going the right way.
Ari Koslow - Culinary Dropout
My favorite restaurant in Tucson is Culinary Dropout. They have a solid menu and a great overall environment for friends and families to have a night out. I've gone a couple of times in the afternoon on Sundays during the NFL season, and it is tough to beat the environment they have with fans of all teams coming in and out throughout the day. They have a ton of different TVs around the restaurant where they show almost every game going on, so you won't be disappointed if you go there on the weekends during the football season.
Sam Burdette - Miss Saigon
Miss Saigon has hands-down the best Vietnamese food in town. While they have three open locations across Tucson, there’s one right on Campbell near Speedway, directly across from the UA. They have great pho noodle soup and they even have boba tea. And the best part? It keeps perfectly well as takeout, which is pretty important right about now. Most of their food runs from $8 to $11, but most are also an easy two meals-worth of food. I highly recommend the #34 – egg noodle soup with wontons.
Amit Syal - Sauce Pizza & Wine
Located just north of Campbell and Grant, Sauce Pizza & Wine was founded by UA and Eller College of Management alumnus Sam Fox. The restaurant offers a vast array of different pizzas and plates of pasta, among other foods. If you're craving a taste of Italy, look no further than Sauce for a delicious taste of heaven.
Ella McCarville - Selena's Salvadorian
Many of us have food memories tied to the enjoyable parts of life. One of my own is waking up on the weekends to go to a bustling farmer’s market with friends and family and buy a pupusa with salsa and curtido before Selena’s Salvadorian opened their brick and mortar location on 2513 N. Campbell Ave.
While I may not be able to go to the farmer's market in the same way I used to, I can still enjoy food from Selena’s Salvadorian. The menu also includes options that accommodate vegetarians and vegans.
Quinn Mcveigh - Brooklyn Pizza Company
Brooklyn Pizza Company has always been a go-to for me. This last year living at the District on 5th, it was about a two-minute walk, and it was always a nice little atmosphere to be in with a couple of friends. Oh, and the pizza is phenomenal. It always fills me up.
Jay Walker - Raijin Ramen
Whether it’s mid-monsoon season or it’s a case of the common cold, Raijin Ramen is a great place to get a hot bowl of soup to warm the soul. From pork ramen to gyoza, Raijin Ramen has a wide variety of ramen soups and appetizers that hit the spot, particularly when sick. Closed on Monday, open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., hop over to their Speedway Boulevard location and meet one more Tucson restaurant.
Elijah Bija - Mi Nidito
Mi Nidito is a local Tucson restaurant that specializes in Mexican cuisine. The establishment has been around since 1952 and has had more than a dozen famous guests dine within the small adobe establishment. With a name that translates to “My Little Nest,” Mi Nidito is a comforting and a must-try establishment for anyone visiting or living within Tucson.
My favorite item to get at Mi Nidito is the birria chimichanga with a side of beans. One recommendation is to take it easy on the complimentary chips and salsa or you will end up getting full and not being able to enjoy the delicious Mexican food.
Selena Kuikahi - Cafe Passé
Last fall semester, my schedule consisted of over-caffeinated afternoons in Cafe Passé’s back patio, catching a disco set there after classes and reviving with their berry-honey toast the next morning. Located on the darling Fourth Avenue, Passé’s warm and relaxed ambiance is the perfect place to de-stress your study sessions during the day and enjoy a nice beverage with your friends in the evening. Pro-tip: sign up for the rewards to get a free latte, and don’t order the “Crazy Monkey Smoothie” when it’s busy (it’s the polite thing to do).
Pascal Albright - Lovin’ Spoonfuls
Located at 2990 N. Campbell Ave., this vegan/vegetarian favorite offers upscale dishes at great prices. The Lovin' Spoonfuls menu sticks true to vegan cuisine, and I recommend the hummus platter. During the pandemic they have stopped dine-in experience but continue to do delivery and take-out.
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