Sonoran Restaurant Week brings fresh flavors, new culinary experiences to Tucson

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Charlie Borla from El Inde Arizona | The Daily Wildcat

This word cloud was created by those in the restaurant community participating in Sonoran Restaurant Week.

To newcomers, southwestern cuisine may seem straightforward. Maybe they think of Tex-Mex or their local Mexican restaurant or chimichangas and spicy flavors.

While you can find all of these things in a place like Tucson, southwestern food, specifically Sonoran cuisine, is more complex.

In 2015, Tucson was designated as the country’s first City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. Not only did this designation come from how creative our local restaurants are with fusing principles from different countries, it also came from the ancient tradition Tucson’s restaurants bring to the table.

“[The designation] has to do with heritage grains and the use of ancient cultivation here in the region,” said Sally Kane, owner of The Coronet at 198 W. Cushing St. downtown. “Restaurants use those products to celebrate ancient grains and heritage items.”

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Since then, Tucson’s been officially put on the map as a safe haven for foodies; however, the restaurant scene has been slow-baked into this region long before the city’s designation.

“Food is a part of culture, but food is the culture here,” said Caleb Orellana, owner and baker of Cal’s Bakeshop, a home-based bakery that is participating in the 2022 Sonoran Restaurant Week.

The week kicked off on Friday, Sept. 9, and runs through Sept. 18.

Since 2019, Sonoran Restaurant Week has served as a celebration of Tucson’s gastronomy scene. 

This year’s event features more than 100 restaurants all across town. Food lovers can enjoy set-price menus featuring $25, $35 and $45 dishes from restaurants including Ghini’s French Caffe at 1803 E. Prince Road and the historic El Charro Café, whose flagship restaurant at 311 N. Court Ave. is celebrating its 100th year. 

“Events like [Sonoran Restaurant Week] create a time to intentionally celebrate our food, not just when you feel like it,” said Shazieh Gorji, owner and operator of Agave Pantry at 4752 E. Third St., which will be offering Persian Love Cakes and specialty caramels for the event.

Sonoran Restaurant Week allows the Tucson community to try new flavors, twists on dishes from their favorite places and a fresh way to experience food. So what do the restaurants that make this event possible think of Sonoran Restaurant Week and its Sonoran cuisine roots?  

Diverse but authentic, innovative and yet still true to Tucson, Sonoran Restaurant Week is a beautiful contradiction. The event can be explained in many different ways.

“The way this event is set up, it’s meant to be extremely inclusive,” said Courtney Fenton, director of operations at her family’s Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St. downtown. “It’s a great introduction to the food scene in Tucson, and it’s a fun way to taste your way through different restaurant offerings.”

Even though this is only the fourth annual Sonoran Restaurant Week, celebrating Tucson’s rich and diverse restaurant scene has been at the forefront of restaurants’ minds for much longer. Paul Murrell, general manager of The Monterey Court Café at 505 W. Miracle Mile, believes that events like these should be of the utmost importance to the Tucson food community.

“If you don’t support the local scene, your downtown and Fourth Avenue is going to Applebee’s, TGI Fridays ... I mean do you really want your downtown food scene to be Panera?” Murrell said.

“A lot of what we do is based on uniqueness,” said Reza Shapouri, owner of Harvest Restaurant at 10335 N. La Canada Drive in Oro Valley. “I want to put something on the menu that no one else is offering. And if you can find something like it, you’re not getting the full experience.”


 *El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. 


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