The 23-Mile Zone

by Adrian Marsh

Tucson celebrates its best Mexican food locales

Twenty-three miles of Mexican food will congregate for the third annual Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival this Father’s Day weekend.

“It’s a rockin’ party,” says Gretchen Harper, marketing and communications manager with Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance (SAACA). “It’s a party for a cause.”

Guests embark on a 23-mile culinary journey of Tucson’s most authentic Mexican food north of the border, while enjoying musical performances and local art.

Harper says this year SAACA has added a new feature called “Taste the 23 Restaurant Week” to include even more eateries.

The food festival is intended to attract people from outside of the area as well as southern Arizona residents who are invested in the culinary scene, Harper says.

SAACA’s initiative is to support creative art therapy, according to Harper. This year, local artists will paint in front of guests and then sell their works, she says.

Local artist Ruben Urrea Moreno painted a canvas that encompassed all aspects of Tucson for this year’s festival.

Traditional music and dance performances from Latin America, including mariachi and folklorico, will provide the entertainment. Harper says SAACA supports this event to celebrate the heritage in southern Arizona.

“It’s really a huge asset that we have in this part of the world,” she says.

One of the key demonstrations is the Celebrity Chef Dinner the night before the main event. The dinner will feature Chef Erika Bostick, of Seis Kitchen at Joesler Village, who will put on a thoughtfully crafted culinary experience.

“We are so honored to be featured as a celebrity chef at the chef’s dinner,” says Erika Muñoz, Seis Kitchen co-owner. “We are excited to have our executive chef as the representative of Seis, as she embodies the passion that we feel for the regional cuisine of Mexico.”

Muñoz says while there is a heavy Sonoran influence on many of Tucson’s Mexican restaurants, Seis Kitchen reflects all the country’s six culinary regions.

“People are excited about Mexican cuisine,” she says. “And they absolutely love it. It’s critical to our area.”

At the food festival this year, Seis Kitchen is serving a chicken Tinga Street taco on fresh corn tortillas, a dish from Puebla, Mexico, that Muñoz described as “super savory and yummy.”

Ana Harris, 69, has volunteered at the Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival since she moved to Arizona from Maryland three years ago. Harris trains her fellow volunteers.

“I like to volunteer because I like to give back something to the community,” Harris says. “It makes you feel better. You’re giving up your time and effort, but at the end of the day, you feel good about it.”

Harris says attendees are excited to learn about the different foods and cultures, as well as new restaurants. She emphasized there are different types of Mexican food, culture, tastes and ingredients.

“There’s more to it than being in Mexico,” she adds. “When you attend the event, you find out it goes further than that.”

However, the event is about more than just the food and drinks, according to Harris. Proceeds support the arts, music and education.

Harper says 800 to 850 guests are expected. Tickets were limited to a smaller number of attendees because that’s what was reflected in feedback.

The JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort and Spa is offering weekend packages and resort rates starting at $114, according to a press release from SAACA.

Harper says guests who book a room will get culinary demonstrations and classes on molé, ceviche, tequila infusions and Mexican wines included with their stay.