By Valerie Vinyard
Many Tucsonans bemoan the sweltering summers, but there are some jaw-droppingly great deals that can make you almost forget the heat.
This is the time for year-round residents to sample the City of Gastronomy’s best fare. After all, the snowbirds have traveled temporarily to cooler climes, and the University of Arizona students mostly have moved out until August.
Sasha Velazquez moved to Tucson in 2017. The 30-year-old administrative assistant loves the summers in town, mainly because of the “low-cost yet rich” experiences she can have.
“I save so much money dining out in the summer,” Velazquez says. “It makes the temperature bearable.”
Velazquez couldn’t believe it when a friend told her about El Charro Café’s annual Christmas in July sale, where a $100 gift card purchase on July 24 and July 25 yields another $100 gift card for free.
It’s because of deals like these—not to mention the oh-so-deserted roads—why some locals call Tucson summers their favorite time of year. They’re willing to endure the 100-plus-degree days and the monsoon’s humidity to take advantage of the variety of specials offered by restaurants, hotels and attractions.
“We get to concentrate on the locals every summer,” says Karla Rodriguez, a manager at Tavolino Ristorante Italiano. “We get great feedback every year.”
Tavolino is just one example of a Tucson restaurant that offers summer specials (see related story in this issue). Others make a point of luring diners out of their homes and to their dining rooms with hard-to-resist deals.
We’ve featured nine more places where you can get a great deal, a unique experience or both.
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road; 883-2702; desertmuseum.org
The world-renowned museum, whose grounds include almost 2 miles of paths on 21 acres, again offers Cool Summer Nights until 10 p.m. Saturdays through August 31. This isn’t an inexpensive experience, being that admission costs $16.95 for Arizona resident adults (discounts for seniors, military members and kids) even for people eating dinner at the Ocotillo Café. Besides the cooler temps, visitors will get to observe some of the 300 species of animals that normally sleep all day come to life at night as well as partake in a variety of activities. If you’d like to dine at the café, which showcases locally sourced ingredients in its Southwestern dishes, call 883-1380, ext. 7212, to make a reservation.
Contigo Latin Kitchen,
3770 E. Sunrise Drive; 299-1540; eatatcontigo.com
The Latin restaurant, which is located on the grounds of the Westin La Paloma, has debuted a new menu. The new menu includes a Paella Date Night special. Every Tuesday, diners can order a Paella Valencia for two and a bottle of wine for $40. “Valenciana” style either comes with seafood or “a la huerta” with mushrooms, artichokes, garden vegetables and quince conserva. It’s a substantial, delicious meal that’s well worth the price.
Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails,
135 S. Sixth Avenue; 623-7700;
James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder and his team continue to take diners on artfully prepared journeys that expose diners to new and exciting tastes. Downtown Kitchen also periodically offers a $30 dining Groupon for $18 as a way to thank its patrons. Be sure to read the fine print, as the Groupon cannot be used for the already great-priced 4 to 6 p.m. daily happy hour and must include two entrees.
This summer, the restaurant is featuring the 2019 Downtowns Around the Globe: Sister Cities of Gastronomy, a summer culinary tour that showcases the cuisines of international “sister” UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy. The first tour visited Tsuruoka, Japan, and the current menu is highlighting dishes from Panama City, Panama. For August, the cuisine of Burgos, Spain, will be the star.
Feast, 3719 E. Speedway Boulevard; 326-9363;
For years, Feast has been offering a delightful number of summertime specials. First, chef/owner Doug Levy asks diners to email requests for dishes they’ve enjoyed from the restaurant’s creative monthly changing menu. Then, each week all summer, Levy adds a “mini-menu of five or six dishes.” Feast also boasts an eclectic and very well-priced wine shop that waives its normal $12 corking fee to enjoy a bottle at the restaurant if you purchase another bottle to take home.
The restaurant also continues its weekly wine tastings on Saturdays; fancier wine tastings on the last Sunday of the month; and a fantastic happy hour that takes place from the time the restaurant opens until 6 p.m. and pairs a glass of wine – usually a choice of two whites and two reds – with small handcrafted snacks for a discounted price.
Kingfisher Bar and Grill, 2564 E. Grant Road; 323-7739; kingfishertucson.com
From July 1 to July 17, Kingfisher takes its annual break and closes the restaurant. On July 18, the seafood restaurant will reopen and feature the third leg of its Summer Road Trip. This leg will run from July 18 to August 1 and will cover the Midwest. For each Road Trip menu, the chefs create favorite dishes of the region, including cocktails, appetizers, entrees and desserts. August 2 to August 15 will showcase foods from Hawaii and California, while August 16 to September 1 will travel back east.
Kingfisher continues its discounted happy hour and reverse happy hour and offers $2 off glasses of wine and beer and discounts on mussels, clams and grilled shrimp.
Le Rendez-vous, 3844 E. Fort Lowell Road; 323-7373; rendezvoustucson.com
For $89, the romantic French restaurant is offering a Summer Rendezvous for Two. Each diner will choose from a three-course menu and share a half-bottle of select wine. The first course includes options such as ate Maison and Escargots in Chablis; the second is a salad or soup such as vichyssoise; and the entrée is either Saumon LRV or Petit Filet Au Poivre. The offer goes through September 30 but is not valid on Fridays and Saturdays.
Sauce Pizza and Wine, four locations in Tucson; saucepizzaandwine.com: The fast-casual pizza, pasta and salad restaurant got its start in Tucson by lauded restaurateur Sam Fox, who now lives in Scottsdale. The Sauce concept has been sold, but the franchise, which also has locations in Phoenix; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and three spots in Texas, offers a Summer Sampler, where diners share a specialty pizza, any salad and two glasses of wine for $22.
Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way; 326-9686; tucsonbotanical.org
Inspired by our local farms and vineyards, the Farm to Fork Summer Feast Series will highlight what is farmed and cultivated in the Sonoran Desert. Guests will sit family-style on a long farm table and enjoy great conversation, food and drink. You’ll be able to tour the Gardens and dance to the music. Get to know your neighbors and talk with the farmers that have dedicated their lives to making a difference in our community and the quality of our local food. Tickets cost $75 and must be purchased in advance. Make a reservation by calling 445-5394. The next feasts will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. July 18; August 15; and September 19.
Zinburger, 6390 E. Grant Road (298-2020) and 1865 E. River Road (299-7799);
Besides a killer happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily year-round, Tucson’s two Zinburger locations offer kids’ meals for $4 all summer. Zinburger is another Sam Fox concept that has sold and now has franchises around the nation, though Fox Restaurant Concepts continues to operate the Arizona locations. Kids get their choice of a hamburger, cheeseburger, grilled cheese or chicken strips, a soft drink and hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries or ranch salad.
But back to that happy hour: Wine by the glass and bottle and draft beer are half-priced, and a happy hour menu includes $5 slider versions of six different sandwiches and $4 wedge salads and sides.