6151 E. Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85711

Tucson’s Spicy History: How Mexican Food Shaped a City

Mexican food is a legendary staple that has historically traversed and conquered borders. Not only does it bring together nationalities, cultures, and appetites, but it is also fuses the past and the present through ingredients and techniques. Mexican restaurants in Tucson, Arizona showcase this particular blending of histories, identities, and flavors.

Arizona is a borderland uniquely positioned along the Sonoran border, making cities like Tucson a hub for tasty and authentic Mexican cuisine. What makes the Mexican food in Tucson so particular is that it isn’t tainted by American expectations, like Tex-Mex for example. Rather, Tucson works to preserve and savor the original flavors. As a result, Mexican food has shaped, influenced, and established the city of Tucson.

In 2015, Tucson was named America’s first City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, in which it was recognized for its “culturally layered history, a variety of heritage food ingredients, and a continuity of traditional food preparation techniques.” Mexican food is at the heart of this history and tradition, and it is often considered the cornerstone of Tucson’s culture and allure.

While the generations who have immigrated to Arizona are predominately from Northern Mexico, many families and flavors have migrated from other regions of Mexico, also. You can find a variety of Mexican food in Tucson (and Southern Arizona), from Sonoran style hot dogs, to tacos de barbacoa—a specialty in the region of Jalisco. However, what brings these regions
together—and what many Tucsonan’s celebrate—is a tortilla made with love.

Tortillas are native to the Americas, and derive from the Aztecs who made these flat breads from dried corn kernels. Their method required a stone slab, which was used to grind the soaked kernels into masa. The masa was then rolled into small balls, flattened, and cooked on a hot griddle. A majority of Mexican restaurants in Arizona rely on this ancient method of making
tortillas, which serves as a reminder that Tucson’s contemporary food culture is deeply rooted in the Meso-American past.

As a state, Arizona’s identity hinges on Mexican traditions—especially Mexican food. It is one of few states that can rely on local ingredients sourced from the desert. Only on Tucson street corners can you can find mesquite grilled carne asada, fresh tortillas, and homemade salsa. Arizonans owe homage to Mexican traditions, not only for supplying us with the best Mexican
food in the U.S., but also for giving our cities history, character, and ultimately a soul.

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