I love Mexican food. Dream about it. Which is why I thought I was hallucinating when I first heard about Tucson 23, a culinary fiesta at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa featuring food samplings from Tucson’s Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, a strip of mostly family-run restaurants that claim to serve the best Mexican fair this side of the border, including the famed El Charro Café, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant and inventor of the chimichanga, that deep-fried burrito of deliciousness that can send me into a food frenzy of Mmmmms. Where was I…oh yeah, Tucson 23. So I didn’t waste any time snagging my ticket and before I knew it I was headed south towards the skyscraper saguaros of Tucson for a culinary force of flavor and history.
Yes, you could hit up all the restaurants along the 23-mile stretch, but food stall hopping through JW Marriott’s grand ballroom was decidedly more convenient. I crunched my way through a red chili and bean tostada topped with lettuce from Molina's Midway Restaurant. I sunk my teeth into a chorizo and quesa fresco empanada from Gringo Grill + Cantina. I savored a chicken taco with bell peppers and onions from La Parrilla Suiza and then I got thirsty. I sipped back a Roasted Ricky, a chili-infused gin cocktail with hints of cilantro from Pasco Kitchen & Lounge—OK, I chugged it. I sampled small-batch premium tequila from CRUZ Tequila so smooth and tasty I wondered why I ever bothered with Jose Cuervo in college. I sighed over prickly pear and jasmine kombucha from Fermented Tea Company, the best I’ve ever had and smiled over a fresh-pressed gingery drink from Pure Love Juice that tasted like health in a glass. And I kept on stall-hopping, to El Cisne, Crossroads Restaurant, Sonoran Sno-Cones and more, happily spooning and chewing my way around the room while enjoying watching local artists in action and traditional Mexican dancing. I ended the evening on a sweet note, with the deliciously dense and impossibly chocolaty Mexican chocolate cake from Blanco Tacos + Tequila followed by a pineapple empanada from La Estrella Bakery that had just the right amount of sweet and tart to melt my taste buds into submission. And then I went back for another Roasted Ricky which definitely won my vote for best cocktail, like, ever, not that there were any prizes being given out (unless a wink counts).
The trophy of the evening was the collective food-loving atmosphere, patrons scraping their plates in delight and going back for more and restaurants happily spooning up food they’d proudly honed. Food dreams really do come true!