Situated in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Marana’s culinary history is showcased at a variety of restaurants across this vibrant desert community. Visitors to Marana will experience the opportunity to find out what makes Sonoran food unique, and why it keeps hungry diners returning to their favorite restaurants night after night and year after year.
How does Sonoran food differ from other regions for Mexican food?
The key to Modern Sonoran cuisine is simplicity. The agricultural routes of this area differ from other Mexican growing regions. Where elsewhere corn is still a dietary staple (and corn has very important ancient roots here going back more than 4,000 years), the Sonoran Desert became a land of wheat brought by Missionaries around 1700. Wheat grew well here and restaurants currently offer more flour tortilla-type dished than corn or masa-based dishes.
The oldest sophisticated agricultural irrigation canal system found in the United States is the 4,000 year old Las Capas canal system in Marana, that irrigated fields of Zea mays (maize/corn). Maybe corn could someday come back into prominence, but for now, regular customers of Mexican restaurants will get the inevitable question: corn or flour tortillas? In Texas, New Mexico, or California, that answer might be corn, but here, in the modern Sonoran Desert era (you may answer however you'd like and you would not be disappointed), be sure to try the super fresh and unique flour tortillas while you're here. They may be colossally sized, crepe paper thin, or stretchy with a wonderful chewy texture.
What are some classic Sonoran ingredients?
What, then, will you put into your tortilla? In keeping with the vaqueros and rancheros who have defined this region’s history, you can’t go wrong with beef offerings like carne asada. Top that with a green sauce made from fresh tomatillos or a spicy red sauce of jalapenos and tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a meal.
What are some specialty dishes that have emerged from Sonoran cuisine?
A few specialty dishes have emerged that capitalize on these basic ingredients. The Sonoran hot dog originated in Hermosillo and has quickly made its way northward into the Marana region. This bacon-wrapped hot dog is topped with onions, chiles, beans, cheese, and practically anything else you can think of, all served inside a roll.
Are there local variations on any signature Sonoran dishes?
Southern Arizona is also home to the chimichanga, though accounts differ as to its actual inventor. No matter who invented it, a huge number of restaurants in this area are now making their own delicious versions every day. This variation of the timeless combination of tortilla, meat, cheese, and veggies is wrapped and deep-fried into a crispy indulgence.
So where can you find all these Sonoran classics? Thanks to our guide, that answer is at your forktips.
Sonoran Restaurants in Marana
La Olla Mexican Café is a traditional Sonoran eatery, right down to the colorful plates and festive décor that bedecks their tables and walls. For the complete Sonoran Desert experience, order the Carne Seca. This house-dried and seasoned beef is slow cooked with tomato, chile, calabacitas, and a variety of other veggies. For an appetizer, get the queso fundido, a fondue of chopped Anaheim chiles and melted Monterey jack, served with salsa fresca and warm flour tortillas. Take one bite of any item from their spectacular menu, and you’ll know why La Olla Mexican Café is on the map as part of the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in the country.
Nana’s Kitchen is offering exactly what their name suggestions: scrumptious Sonoran specialties cooked with all the love of a Mexican grandmother. Nana’s just celebrated its 8th anniversary, and over the past eight years, they’ve perfected their recipes to reflect both the Sonoran traditions of simplicity and the contemporary standards of excellent cuisine. For a special treat, try their Carne con Papas en Chile Colorado, complete with beef chunks and potatoes in Nana’s special red chile sauce.
For a truly authentic Sonoran meal, head over to Angela’s Mexican Food, a cafeteria-style restaurant that especially popular among the locals. Angela’s Mexican Food has a long list of hearty burros can be filled with all your favorites, including green chile, tender morsels of pork, and chicken asada. Their unpretentious atmosphere will give you a taste of the local flavor here in Marana.
“Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food” Restaurants in Marana
Here’s a big secret: In addition to Marana’s home-grown La Olla Mexican Café, there are also two other restaurants in Marana that have original locations that are on the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food tour and list. This means that you don’t need to go downtown to find the classic Sonoran food that Southern Arizona is known for; it’s right here in Marana.
The state of Sonora is nearly shaped like a classic right angle triangle, with its hypotenuse edge entirely defined by the Sea of Cortez. Therefore, Sonoran cuisine is not complete without seafood. Mariscos Chihuahua started as a roadside stand in Nogales, Arizona, sourcing its seafood from the Sea of Cortez. It added “Chihuahua” to its name because it was located next to a popular fruit stand called “Fruteria Chihuahua”. Definitely not an import from a neighboring landlocked state, Mariscos Chihuahua is purely Sonoran, proudly serving up fresh seafood such as oysters served on the shell over crushed ice, fresh calamari, octopus, shrimp and sea snail, ceviche, several kinds of cocktails (shrimp, octopus, oyster), many cooked shrimp and octopus dishes, fish tacos, soups, and chicken dishes.
As its name suggests, La Parrilla Suiza, Mexico City Food (literally, The Swiss Grill), this longtime local favorite incorporates a number of different influences ranging from Sonoran, Tex Mex, and Pan-Mexican (chimichangas, cheese crisps, handmade corn tortillas, fajitas, chilaquiles), as well as alambre and chile relleno, true Mexico City regional dishes.
Local Marana Favorites
La Mesa Tortillas & Tamales is more than a tortilla factory offering up freshly baked flour and corn tortillas. You can also drop in for chorizo, potato, and egg or beef breakfast burros and chicken and beef burros, tamales, tacos, and quesadillas for lunch. While the burros are hefty with succulent fillings, the emphasis here is on the crepey thin flour tortillas that almost melt in your mouth. La Mesa has mastered the art of flour tortillas, as evidenced by its being voted Best Tortillas by Tucson Weekly readers. Insider tip: La Mesa has a couple of locations but only the Marana location offers breakfast.
El Molinito is a highly popular local chain with a few locations in and around Marana. If you’ve got a big appetite, it’s hard to find a better destination than El Molinito. Order the Molinito Asada Special, and you’ll enjoy grilled strips of tender lean beef with a generous serving of chilaquiles served on a hot skillet with grilled green onions, frijoles refritos, Spanish rice, salsa ranchera and a tortilla.
Taqueria Plaza's is a food truck discovery that people might keep to themselves, because the food is so good and the portions so large that the value is hard to beat. Right of the I-10 on Sandario Road (near Marana Road), it's easy to get to and there are nice shaded picnic tables in a corner of the church courtyard where the food truck sets up shop.
NOW OPEN: Tacos Apson is one of the most-reviewed and raved about taquerias in all of Tucson. It has been reviewed by Ruth Reichl the former L.A. Times and New York Times restaurant critic and editor of Gourmet Magazine.
Where to find these restaurants:
1. Nana’s Kitchen – Hearty Sonoran cuisine.
8225 N Courtney Page Way
Tucson, AZ 85743
Mon-Thurs: 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat: 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sun: 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
2. La Olla Mexican Café – Modern Sonoran cuisine with specialty cocktails and house-made desserts.
8553 N Silverbell Rd
Marana, AZ 85743
Mon-Sat: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
3. Angela’s Mexican Food – Classic Sonoran mom ‘n pop.
9190 N Coachline Blvd
Marana, AZ 85743
Mon-Sat: 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sun: 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
4. La Parrilla Suiza – Sonoran and eclectic Mexican cuisine, cocktails, and beer.
4250 W Ina Rd
Marana, AZ 85741
Mon-Thur: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.; Sun: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
5. Mariscos Chihuahua – Authentic Sonoran seafood, cocktails, and beer.
4185 W Ina Rd
Marana, AZ 85741
6. El Molinito – Classic Tucson/Sonoran cuisine.
3675 W Ina Rd
Marana, AZ 85741
Thornydale Road/Orange Grove Road
7. La Mesa Tortillas & Tamales – Fresh made wheat and corn tortillas and tamales for sale, breakfast, and lunch.
3684 W Orange Grove Rd
Marana, AZ 85741
Mon-Fri: 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat: 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.; Sun: Closed.
8. Tacos Apson - OPENING SOON (in August or September 2020) - Local favorite, reviewed by Ruth Reichl and other restaurant critics from around the U.S.
6741 N. Thornydale Rd., Ste. 121
Marana, AZ 85741
Marana Road/Sandario/I-10/Downtown Marana
9. Taqueria Plaza's - Popular food truck stop right off the I-10, with huge portions of fresh Sonoran tacos, burritos, and more.
Now that you’re practically an expert on Sonoran Mexican food, be sure to check out some of the other types of regional cuisine found in Marana during your stay here.