El Charro Café, Tucson, ArizonaI have a passion for Mexican food. In Arizona that means Sonoran-style featuring tacos, tostadas, burros, enchiladas, chimichangas, fajitas, red and green chile, chile rellenos, and tamales. I love them all and always have a hard time deciding what I want most when we go out for Mexican. One solution is to choose one of the ubiquitous combination plates, but I prefer a single entrée with the usual side dishes.

The menu at El Charro Cafe in Tucson can be daunting at first glance. It is four pages long with what seems like hundreds of dishes. On careful examination, though, it is logically divided into the traditional categories with many variations on each. Once you decide which broad category you’re going to have—taco or enchilada or chile—then you pick which variation on the theme sounds best. It is like composing music for your palate. Are you in the mood for a simple melody or a symphony?

El Charro's Poblano Bandera Relleno

Poblano Bandera Relleno

For me the real test of any Mexican restaurant is the chile relleno. If the kitchen can prepare a proper relleno, then everything else they cook will be good, in my humble opinion. El Charro does superior chili rellenos. I have tried all the variations and my favorite so far is the Poblano Bandera Relleno, a fresh whole Poblano chili battered in a golden Cerveza Modelo tempura and finished off with red, white and green sauce.

The dish that made El Charro famous is their carne seca. Dried in the sun on the roof of the restaurant, the marinated lean Angus beef is shredded & flash-grilled with green chile, tomato & onions. You can order a plate with salsa, rice and beans or have it in a taco or enchilada. Ask your server for a sample and you’ll taste why it is so popular.

To accompany your meal, El Charro mixes up several varieties of marguerites and offers a selection of Mexican beers. They have recently introduced their very own craft-brewed amber ale.

El Charro Café has been a fixture in downtown Tucson since 1922 and claims to be the oldest Mexican eatery in the country. The downtown location feels like you have been invited into someone’s home with diners filling several rooms decorated with old El Charro menu covers and Mexican folk art. There are four other location scattered around town so you don’t have to go far to get your El Charro fix.