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El Charro

311 N. Court Ave., Tucson, AZ - (520) 622-1922
Posted By Michael Stern on 12/22/2012 3:08:00 PM
High above the patio in back of restaurant El Charro in Tucson, strips of thin-sliced tenderloin hang in an open metal cage. Suspended on ropes and pulleys, the cage sways in the breeze, wafting a perfume of lemon and garlic marinade into the fresh Arizona air. Carne seca, which is sautéed after it is air-dried, then served in concert with sweet onions, hot chilies, and tomatoes, is one of the not-to-be-missed Tucson taste treats; and of all the restaurants in town that serve the Mexican cattle-country specialty, El Charro serves the tastiest. Opened for business in 1922, this culinary landmark is still operated by the descendants of founder Monica Flin, and still located in its original 1880's-vintage mission-style home in the Presidio. El Charro's kitchen uses carne seca as the filling for tacos, burritos, and chimichangas; it is like meat that has blossomed: glistening mahogany and fairly dripping flavor, dry and yet somehow intensely succulent, rugged but pure pleasure to chew. Once you've had it, mere ground beef will never satisfy again.

In addition to first rate examples of Sonoran Mexican food such as tacos, enchiladas, and chilies rellenos, El Charro offers such rarer regional specialties as the enchilada Sonorese (a patty of fried corn meal garnished with chili) and chalupas (small corn meal canoes filled with chile, meat, or chicken and whole beans). Beyond the goodness of its hearty meals, what is most unusual about this kitchen's repertoire is its insistence on nutritionally enlightened fare – a rare bent for any Mexican restaurant, but a project that is dear to Carlotta Dunn Flores, grandniece of Monica Flin.

Mrs. Flores is a svelte dynamo who explains, "My dad was Mexican and Irish. He had to have his drink and he had to have his refried beans at every meal." When her father had a heart attack, doctors prescribed a diet for him that Carlotta recalls as nothing but "boiled, mushy, horrible things, canned asparagus and asparagus water." Feeling sorry for him, she began to wonder if there wasn't a better way. That was her inspiration to begin evolving a Mexican cuisine in El Charro's kitchen that is heart-healthy but every bit as tasty and satisfying as its lard-laden counterpart. "Now fitness fare is our way of life," she says. "Even items on the menu that don't seem like they are diet food are good for you, and you'd never even know it. Chile sauce is made without oil; the almendrado [Mexican custard] is cholesterol-free. I believe it is possible to eat ethnic foods that are part of your culture and that also taste good and are fun to cook. No one ever need be stuck with two lettuce leaves for dinner just because they want to eat low-fat."

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
carne seca
Mexican Pizza
Carne Seca Topopo
Chile Rellenos
Tres Moles Enchaladas
Cheese Crisp
Chiles Rellenos with Carne Seca
Tamales Dulces
chili soup
Albondigas Soup
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Just looking at the picture of the beef taco makes me hungry for one of these all over again.
"Just looking at the picture of the beef taco makes me hungry for one of these all over again."
Anne Ritchings





El Charro's tortilla soup.
"El Charro's tortilla soup."
Michael Stern


This tamale trio was one of the best looking plates of food in recent memory.  From left to right, pork carnitas tamale, fresh corn tamale, and chicken tomatillo tamale.
"This tamale trio was one of the best looking plates of food in recent memory. From left to right, pork carnitas tamale, fresh corn tamale, and chicken tomatillo tamale."
Cliff Strutz


This delicious dried beef dish comes in a huge half-pound portion size.
"This delicious dried beef dish comes in a huge half-pound portion size."
Cliff Strutz


The albondigas soup features large meatballs, chiles, and lots of vegetables.
"The albondigas soup features large meatballs, chiles, and lots of vegetables."
Cliff Strutz


The Cabo soft tacos are delicious.  The chicken is tender, moist, and delicately flavored.
"The Cabo soft tacos are delicious. The chicken is tender, moist, and delicately flavored."
Anne Ritchings


This is part of a vibrantly colorful mural on the wall of the restaurant.
"This is part of a vibrantly colorful mural on the wall of the restaurant."
Anne Ritchings


Aside from great food, one thing that makes visiting El Charro so much fun is the fantastic sense of art and design that fill the restaurant.  Some of the art on the walls is the sort of dramatic image that also adorns El Charro's famous calendars.
"Aside from great food, one thing that makes visiting El Charro so much fun is the fantastic sense of art and design that fill the restaurant. Some of the art on the walls is the sort of dramatic image that also adorns El Charro's famous calendars."
Michael Stern


The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is found throughout El Charro.
"The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is found throughout El Charro. "Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe" is frequently shown with garlands of roses, and has become a powerful symbol of Mexican identity."
Michael Stern


These are just a few of El Charro's famous wall calendars.
"These are just a few of El Charro's famous wall calendars."
Anne Ritchings


There's no doubt that this is the place.
"There's no doubt that this is the place."
Anne Ritchings


The outdoor patio is an especially nice place to enjoy an El Charro feast.
"The outdoor patio is an especially nice place to enjoy an El Charro feast."
Michael Stern


In the evening, the outside patio is filled with tourists and locals enjoying margaritas and great Mexican-American food.
"In the evening, the outside patio is filled with tourists and locals enjoying margaritas and great Mexican-American food."
Anne Ritchings


El Charro has been a Tucson landmark since 1922.
"El Charro has been a Tucson landmark since 1922."
Michael Stern



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