El Charro Cafe
Tucson, AZ (3 locations: NE, Downtown, NW)
“high grade Mexican foods since 1922…Established in 1922, El Charro Café of Tucson, Arizona is The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant in continuous operation by the same family.”
El Charro, in my opinion, defines mexican food in Tucson. Everyone has their own opinion, and some would rather go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the south side, but most of those places don’t cater easily to gluten-free customers and typically have a more difficult language barrier. One restaurant that many argue is better than El Charro, or more authentic, is La Parrilla Suiza. While I agree that they have amazing flan, since going gluten-free I have only dined-in one time, and it was a scary experience. I arrived armed with my spanish translation cards, defining what I could not eat, and was given a completely blank stare. I doubt the card ever made it back to the chef, but I had to have faith in the fact that most mexican food is safe.
El Charro on the other hand, has each menu item explicitly marked with whether or not it’s gluten free. I have also found their staff to be much more well-versed on gluten-containing foods. It’s pretty hard to argue on it’s authenticity, since it’s the oldest mexican restaurant in the country, opening in 1922. I have been told that celiac runs in the family who owns the chain. The family also owns Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, which is typically very gluten-aware (especially the speedway location) and on multiple occasions the chef has come out to talk with me.
You really have a huge number of options when it comes to dining gluten-free at El Charro. I always get the same thing it seems like, chicken tacos with extra rice, no beans, but there are tamales, plates, salads, and enchiladas (if you’re not dairy free). You can also find some incredibly tasty margaritas – which are a must have. For a local (but sweet) flavor, try the prickly pear margarita (pictured above- the pink one on the left). One dish El Charro is most known for is their carne seca. You can order it a variety of ways, such as tacos, enchiladas, quesadilla, salad, or in eggs, but essentially it’s shredded beef dried in the desert sun (I’ve been told it’s dried on the roof of the original, downtown location, for several days).
Whatever you decide to get, I’m sure you will absolutely love it. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than Mexican food in Tucson.
Tips for dining at El Charro:
- Always ask for corn tortillas
- If you get crispy, ask about the fryer
- Chips are made in a dedicated fryer, but always good to check at each location
- Flan – be sure to ask for no crispy strips (and the caramel sauce is questionable- I have gotten mixed answers, so ask)
- Of late they have told me that the mexican rice is no longer gf. This was a the Oracle location. Again, I’ve been getting mixed answers, so be sure and ask. The kolb & sunrise location repeatedly tells me the rice is fine.
“One of America’s 21 Most Legendary Restaurants”
– Gourmet Magazine, October, 2008