Dining Out | Local

Autumn menus at local restaurants emphasize fresh flavors, local sources

Firefighter and co-owner of Sentinel Peak Brewing Company Matt Gordon, left, with Samantha Berkson, Sentinel Peak general manager. (Courtesy Sentinel Peak)

From Italian to Greek, bars to bakeries, here’s a look at what’s on the menu across the area this fall.

Braised lamb at Athens on 4th Avenue is the house special, browned with extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, caramelized onions, and special herbs and spices. Jeannie Delfakis-Benavente, daughter of owner Andreas Delfakis,  says the lamb comes from a Colorado farm because lamb imported from overseas just doesn’t cut it.

Gourmet Girls Go Gluten Free is a one-stop shop for Thanksgiving trimmings, including mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole and stuffing, all gluten- and dairy-free. This season is “Pumpkin Palooza,” says co-owner Susan Fulton. Look for pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin seed waffles and even vegan pumpkin chili. And keep your eyes open for the vegan burger the girls are cooking up for the season.

Claire Johnson, the owner of Claire’s Café, invites you to “check out the great art and eat something wonderful.” Serving Tucson for 32 years, the warm staff caters to many dietary restrictions. Johnson says she’s open to requests for anything people want to see on the menu and is encouraging the staff to cook more ethnic food. Claire’s is open for breakfast and lunch; they will be closed on Thanksgiving.

“All around high-end Italian cuisine” will bring you into Caffe Torino but you’ll stay for the live jazz. Co-owner Ollie Shouse says that the cooling fall weather is sure to send patrons to the patio overlooking the Catalina Mountains. The Saturday night music will move to Friday and Sunday later in the month.

If the “NFL Sundays” specials don’t get you to Jackson Bar + Eatery, then the 2-for-1 entrees surely will. With a fine selection of wines, beers on tap and cocktails, Sundays feature an all-day happy hour. Pasta, salmon and the featured grilled jalapeño meatloaf are among the entrees that complement traditional bar eats like burgers and wings, says owner Peter Oser.

The casual experience and cozy Italian classics are what made Renee’s Organic Oven worthy of a visit from Guy Fieri and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in March. You can find what he fancied at the restaurant under “Guy’s Picks.” “Our focus and reputation is for serving up a menu of local, organic, and always lovingly prepared experiences with sincere service,” owner Renee Kreager says.

Paintings and photography from Tucson artists line the walls at Eclectic Café because the community takes priority here. Local craft beer, wine from Flying Leap Vineyards, in-state grass-fed beef, and pears from Aravaipa are available. “We like to partner with local companies. The closer you get your fruits and vegetables, the better,” co-owner Jason McCarty says, adding that “dining on the patio is always a great idea for fall in Tucson, and you can bring your well-behaved dog.”

With 28 rotating tap beers and eight tap wines, Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink is the downtown spot to enjoy a brew and plate of something great from an ever-changing menu. “We update our menu seasonally to embrace the best products available,” says Chef Tyler Fenton. “We love the colder weather and with it the heartier, richer dishes we have across our small plates and pasta.”

At Desert Diamond Casino in Sahuarita, Executive Sous Chef Carlos I. Garcia cooks up regional dishes with a global flair. As a former chef with Ritz Carlton Hotels, Garcia traveled the world. At the Agave Restaurant, you’ll find Garcia and his team cooking up American, Mexican and Mediterranean dishes with the freshest ingredients that look great and taste even better.

Highlands Bar and Grille’s Chef Chuck Scott is cooking up the freshest fish on Fridays, but guests will want to make a reservation because the night fills up fast. Fresh vegetables, a starch, and a house salad accompany the catch of the day. Featured drinks include a Highlands Sunset that blends Absolut Ruby Red Vodka with orange and cranberry. Carry-out is available, or stay and enjoy vistas of the city and Marana mountains from the patio or dining room.

The freshest ingredients, homemade bread and signature Italian sauces complement the pastas and steaks on the menu at Ragazzi Italian Restaurant. Brick-oven pizzas; chicken, duck, and seafood dishes; and classic desserts like tiramisu have guests exclaiming, “This is just like eating in Italy.” Chef/owner Jorge (Giorgio) Leon says, “Come join us! We have a fusion of styles, ingredients, tastes, and culture. Enjoy our international wine selection.”

Villa Peru co-owner Charles Hunt invites diners to head over to the restaurant for the Ceviche Festival Nov. 15-17. New beginning this month is Pisco Thursdays, with a special on 10 kinds of Pisco craft cocktails featuring the famous Peruvian liquor.

Harvest Restaurant, with two locations, makes everything from scratch with only the freshest ingredients from local purveyors. Owner Reza Shapouri says that this month, Harvest is pairing wines from different regions with dishes from the same area. First up are California wines, which will be accompanied by California-inspired cuisine.

“I love this time of year when fall ingredients influence our menus,” says Tavolino Italian Ristorante’s Chef Massimo Tenino,  “Some of our dishes capture these seasonal flavors. The new ‘Cavoletti de Brussels’ pairs delicious wood-fired Brussels sprouts with spicy salami, Calabrese chili and balsamic reduction. The classic Ravioli di Zucca  combines the delectable flavors of butternut squash with  sage and brown butter. The NY Flip cocktail incorporates cream, nutmeg, bourbon and port, perfect for a chilly fall Tucson evening.”

All the regions of Mexico are represented at El Cisne with traditional meals touched by influences from abroad. Seafood and steak are the specialty at this “kitchen of Mexico,” and the expert staff can suggest the best beers, wines and tequilas to pair with your meal for a memorable night of fine dining.

At the Tucson Hilton East’s Alloro D.O.C. Italian Trattoria and Chophouse, Executive Chef Virginia Wooters says visiting guests tend to stick with familiar favorites, such as pastas, but that doesn’t hinder her creativity. “I can’t get as crazy as I’d like, but making everything fresh from scratch is where I get my fulfillment,” Wooter says.

Come inside for the beautifully lit dining room or have your meal outdoors next to Tucson’s historic train station at Maynards Market + Kitchen. Sommelier Will Olendorf suggests you “fill your holiday glass with the new 4th edition Maynards AZ red,” a Tempranillo-based wine that requires the hot summer days and cool summer nights of Cochise County to achieve its balance of sweetness and acidity.

Rincon Mountain Grill at the Forty Niner Country Club has the amenities you’ll need when you step off the green. Daily specials include 25 percent off pizzas on Tuesdays (dine-in or carry-out), Wednesday all-you-can-eat pasta and half price bottles of wine, and an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays.

The menu at Café Poca Cosa changes twice daily and is printed in Spanish on a portable chalkboard that servers take to each table. “This fun, spontaneous approach to dining encourages guests to sample old favorites, and to discover new ones,” says owner Suzana Davila, who wants guests to go on a different adventure each visit. Each beautifully plated dish is a work of art, with elegance and great flavors in perfect harmony.

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