We picked up Chuck’s cousin Dora and her grandson early on Saturday afternoon and proceeded to take a brief driving tour of the University of Arizona. And it had to be driving since parking space for The Big White Truck is nonexistent on the University campus. But soon hunger called and it was time to find—well, call it either a late lunch or an early dinner—at one of our favorite Tucson restaurants—El Charro.
“In 2008, Gourmet Magazine named El Charro Cafe as, ‘One of the Top 21 Most Legendary Restaurants in America,’ and USA Today has named their chimichanga one of the ‘Top 50 Plates in America!’ In 2012, they were voted ‘Best Mexican’ restaurant by the Tucson Lifestlye Magazine's Culinary Awards, in addition to taking the Gold for both ‘Best Longtime Favorite’ and ‘Best for Out of Town Guests.’ The birthplace of the chimichanga, El Charro is the oldest, continuous family-owned Mexican restaurant in the U.S.—since 1922! Specializing in fresh and delicious Sonoran-Tucson-style Mexican food, El Charro…is described as ‘a taste explosion’ by Gourmet Magazine…” (idine.com).
Just to the left of the main doors is a short “alley” leading to a delightful looking patio area.
“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….’ 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’" (Michael Stern at roadfood.com).
We had eaten at El Charro on our earliest visits to Tucson, but we hadn’t been there since 2011. Dora and her grandson had also dined there based on our blogs about the restaurant. And, based on his past visit, Dora’s grandson ordered the Carnitas Ranchero tacos—two soft tacos filled with pork carnitas (braised or roasted pork that is fried or sautéed) topped with chopped tomato, lettuce, and queso fresco.
Dora chose the Dos Enchiladas plate with one cheese enchilada and one pollo enchilada with refried beans and rice. Being undecided whether to have the red enchilada sauce or the green chile verde, she requested small side dishes of both.
Chuck selected the carne asada burrito with refried beans and rice and chile verde.
I didn’t hesitate for a second when it came to my order. Tucson is the only place I have found what is called carne seca, and I think that El Charro does it best. “High above the patio in back of restaurant El Charro…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…is one of the not-to-be-missed Tucson taste treats…. Carne Seca is basically Mexican Beef Jerky and is very different compared to American Beef Jerky, because of the way it is prepared. Carne Seca is used to make Mexican Red Pepper Stew, and is also eaten during the day as a snack. Carne Seca to my knowledge originated in the country side of Mexico and the tradition continues to this very day. But, Carne Seca has made itself to Mexican cities throughout Mexico and is eaten very little in the United States” (Michael Stern at roadfood.com).
Having no interest in either rice or beans, I decided to order á la carte with one carne seca enchilada and one carne seca crispy taco. To sauce my enchilada, I ordered the chile verde that was somewhat spicy (from jalapenos) and somewhat tart (from the tomatillos). And the cooking process doesn’t completely tenderize the dried beef which leave it somewhat chewy.
And it was with a mouthful of carne seca enchilada that I remarked that I had forgotten how good El Charro’s food was. Good enough to earn 4.5 Addies after a minor reduction for the rice.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.