Cafe’ Poca Cosa. In Search Of The Best Mexican Restaurant In Tucson

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Cafe Poca Cosa(January 2012) Poca Cosa was where we first had a night out with two people who would become dear friends, Dan & Wanda. That was six or seven years ago and I thought then that Café Poca Cosa was very special. I can’t tell you how may friends and family I have recommended Poca Cosa to over the years, but it couldn’t be less than a hundred.
But a week after Christmas (2011) and just before the remnants of our extended family headed to TIA, I wanted them to experience what I had years ago declared One-Of-The-Best-Mexican-Restaurants-In-Tucson and give me their honest opinion for my review.

Cafe’ Poca Cosa Is Different
The first thing one has to understand about Café Poca Cosa is that nothing there is traditional Mexican as it is generally served north of the border … not the interior décor, not the drinks, not the food, not the chef, not even the menu. If you’ve never been there, Café Poca Cosa will not seem familiar. I can tell you in advance, that’s a good thing.

Accolades
Suzana Divila is the owner and chief chef. She, and her restaurant, have been written up in all the majors, from the NYT to Gourmet and Better Homes & Gardens Magazines.
Cafe-Poca-Cosa-ChalkboardSuzana’s trademark? Well, she does things a bit different. For instance, she changes the menu, which is only written on a chalkboard, every 6 hours. Second, she trains her wait staff to explain the items on the chalkboard at your table in exquisite, mouth-watering detail. Once explained, everything sounds so good that you will probably do what most of us do … order whatever your server suggests.

Third, she doesn’t offer the same Mexican cuisine you can get anywhere else in Tucson – or anywhere else in America for that matter. For example, no guacamole. Say what? No frijoles. No way. Almost no cheese. Heresy! How can this be Mexican? We were about to find out.

We Have A Job To Do Here
I had to remind Paige, Tim, and the boyz that we had a job to do. Million of Tucsonans and visitors to the Old Pueblo were counting on us to recommend the best Mexican restaurant in town. We can’t let them down.
Everyone put on his and her critic’s face. Then came the chips and salsa. Game over!!!

Chips & Salsa
Not only were the chips straight-out-of-the-oven fresh, but they were amazingly thin and tasty. I have no idea how Suzana makes chips so paper-thin. Probably some little elf in the back kitchen.
And the salsa? She had to have made it just as we were walking in the door with ingredients just picked that morning from a magical garden behind the restaurant.

Just A Regular Margarita, Please.
Having been “bribed” with Best-In-Tucson chips and salsa, we prepared to be hypercritical of the margaritas. As we had done at El Charro and Mosaic Café, Paige and I asked for margaritas made with 1800 tequila. Our server, ever the consummate professional, opined that we would probably like their regular margaritas. Paige looked at me. I looked at Paige. Paige decided for the both of us. Regular Poca Cosa margaritas it will be. After our experience at Mosaic Café, I felt impending disaster.

El Plato
Our server brought the chalkboard menu over to our table and explained the half dozen lunch options. At the bottom of the chalkboard menu were the words, “Plato Poca Cosa.”

“And what pray tell is that?” I asked.

Cafe Poca Cosa Owner & Chef Susanna Davila.

Cafe Poca Cosa Owner & Chef Susanna Davila.

Our server gave a mouth-watering description of all that’s included. To summarize, Plato Poca Cosa is a combination of dishes that the chef feels like making that morning. We could order four different ones for the five of us and then everyone could sample each one.

We were here to do a critical review so El Plato seemed like a good choice – we could all try a little of everything.

The regular Poca Cosa margaritas arrived. Paige and I were both prepared to be disappointed. I took a sip of mine. Paige took a sip of hers. Before she could say anything, I suggested she have Tim take a taste. Tim took a sip of Paige’s. We all three agreed that we had just tasted the Best-Margarita-On-The-Planet!

Just a minor caution. Poca Cosa Margaritas have a subtle orange/lime flavor, but also a mysterious blend of other ingredients as well. Both the flavor and the presentation are unique. I can’t describe them any better so you will just have to trust us and go have one. Let me know what you think.

Cafe Poca Cosa DishSo, How Good Is It, Really?
The main dishes arrived. Variety of meats, fishes, salads, fruits, beans, chilies, sauces, fresh corn tortillas, etc. etc. etc. Generous portions. Wonderful presentation. But no guacamole, no frijoles, and very little cheese. These ingredients, so ubiquitous in U.S. Mexican restaurants, are simply not necessary to a sensational, authentic Mexican meal. What a concept!!!

I noticed that the boyz were munching happily on everything they could get their hands on, so I asked what they thought. Jon’s only comment was, “Wow!”

“And Morgan, how is yours?” I asked.

“Grandpa, this is really good. Could you pass the … “

I needed an adult opinion. “Paige, what do you think?”

“I didn’t know Mexican food could be this good. I can’t wait to come back here next year,” she replied.

Our son-in-law is a businessman. As such, he travels extensively and has eaten at some of the best restaurants in the West. “So, Tim, how does it compare to the other Mexican restaurants?”

Cafe Poca Cosa Owner & Chef Susanna Davila says the secret to great margaritas is fresh juices. Photo courtesy of Tucson Citizen.com.

Susanna says the secret to great margaritas is fresh juices. Photo courtesy of TucsonCitizen.com.

Tim summed up our little competition rather well. “After this meal, I have to down grade my previous ratings of all the others.”
A Visit From The Chef Herself
And then it happened. Herself graced us with her presence. Suzana Davila, owner and executive chef of the finest Mexican restaurant in Tucson – maybe the best restaurant period – stopped by our table to ask how we liked our lunch.

In between generous portions of our unrestrained praise, Suzana told us about how she started years ago in a tiny space when downtown Tucson was nothing but a rundown, seedy inner-city. She wanted to offer Tucsonans food that was different; a rich selection from all the regions of Mexico; always the freshest ingredients cooked with imagination and passion. Suzana is nothing if not passionate about the drinks, food, service, and ambiance she graciously offers to her patrons.

Did the El Charro owner or chef stop by our table to inquire as to how we liked our drinks, food, and service? No. What about at Mosaic Café? Nope. Would I have put Cafe’ Poca Cosa on a pedestal if Suzana had not stopped by our table to make sure we where pleased with our meal? Indeed I would have given Poca Cosa a 5-Saguaro rating on our website. (One of only 3 so far) But her personal touch was very much appreciated. It added to our delight as well as our knowledge of dishes from many regions of Mexico.

In the end, it’s thousands of little acts of thoughtfulness, plus a wonderful imagination, genuine passion, and serious talent that permeate Suzana’s whole approach to drink, food, service, and ambiance – Mexican or otherwise. That’s why her’s is among the very best restaurants in Southern Arizona. Café Poca Cosa? HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

Do you need reservations? Only if you want to eat. Is there parking nearby? Yup. There’s a multi-level parking garage right behind the restaurant. Park and take your ticket with you, then pay at the kiosk right around the corner at street level BEFORE you return to your car. It helps if you have a few one-dollar bills handy.
Closed Sunday & Monday. Tuesday-Thursday: 11AM to 9 PM. Friday & Saturday: 11AM to 10PM.

And, oh by the way, all those really interesting places you can visit within easy walking distance of El Charro; El Presidio, Museum of Art, the historic Corbett House, the Old Town Artisans, the fine Arizona Historical Society’s little museum on Stone, the historic Hotel Congress and restored Train Depot, etc? Well, you can easily walk to them from Café Poca Cosa, too.
You now have just about everything you need to know about the finest Mexican cuisine in Tucson. Make a reservation. Go. Enjoy. Say “Hi” to Suzana for us.

Café Poca Cosa
110 E Pennington St Tucson
Best-Dining_blockFor Dining reviews of the Best Dining in Southern Arizona visit us here.

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