These reviews tell you about our experience at a particular restaurant on a particular date. In the restaurant biz, things can change quickly.

And if you read further, you will realize that our reviews do not express only one persons (Jim’s) opinion. Our reviews usually also include the opinions of our dining companions on that date.

Moreover, restaurants are seldom aware that we are there to do a dining review. They usually find out a week or two later when we publish our reviews. In other words, we didn’t receive any special treatment just because we are media.

The Deal
We usually take dining companions with us when we review a restaurant. The deal is this: we’ll pay for the meals. However, each of our guests has to order something different from all the others. Sometimes it’s just me (Jim) and one dining companion. On other occasions, it’s Ms. Karen, me, and several other couples. In this way, we get a well-rounded appraisal. One dish might be just OK (3-Saguaros) and another might be outstanding (5-Saguaros). You might be surprised how often this happens.

Moreover, someone in our party may be gluten-intolerant. Another may be a vegetarian. We want to know that the chef can expertly accommodate these and other special requests.

Others dining before or after may have had an entirely different experience for many reasons. The executive chef may have been out sick the day they were there. The establishment may have had new owners.Two servers may not have shown up for work that day. Etc., etc.

Nevertheless, if we recommend an establishment, it’s because we have reason to be confident that you will have a delightful experience. But sometimes even the very best have a bad day. It happens.


We use saguaro cacti rather than stars to summarize reviews. Given this is the Sonoran Desert, it just seems more appropriate.

1 SaguaroAvoid. Not quite as good as prison food. And/or poor service, dirty restrooms, las cucarachas, very noisy, health department issues, and other unpleasantness.

Not terrible. Had better. Not recommended.

3 saguaro ratingOrdinary.
Mediocre. OK if you’re starving and have no better options. Average. Satisfactory, but nothing to rave about.

4 StarsVery good
. Delicious food; attentive, personable service; pleasant atmosphere. Clean restrooms. Good value. Maybe a little pricy, but worth it. Recommended.

5 saguaroExcellent. Among the very best in Southern Arizona. Roughly equivalent to a 3-Star French restaurant in Paris. Highly recommended.

Our dining reviews generally encompass the whole experience, but we have our biases. For example, a restaurant can have flavorful food, attentive service, clean restrooms, and still not rate particularly high if it’s so noisy we have to shout across the table to have a conversation. An exception would be a sports bar during the Super Bowl. It’s suppose to be noisy.

Short list of our criteria.

  • Food: delicious, flavorful, imaginative, original, with artistic presentation. (Examples: Cafe’ Poca Cosa; Janos Downtown Kitchen; Vivace; Arizona Inn; Cafe’ Roka)
  • Wine: good selection, helpful recommendations, very good quality, less than $12/large glass. One should not have to spend a fortune for a good wine. (Example: Grill at Hacienda del Sol; Vivace; Arizona Inn.
  • Service: attentive, personable, pleasant, helpful, knowledgeable, efficient, timely. (Examples: Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain; Santiago’s; Grill at Hacienda del Sol)
  • Ambiance: interesting interior design, art, originality, comfortable seating, not unpleasantly noisy. Extra points for great view and/or historical setting. (Examples: North; Agave; Blanco Tacos + Tequila, Elvira’s; Santiago’s)
  • Authenticity: retains a sense of local history and cultural heritage. (El Charro on Court St.; Arizona Inn; Cafe’ Roka)
  • Value: an all-together pleasant experience worth the price. (Blanco Taco + Tequila; Vivace; Hacienda del Sol; Santiago’s)

Negative Reviews
We don’t like writing negative reviews. It’s not our intent to cause problems for any restaurant. But our priority is to inform our viewers.

In preparation to write a review, we usually consult Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon and other resources. Why? If most other reviewers don’t have much good to say about an establishment, we don’t want to waste our time and money. That, and we get no pleasure from writing a negative review.

If we do write a negative review, it’s because we went in expecting to write a positive review based on everything we had heard and read about the place. And then were disappointed. We are quite specific about what we found unsatisfactory. (Example: Old Pueblo Grille)

On rare occasion, if we’ve written a negative review, and we find there were extenuating circumstances (e.g.; the executive chef was fired the day before) then we will try to re-review the establishment at a later date.

The Problems With Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon, etc.
Our standards of excellence are somewhat higher than the average customer reviewer at Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the other mega-review sites. For example, we often give a 2-Saguaro rating (Had Better!) when many inexperienced Yelpers will give an establishment four stars (very good) or better.

Why do we generally rate restaurants lower than the reviewers who write for Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the others? Two reasons.

First, we notice that the majority of these reviews are written by young adults. It could be they just don’t know any better. We’ve lived longer; traveled more; and are more discriminating than the mostly young adults who post reviews at these mega-sites. At our advanced age (60’s pushing 70), our tolerance for less-than-the-best is fairly low.

Moreover, there is seldom any way to know what these customer reviewers’ criteria are. For example, when a customer writes that such & such restaurant has the best fish & chips in the world, we seldom know what he or she is comparing it to. Have they also had fish & chips at the best restaurants in San Francisco and the UK? We have.

Second, those who own a restaurant are in a very competitive business. Given how competitive it is, we should not have been surprised to discover that many restaurants hire PR agents to write favorable reviews. And there is no way for the unsuspecting reader to know which reviews are legitimate customer appraisals and which are paid propaganda.

So far, no restaurant has offered to pay us enough money to write a favorable review. So, all of the reviews on Southern Arizona Guide are the same as what we tell our friends and family in private.