Tucson earned the 10th spot on our top 20 list of Cooking Light Cities because it ranked highly in the following categories: Farmers' markets, access to gourmet ingredients, chef wages, dollars spent per person on parkland, percentage of residents in good health, and low percentage of overweight residents.
Best farmers market: Fresh produce, while available year round in Tucson, is at its best for flavor and color during the spring months, making this a city where great farmers' markets become destinations. Local food lovers flock to the
Community Food Bank Farmers' Market (520-622-0525) on Tuesday mornings. Although it contains just a dozen or so vendors, this is the only place in the city where desert-adapted red garlic and a native herb called verdolagas is available. For such efforts in preserving native foods and inspiring the local food community, representatives of the Food Bank were honored at the Slow Food's Terra Madre meeting in Turin, Italy last year.
Best local food organization: Area restaurant owners formed Tucson Originals in 1998 to promote the virtues of the city's independently owned restaurants. Since then, the group has become the hub of a national trade organization called Dine Originals, which aims to promote local foods and independently owned restaurants around the country. The group has grown to 16 cities, but the 37 members of Tucson Originals continue to set the bar for distinctive dining experiences and diverse cuisine.
Best light bite: The food at Zivaz Mexican Bistro (520-325-1234) is a result of Chef Don Felipe Valenzuela's quest to create light, healthful dishes for his vegetarian wife and diabetic son. In addition to traditional regional dishes at the popular lunchtime eatery, you'll find intriguing offerings, such as pescado ajillo, salmon marinated in achiote (the colorful seeds of a tropical plant commonly used in Mexican foods), or Mexican sushi: finely chopped vegetables rolled into colorful tortillas and served with a chile-soy dipping sauce. Valenzuela's vermillion Hibiscus Margarita was voted Most Original Margarita at the 2006 Tucson Culinary Festival.
Best indulgent treat: The El Charro Café (520-622-1922) in business since 1922, is credited with creating the chimichanga, a burrito stuffed with meat or vegetables, then deep-fried and topped with cheese and mild sauce. While it's not the most healthful dish (although the café does use heart-healthy canola oil), it has become a can't-miss bite. Order yours with carne seca, lean beef loin which has been marinated in garlic, lime juice, and spices, then sun dried and shredded.
Best for bikers: Tucson is consistently ranked among the top five bicycling cities in the country with more than 325 miles of well-marked bike lanes and trails in the metropolitan area. The two-lane asphalt Rillito River Park Trail (520-877-6120) winds 11 miles alongside a mostly-dry riverbed on the north side of town. You'll find easy access to parks, shopping areas, and public services without crossing busy streets.