Tucson restaurants worth a whirl

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Ask 10 people to identify the best restaurants in Tucson, and you'll get 10 different answers, nine of which will be a Mexican eatery. Indeed, the Old Pueblo has its spin on Sonoran-style down pat, but it does other things well too.

Opened last fall, May's Counter is getting traction with its spin on American regional faves. With chicken and waffles, grouper sandwiches, okra, greens, and shrimp and grits, that region shouts "Gone With the Wind." Then you note the chilaquiles, jalapeño jack and chile-sauce ketchup on the burger and an array of the West-rules-in-brews craft beers. 2945 E. Speedway Blvd.; (520) 327-2421, http://www.mayscounter.com. Open daily, at 8:30 on the weekends, 10:30 during the week. The all-day menu covers three squares; chicken and waffles, burgers from $9.

It may be a lucky consequence — thanks, Mom and Dad — or a reaction to having written three Las Vegas guidebooks, but I do not understand buffets. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort's Blues, Brews & Barbeque Sunday Brunch reminds me that it's all in the translation. As a starting point, hopheads can satiate themselves with local microbrews, such as the delectable porter I quaffed when I was here in January. There's real horseradish at the carvery, three Hawaiian Islands' worth of fruit, banana-leaf snapper, a raw bar with oysters and green lips, savory baby backs, sushi, handmade tortillas and guac and chile verde. If you're an egg, spuds and Jimmy Dean kind of guy, they have that stuff too. 7000 N. Resort Drive; (520) 299-2020, http://www.loewshotels.com. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, $32 for adults, $15.95 for ages 12 and younger.

A tip from a local friend led me to Vero Amore, where the line at the door suggests it's no secret. Vero specializes in Neapolitan pizza, which is as much a technique as a style. That means training in Naples, an 800-plus-degree volcanic brick oven, house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, prosciutto from Parma, salumi from Genova and a thin crust that's perfectly al dente. 3505 N. Swan Road; (520) 325-4122, http://www.veroamorepizza.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Pizzas from $9.50.

Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails is the brainchild of Janos Wilder, who years ago put nonburrito Tucson on the grid with his French-Southwestern fusion at Janos restaurant. If a classic pot-au-feu isn't the ticket, then go for the cochinita pibil, done the Wilder way, which means a loin chop and not the slow-roasted, shredded pork shoulder. A lively bar scene continues post-dinner, and live music colors the already vibrant room on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. 135 S. 6th Ave.; (520) 623-7700, http://www.downtownkitchen.com. Lunch and dinner served daily, entrees from $18. Check the website for seasonal cooking classes.

Also new to the downtown scene, 47 Scott does popular American comfort food. No matter what the seasonal menu offers, order the mac and cheese, made by someone who knows it all starts with béchamel. When I wouldn't shut up about the sweet-tart grape tomatoes and rocket, the server laughed and said, "Thank him," referring to the local grower as he walked by with another armload of produce. 47 Scott is nearly as righteous for its herb-tinted interpretations of retro cocktails. Designate a driver and have a Basil Collins, or try the Brick House Old Fashioned with bacon-washed rye. 47 N. Scott Ave.; (520) 624-4747, http://www.47scott.com. Lunch Mondays through Fridays, dinner Mondays through Saturdays. Entrees from $9.


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