- 8991 East Tanque Verde Road, Tucson, AZ, 85749
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Tue.-Thu. 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
What we ordered: one gator bites appetizer ($4.50), one “regular” seafood gumbo ($9) and one “regular” jambalaya ($7) for a total of $20.50, just surpassing our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people
Comments: If down-home Cajun cooking is America’s answer to the haughtiness of French cuisine, then Don’s Bayou has got to be Tucson’s answer to the seafood chain. Everything about this place, from the exceptionally small dining area to the less-than-jumbo portion sizes feels mom and pop, neighborhood and charmingly unrefined.
They don’t even have a soda fountain, for instance. If you want to sip a pop with your etouffee, you’ll have to get it in can form from a refrigerator sitting next to the counter. (On the plus side, they’ve got Coke and RC Cola.) From there, you have two choices: You can pack yourself into the bathroom stall of a dining room amongst cartoon frogs and alligators, or—as we did—sprawl out in deck chairs on the homey outside patio, complete with a little garden and fountain.
Food: We wanted very much to like the food at Don’s Bayou, and to tell you the truth, the four or five bites we had were pretty damn satisfying. The gator bites, made with everyone’s favorite freshwater reptilian, were perfectly fried nuggets of meat paired with the horsiest cocktail sauce your sinuses have ever encountered. (If you’ve ever tried pure horseradish, you know it’s like sticking Listerine up your nostrils and gargling with pool cleaner.) I hate to say it though: Alligator may live in the Everglades, but it sure does taste like chicken.
The seafood gumbo also came with some pretty intimidating meats: chunks of oyster, shrimp and miniature disembodied crab claws that seemed to be more for aesthetics than sustenance. But it was the seafood that gave this soup its flavorful, meaty texture.
Overall the gumbo was a great soup; but unfortunately it was the size of a children’s cup. This is the main problem with Don’s Bayou: For the price of the food, their portion sizes are laughable. I don’t mind paying upwards of $20 for a meal, but at least put it on a real plate! And if something is too small to eat as a meal, call it a “small,” not a “regular.” That’s just plain misleading.
The jambalaya, which was very good as well, was exactly the same way. The perfectly seasoned rice was dotted with chunks of chicken, sausage and celery, but it was hardly filling enough for a meal.
Service: Order at the counter.
Bar: beer, wine and specialty drinks, like the hurricane with dark rum and Pat O’Brien’s hurricane mix from New Orleans ($8) and the frozen whiskey sour ($7)
Bottom line: I’d like to try this place again, but now that I’m in on the secret, I’ll go for the platter dinners of catfish, oyster or frog legs because they each come with two sides. Even though they’re $12 to $14 apiece, all that cornbread and Cajun potato salad has got to fill you up. Otherwise, you might as well skip the meal altogether and go straight to my second destination of the day: McDonald’s.