- 201 N. Court Ave., Tucson, AZ, 85701
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., cantina open later; Sun.-Mon. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
What we ordered: one Mediterranean plate ($9.50), one roasted pork sandwich with a side salad ($8) and an iced tea ($2.25) for a total of $19.75, just under our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people.
Comments: With its reopening last September, La Cocina has become a garden of earthly delights. The charming patio of shops and foliage has been a constant in the Old Town Artisans district, but new managers have brought in a more sophisticated menu highlighted by vegan, gluten-free and healthy, sustainable dishes. Top it off with a burgeoning cocktail bar and a cute little coffee window, and you’ve got a serious competitor in the downtown restaurant game.
But more important than its newfound suaveness is the food: And it’s good! When our two plates arrived—minimal in presentation but teaming with arrangements of fresh, glistening produce—we couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this place.
Food: La Cocina is one of those places where you find yourself ordering vegetarian without really noticing. Although many items are marked with a “v,” “vg” for vegan or “gf” for gluten free (making it easier on those with constraints), you won’t find any Tofurky or soy protein here. The dishes feel more organic, like they were developed for taste initially, and any vegan-ness flowed from the chefs’ aesthetics rather than a particular worldview. The Mediterranean plate, with its light salad, spinach pie and hummus, tasted like a dish you’d find at any café/coffee shop.
Although it was a bit more creative. Instead of the regular pieces of cold pita bread, they opted for crispy, triangular pita chips dusted with a little salt and black kalonji seeds they bought at Caravan Mideastern Foods. The hummus, which unfortunately disappeared all too soon, was flavorful and chunkier than most. It was made from edamame beans! And the dome of tabouli was dominated by quinoa, making it a touch dry but heartier and more filling than the standard variety. The plate was one of those lunches that left you feeling only slightly full, but very satisfied.
The roasted pork sandwich could have been typical, but the chefs added unique extras: pine nuts, sweetly plump raisins and a supple layer of sautéed spinach. The ciabatta bread, which was ordered from the local Bakehouse Bread Company, was soft and humble enough to complement the ingredients rather than obscure them. Paired with a simple baby greens salad with feta cheese, it felt much lighter than it really was.
Bar: The restaurant maintains a lovely “cantina” that’s open evenings and for special events. (You can order alcohol any time of day though.) It’ has a nice cocktail list of lavender-vodka lemonades and jalapeño margaritas.
Bottom line:The best word to describe La Cocina is “pleasant.” The garden patio offered a relaxing break from a day packed with business and errands. (The food was flavorful without being too filling.) But if it’s your day off, take brunch at the restaurant and spend the afternoon musing at artisan shops and the nearby museum. Or join them for dinner—with the leadership change came new hours—and after a sinless meal of root vegetable curry and pizza margherita, leave the garden for the city lights.