- 2023 S. Craycroft Road, Tucson, AZ, 85711
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. closed
What was ordered: Pork tocino ($2.50), tuna omelette ($2.50), pork apritada ($2.50), chicken papaya soup ($2.50) and and two sides of rice (75 cents each) for a total of $13.42 (including tax), way under our Cheap Eats goal of a meal for two for less than $20.
Comments: This humble market quietly has been serving a great, little Filipino lunch buffet for 16 years.
The long-in-the-tooth and less-than-squeaky-clean dining room, market and buffet line may raise a few culinary red flags for some, but the proprietors are friendly and prompt and the fare is exceedingly well-prepared.
For Filipino cuisine, it’s surprisingly subtle yet somehow spontaneously robust, and despite the amount of time the selections may spend in the steam table, they’re vibrant and fresh-tasting.
They really only serve lunch here, but so many nurses and other graveyard-shift workers started showing up in the morning that they usually have the buffet ready by about 8 a.m.
The pork tocino glistened in the steam table, it’s near-black coating of barbecue-like sauce beckoning. The sweetened, cured pork (think thick-sliced bacon) was chewy, but not overly so, and the thick, sweet sauce was near candy-like, not unlike what one would encounter with Chinese barbecue ribs.
The pork apritada was a delicate stew of bone-on pork, potatoes, carrots and peppers that wouldn’t strike one as overly different from a good, slow-cooked American beef stew, if not for the slight hints of spices that kept it interesting to the last bite.
Equally gentle was the chicken soup with papaya, which featured two generous portions of boneless chicken thighs and large-cut papaya. The preparation made the papaya slices taste a little like exotic potatoes, and we detected a little fish sauce in the soup, which tasted a lot like a good Mexican cocido.
The tuna omelette is a favorite that shows up on the steam table almost every day. The tuna, in this case, is more along the lines of softened tuna jerky sliced thin. My companion wasn’t crazy about it, but I liked the way the salty, pungent fish played off the eggs. Eggs held in a steam table for long periods of time are something a lot of people shy away from, but the addition of the tuna seemed to make them hold up a little better.
Mabuhay offers six selections on weekdays and adds another selection—lechon kawali—on Saturdays. The pork belly is boiled then fried until the skin is crispy and crackly with the interior still soft and jiggly. It’s decadently glorious—and goes fast.
Service: Push the bell next to the buffet for service, and someone will serve up your buffet selections.
Bottom line: If you’re squeamish about Filipino fare because you think it might be too racy, you’ll be surprised at how gentle and comfort-foody it is at this gem in the rough. There’s usually still plenty of food around 1 p.m. or so, but those two or three empty steam-table pans will have you wondering what disappeared so fast—especially when what’s left is so good.
I may be eating my next lunch there at 8 a.m. with the nurses, just to make sure I don’t miss out.