Last weekend as part of our stay at JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa, we joined theTucson 23 celebrations as media guests. This annual food festival is the most famous Mexican food celebration in the Southwest. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This year is the second year that Tucson 23 takes place, and I can’t wait to tell you about our experience with it.
After we had settled in our room, we received an amenity tray full of exquisite bites, including a tamarind jam, chocolate covered nuts, Mexican beer, and the exclusive homemade roasted salsa and chips. This tray of goodies was just a teaser of what we had ahead of us at Tucson 23, a weekend to indulge in the best Mexican food north of Mexico’s border.
What is Tucson 23
Tucson 23 started two years ago as a way to highlight Mexican culinary traditions. Tucson is home to 23 miles of Mexican food like no other. It’s named the best Mexican food north of the border, hence the name Tucson 23. In 2015, Unesco designated Tucson as a “World City of Gastronomy,” becoming the first city in the United States to receive such a recognition and one of 116 cities worldwide. Tucson is a city with a rich history of farming, but also some of the best food practices in our country. Talk about growing food in the desert!
This event is about more than just food, however. Tucson 23 truly is a fiesta; music, dance, colorful decor and authentic Mexican food will greet all of your senses. At this celebration, you can taste the most exquisite food and also learn the history and the craft behind it. It’s a total cultural experience.
Celebrity Chef’s Dinner
To kick off the celebration on Friday night, we enjoyed a delightful cocktail-paired five-course meal prepared by JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa executive chef David Fransua and chef Michael Byrer from Elvira’s, one of Tucson’s emblematic restaurants.
The chefs’ collaboration was impeccable. Honestly, it felt like they have always worked together and that synchronism showed in dishes that made an everlasting impression. My overall favorite was the Mole; a combination of duck breast, blackberry crema, mole xiqueno, Chile Morita confit, and pickled mango.
There’s nothing like brunch to start the day out right. On Saturday morning, we enjoyed a display of Mexican breakfast and lunch items that included all-time favorites such as pozole, tamales, huevos con chorizo and chilaquiles en salsa roja. The latter was a favorite in our table.
Learning about food and through food was one of the highlights of Tucson 23. Not only did I get insightful knowledge about traditional Mexican dishes like mole, which is considered a celebratory food, but also learn new skills such as how to roll a Mexican cuernito thanks to Israel Ornelas, the in-house panaderia master at JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa. Other classes included a demo of Mexican ceviche preparation and a tasting of Peruvian and Ecuadorian ceviches. Lastly, we learn the secrets behind the preparation of perfect Mexican tortillas, one of the staples on many of the dishes we enjoy on a daily basis.We also learned about the history of tequila which in my opinion, is a fascinating topic. In the past, I have been to tequila tasting dinners and I love learning about this spirit which is Mexico’s national liquor. For this class, Carlos Ruiz, an expert in tequila, showed us a new way to enjoy and appreciate the flavor and body of this drink, we tried a berry infused Tequila Blanco which is a great addition to mixed drinks.
The big event: Tucson23
The second annual Tucson 23 event was completely sold out weeks in advance. It is certainly one of the most anticipated food festivals of Arizona. It is a food event that locals and visitors do not want to miss, and now that I’ve experienced it, I can see why.
When the gates opened, a crowd eager to taste the best Mexican food north of the border filled the room. However, there was something for everyone and the lines although sometimes long, moved quite fast.
People could enjoy sweet and savory dishes from local restaurants. I loved going back and forth trying some tacos first and the going for a bite of dessert. Two of my favorite spots were Crossroads; they were featuring a barbacoa with rice and beans and one of the best tortillas I have ever had. My second favorite food display was the Tucson Culinary School booth that made a delicious Arroz Con Leche or rice pudding. They made it with a chocolate ganache and nuts. It was divine!
Thank you to Visit Tucson, JW Marriott Star Pass Resort and Spa and SAACA for putting together this amazing event. If you haven’t already, mark your calendar for next year’s Tucson 23, tickets sell out fast and this is a foodie event that you do not want to miss out!