Looking for a restaurant with a distinct Tucson environment? Head to Downtown Tucson and visit La Cocina Restaurant & Cantina.
Hidden on a corner at 201 North Court Avenue, the purple building boasts 4,000 square feet, which includes outdoor seating and a cantina. The decor includes colorful doors, hanging twinkling lights, and plenty of character.
Although the restaurant opened in the 1990's, it's been under new ownership for the last 2 1/2 years.
Don't be fooled by the metal tables and plastic patio-style chairs in the outdoor courtyard. The food is definitely gourmet. Though it has a Spanish name ("La Cocina" means "the Kitchen"), the restaurant fits most distinctly in the American and Vegetarian categories.
Choose from entrees like Steak Tacos ($13), Tofu Quinoa Bowl ($12), Chicken Salad Sandwich ($9), Spinach and Grilled Tilapia Salad ($12), and much more. I tried the Smoked Salmon Penne ($14) and it was out-of-this-world. The lemon caper cream sauce was flavorful and decadent. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Although there is no children's menu, the restaurant "always works with families." We had our young daughters split a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat bread ($7) and it was accompanied by a side of fresh fruit. Because the seating area is outdoors, kids have room to roam and explore. There's even a pond at the center, which is home to a turtle and a school of neon fish.
Not surprisingly, the busiest times for the restaurant are Friday and Saturday evenings. Your best bet for avoiding the crowds is to stop in on a Monday for lunch or a Wednesday for dinner.
La Cocina is a great pick for families, a business lunch, dinner with a friend, or a downtown excursion with guests from out-of-town. Note that it's within walking distance of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library (0.3 miles) and the Children's Museum Tucson (0.7 miles).