Jackie Alpers

Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona

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Jackie Alpers a noted expert on Tucson, Arizona's Sonoran style regional cuisine. In her award winning cookbook, Taste of Tucson, she explores regional culinary influences while exploring Southwestern food history and culture, and the relationship to food and drink. 

Jackie Alpers  shares her own inspired recipe creations in Taste of Tucson as well as recipes for her favorite restaurants' dishes, while incorporating the history of the region, the mysticism and lore, and how it has contributed to the food of the people who live there.

Building from tried-and-true basics and tutorials on tacos, enchiladas, carne asada, and huevos rancheros, she divulges secrets to making some of the Tucson area's most unique Sonoran-style savories and sweets.


When I was 25 I decided I needed to find a new place to live. 

I had graduated from art college the year before and hadbeen biding time in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, hanging out with my friendsin the punk rock scene of the early 1990s.

I was getting a huge amount of parking tickets and tookthis as a sign that my time in that town was up, so I took a cross-country roadtrip with a schoolmate, Andy, to figure out where to live. We ended up at adive motel called The Tiki in a slightly dodgy part of Tucson, Arizona. TheTiki had a tiny pool in the middle of its parking lot, so Andy and I bought asix-pack of Coronas at the Circle K next door and waded in. It was June and 106degrees.

As I was sitting in that pool drinking my beer in theclear, bright sunlight with the blue, blue sky that went on forever overhead, I decidedthat this was the place to be. The first thing I ate in Tucson that night was a bigplate of guacamole and chips that Andy and I shared from the Mexican restaurantacross the street. The place was oddly named “21.” Based on the sign and thedark exterior, I’d kind of thought that it was a strip club.

Within three months, I’d moved to Tucson, and I quicklylanded two very different jobs. One was teaching art to kids in an after-schoolprogram, and the other, one that surprisingly ended up altering the course ofmy life, was busing tables and bartending at El Charro Café, the oldestfamily-owned Mexican restaurant in the U.S. I was inspired by everything that Ilearned at El Charro and all the new food I experienced, whether it was a salsamade from a chile pepper that I’d never seen before, or a salad that lookedlike a volcano prepared in a way I’d never heard of.

The Flores family treated me like one of their own. I wasbumped up to regular waitstaff and eventually learned how to work cooking inthe kitchen. I began experimenting with Mexican cuisine and local ingredients.I played around with cooking techniques that were completely unfamiliar to meand photographed food and wrote recipes.

But I never forgot where I came from. I never forgot thatI was raised a Jewish girl in Ohio who had never tasted much of this food forthe first twenty-five years of my life. I like smoked fish and chopped liverand matzo balls. I like Cincinnati chili, and chicken fingers and hot dogs—alot. My recipes are a culmination of my own experiences, and I hope that thisbook inspires you to come up with your own creations informed by a culture, acollection of flavors, and an array of cooking techniques that may be new to youas well.

Reviews of Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipe Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona 

"Jackie's delicious book takes me back to Tucson, with each incredibly delicious recipe, tied to stories and wonderful characters.  It will connect you to the one and only place that Tucson is. What a delight!" Pati Jinich, Chef, Cookbook author and EMMY Award winning host of Pati's Mexican Table on PBS

A love letter to Tucson and Sonoran food, food photographer Jackie Alpers takes us not only through southern Arizona cuisine, but also to her favorite spots in the Old Pueblo. The book also notes the culinary influence of the Tohono O’odham people on Tucson.

Pandemic bread hobbyists can learn how to make award-winning baker Don Guerra's Barrio Sonoran Sourdough Bread, a three-day labor of love with local ingredients, or pistachio compound butter, a recipe from chef Bruce Yim of Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort. Alpers also shares her personal touches, such as the time she was inspired by Passover to make Matzalbondigas, her version of Spanish-style meatballs.

Tucson's food scene seems to be underappreciated, despite being a UNESCO city of gastronomy. Thankfully books like these are a testament to the diversity of Sonoran cuisine and talent of local chefs." The Arizona Republic 

"Taste of Tucson is a bold, colorful collection of recipes that include Molletes, an open-faced breakfast sandwich, Cream of avocado soup, and Shrimp with creamy goat cheese-poblano sauce. Jackie’s recipes are packed with a flavor punch and I am eyeing the Desert dessert nachos and Potato salad with chile-lime vinaigrette and red onion." Eat Your Books

"Homey and yet polished, this small gem delivers a flavorful journey through southern Arizona cuisine. Bright, vivid photos and rich context convey the unique culture and spark any appetite.  A glossary of pantry items, cheese, and most importantly peppers, round out this title, that while specific to a region, will be a pleasure to all. Barrio Sonoran Sourdough Bread with Pistachio Compound Butter is a treat."  2021 RUSA Book and Media Awards

More of us have spent time in our own kitchens over the past year. For some, that has actually meant a lot of time by the microwave or unpacking the order that was just delivered. But for many others, it’s meant cooking — sometimes from old family recipes and others of a more innovative bent.

 "...its collection of recipes from some of southern Arizona’s favorite spots offers the chance to make the home kitchen a creative place."  Steve Goldstein, host of The Show on NPR

"Taste of Tucson is an inordinately fun and accessible guide to a distinctive regional American cuisine." Foreword Reviews

"Not just with regional appeal, this cookbook will find a welcome home among anyone looking to recreate Southwestern classics. Verdict: Highly recommended." Library Journal

"Jackie's Happy Plate blogger Alpers celebrates the cuisine of Tucson, Ariz., in this informative debut cookbook. Much of the fare is heavily inspired by Sonoran-style Mexican cuisine, and there are plenty of classics on offer, such as chunky guacamole, arroz con pollo, and Mexican street corn. Other tempting dishes include caldo de queso (potato and cheese soup), calabacitas con queso (cheesy squash with corn and tomatoes), and Sonora-style pico de gallo (fresh fruit and vegetables seasoned with chili and lime). Alpers also includes her own fun fusions, like matzalbondigas (she swaps the meatballs in the soup for matzo balls), and a Thai-Mex slaw spiked with a serrano chile. She also includes visual glossaries and helpful descriptions of staple ingredients, such as fresh and dried chiles (for ancho chilis, she writes, "Dried poblano chile with a sweet, fruity flavor and a mild heat level") and Mexican-style cheese (cotija, she notes, is "crumbly and salty like grated parmesan"). Along the way, Alpers provides a history of Tucson and considers how the region's past has influenced its cuisine (for the Cod Tlalpeño with chickpeas, she writes, "Chickpeas were introduced by the Spanish into the Southwest along the Rio Grande by 1630"). Fans of Southwestern cuisine will appreciate this flavorful recipe collection." Publishers Weekly (Featured Review)

" Reading it, you’ll feel like you’ve just strolled from restaurant to restaurant and house to house enjoying a true taste of Tucson." - Edible Phoenix, Edible Communities

"In addition to staples like cheese crisps, Alpers has an entire section on Mexican snack foods including El Guero's Sonoran hot dogs, recipes for tostilocos and tostinachos, even a hot dog taco. This sets the book apart from previous Tucson cookbooks, which tend to focus on homestyle Mexican restaurants with servers and combo plates. (Although, the book does have some of that too.)" Arizona Daily Star

Five Arizona Cookbooks You Should Own: "If you're looking for niche, Arizona-specific cuisine, Jackie Alpers focuses on Tucson-style Mexican favorites in Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona. Recipes include her chicken mole Amarillo recipe, a less sweet yet nuttier version of the classic Sonoran dish. Also, she includes pantry staples that are a must for this kind of cooking. Think chiltepin peppers, dried Mexican oregano, and masa flour. There are also recipes for tacos, enchiladas, carne asada, huevos rancheros, and of course dessert, meaning her dark chocolate coffee pudding cake." Phoenix New Times

Cookbook trailer for Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipes! Video by Jason Willis. Music by Audios Amigos.

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