What Makes El Charro Café So Special

CORRECTION 7/6/22: A previous version of this post stated that El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. Opened in 1922 El Charro Café is one of the oldest in the U.S., but El Fenix (located in Dallas, Texas) is older, its first location opened in 1918.

Gourmet Magazine listed El Charro Café as "One of America's 21 Most Legendary Restaurants" for good reason. Since 1922, the same family has served Mexican food in downtown Tucson. This Arizonan institution was the creation of Monica Flin. BizTucson described Flin as a "larger-than-life woman who 'smoked up a storm,' hunted, and drank martinis from a teapot while playing cards with her friends during Prohibition." El Charro's website confirms that Flin was, indeed, a character. After accidentally dropping a burrito into sizzling oil, she became known as the creator of chimichanga.

It wasn't until she turned 90 that Flin handed over the reins to her niece Carlotta Flores. Flores recently joined Top Chef judges for a season finale called "Cactus Makes Perfect." In the episode, contestants were to incorporate two ingredients into their finished dishes — cactus and El Charro's most prized delicacy.

Flavored by the sun

Carne seca, Spanish for "dried meat," is essentially jerky (per Honest Food). Before stepping into El Charro's restaurant, you can't help but notice a metal cage of the meat dangling outside. Making carne seca is a labor-intensive process. Thinly-cut beef is first marinated in garlic and lemon juice, left to dry, then oven-baked, shredded into pieces, and sprinkled on top of dishes (via Atlas Obscura).

Carne seca can be spiced in many ways, according to Delighted Cooking, and nearly any cut of meat can be used. But El Charro's use of the meat alongside tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers has earned a reputation, reports Rood Food. This Tucson treat is one to be savored. What makes El Charro's carne seca so desirable? Tucson Weekly has a simple answer. It's Arizona's sunshine. If you can't make it to Tucson, El Charro ships throughout the United States with Gold Belly.