Though you might find a few grumpy, over-fed, heartburn-haunted food critics who turn up their sunburned noses at the Old Pueblo’s food scene — claiming that culinary life in Tucson  is too obsessed with chimichangas and melted cheese, or else declaring it a kind of developing nation relative to other, more sophisticated markets — the truth is that this big city that still thinks it’s a small town has been, for at least the last 25 years, a regional leader in developing locally owned and locally focused restaurants.
And while the worldwide economic slowdown of 2008 sunk a few beloved local eateries, there are still dozens of Tucson-owned eateries doing their part to make the Mexican food capital of the nation into an even more diverse and exciting place to fill up your stomach. Many of these locally owned eateries have gathered together in a group called Tucson Originals (www.tucsonoriginals.com ), marketing themselves as the “authentic flavors of Tucson.”
Just over a decade old, Tucson Originals now boasts something like 40 different restaurant members — eateries from the world-renowned, upscale Janos  to the decidedly, and proudly, downscale Frank’s  or Francisco’s . There are typically Tucson Mexican joints among the membership, like El Charro , as well as restaurants serving cuisines developed far, far away from the desert, like Vila Thai . And, of course, the membership swells with cutting-edge New American joints, where these days just about anything goes — Old Pueblo  favorites like The Cup Café , Barrio , and Acacia .
Every year, since 2003, Tucson Originals has put on the exciting and flavorful Tucson Culinary Festival (www.tucsonculinaryfestival.com ), a charity event that includes all kinds of tastings and competitions, including the Margarita Challenge to see who can make the best version of the Old Pueblo ’s signature cocktail. The final-night Grand Tasting ($85 pp) at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort  features food from all 40 or so members of Tucson Originals. The festival typically takes place over four days in early October, but you can sample the very rich and diverse Tucson culinary scene any time you’re in town by patronizing one or more of the Tucson Originals.
Quite a few member restaurants are listed in this guide; if you want to try others, check the Tucson Originals website or pick up one of their brochures — which has a map pinpointing the location of each member restaurant — at the Tucson Visitor Center at La Placita Village downtown (110 S. Church Ave., 520/624-1817, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–4 p.m.), or at most hotels and attractions around town.