When I first moved to Tucson in 2006 from San Francisco, I was quite pleased to find that a decent sandwich shop was right down the street. Called The Daggwood Cafe, it served up all kinds of fresh ideas served between bread and I was a regular customer for a while.
Then, one day, I called to place an order and the phone just rang and rang. Thinking that perhaps they were so busy that day that their line was just too jacked up from incoming calls, or...something of that nature, I decided to just go down there, place my order and wait it out just like any other lunchtime having shmoe.
But when I arrived, at like 1pm on a Wednesday, the doors were closed. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the doors were not only closed, they were locked. Big chains and a mighty padlock bound the entrance from anyone coming in. Then I saw it; a sign reporting that the establishment is now under city rule for various infringements and would be dark until further notice.
Crap. I was really looking forward to that Jamaican jerk turkey sandwich. Oh well.
|Gone, but not...well, kind of forgotten.|
Several months later, just a random driving home, I was pleased to see that the Daggwood was open again. Yay. Oh sandwich bliss. So the next day I ordered that jerk sandwich (that sounds mean seeing as it was a really tasty treat) and was happy to have the olde neighborhood lunch spot back open again.
But, uh, this gastro-happiness didn't last long. Just a week or so later the doors were closed again. C'mon guys, get your stuff in order here. And they remained closed for a long time. Just a hollow shell of a sandwich joint next to a laundromat and dive bar reminding us all of tasty vittles from the recent past.
About a year later, there was activity in the old Daggwood's. A ladder was spotted by the front door, a large grill was sitting on the patio, the inside was turned around and a makeshift sign was up:
Taco Loco, it said.
Now, in the neighborhood of Ft. Lowell and 1st Ave, opening up a taco place is really risky. There were decent taco stands in various nearby locations, Food City and La Botana was just across the street and a BK (not Burger King for those outside of the 520 area code, BK is one of the premiere Mexican food depots in the city and boasts the best Sonoran hot dog competing with El Guero Canelo for the top spot in that category and the feud rages on!) but a few blocks away. Another taco stand just seemed like white noise.
But Taco Loco had an edge. They promised to deliver tacos to your face. Okay then. We might have a winner. It took them a while (like a really long while, Taco Loco stood unopened for what seemed an eternity) but when they finally opened their doors, we were the first to call and have Mexican food delivered.
The result? Not bad. Pretty good actually. The first time we ordered it seemed as if they weren't ready for the amount of business they would get. The girl on the phone sounded confused, the order took longer than promised and the food itself tasted rushed. A couple days later I order again and things seemed to fall into place. Delivery was on time and the tacos and burritos were made with care and the flavors had stepped it up a few notches.
Then, disaster struck. There was a shooting in their parking lot and they were forced to close their doors, again!, for a bit. But once the smoke cleared, the doors stayed closed. I didn't understand. Reading the story online, it sounded like the shooting just happened to take place in that parking area for them, the laundromat and the bar and the businesses weren't involved at all. So why aren't they opening up again? Why is this location cursed with places that can't keep it together?
The Taco Loco sign came down one day and a new one took its stead.
Crispy's Fish n Chips it said!
|My favorite kind of menu: simple, awesome and cheap...|
Fish and chips? In this neighborhood? Again, they would be competing with the adjacent Boondocks Lounge because on Fridays they have a fish fry that would rival any chip shop here in the states or in the UK. So freakin' good. But you never know.
I actually had a chance to chat with the owner, Mario, who was in business with his son, Amer, who told me the shooting was only a sad coincidence because they were contemplating, almost from the beginning of Taco Loco, to re-open as a fish and chips spot. In a city wrought with tacos but naught with pub style fish n' chips, it just seemed wise to utilize all of their fryers and make do with a new concept, especially in midtown Tucson.
So, as always, like all of the other eateries in this location, we were one of the first in line to try Crispy's Fish-n-Chips and were delighted upon first bite.
|Huge chicken tenders with a spicy BBQ sauce...|
Just like with Taco Loco, our first visit wasn't the greatest. The food was, well...fine, but not great. The service was...okay, again not ready for the rush of business they were getting almost immediately. We then decided to give it another week or so and we'd try again.
|A basket of deep fried amazing? Yes please...|
Just like in the past, it took them a spell to get the creaks out and the map memorized. They were hitting a good stride. The seasoning was less heavy handed and the timing on the fryers were near perfect.
We ordered their namesake, a four piece cod with fries and coleslaw. Let me tell you, the flavor and texture took me back to a place in San Francisco called the Edinburgh Castle, which was/is a large European style pub that served up Scottish influenced fish and chips nestled in newspaper and cooked by staff from that region. So crazy delicious that on any night you could find locally famous, and even nationally famous, chefs and critics sipping a pint and grubbing down on their incredible fare.
This was as close to that as possible.
|Tucson, you have a competitor for the best fish tacos in town...|
Then the real trouble started. One night we decided to order a round of fish and shrimp tacos, just to try them. We had been tipping a few back at our friend's pub down the way and didn't feel like cooking.
When we finally got home and dove in, all we could do was low mumble satisfied "Mmmm"'s. They were mad tasty. Cooked to perfection, served with a tangy crema, cabbage and topped with fresh made pico de gallo. Unreal.
|Shrimp tacos all day long kid!|
Crispy's, we thought at the time, shouldn't just be known for their fish n' chips, because their fish tacos were some of the best we've had, not just in Tucson, but anywhere. I mean Mr. Baja Fish
and the seminal food truck Taco Fish bring the girth and the heat (did this blog just get filthy?) but Crispy's has a more delicate approach and you should seriously stop reading and go get some.
No really. This silly website will still be here when you're done. Go!
|Fried bits of perfection....|
Okay. We are pretty much sold on this place. The fish and shrimp tacos took us to a happy food pasture. So then another night we get their hot wings. Once again, not disappointed. Wonderfully seasoned, a good spice temperature for the sauce and, like all of the other fare, fried perfectly.
At this point we weren't missing Daggwood's at all and we were all "Taco Loco who?", but we got nervous because we could see us getting a slight Crispy's addiction. As if a legal drug dealer is always waiting for you just a few blocks away with a "product" that rarely warrants any complaints and is readily available between 10:30am and 8:30pm everyday.
|Get in my mouth you!|
The chicken strips are about the size of a small child and could put a major fast food corporation out on their ear if they got word about their sheer power. They're not just chicken strips mind you....more like chicken runways or chicken malls. Combined with that spicy BBQ sauce they make on site, you got yourself a chicken strip riot on your hands.
|Fill a kiddie pool with this stuff and call it a day...|
Let's chat about the sides shall we? The coleslaw is fantastic. When they first opened it was a bit runny and kind of flavorless, but I'm sure a few bad Yelp laments and suggestions from patrons set them right because this stuff is picnic perfect. Crunchy greens and carrots in a zesty dressing make the fried miracles all the more savory.
The potato salad is good too but not on the same level as the slaw here. Seems like the potato option is a backburner idea for a side while everything else is on point.
|Slaw me up man...|
Crispy's also serves up fried mac n cheese which is always a pleasure to do business with. Their version is little nibs of the creamy carbs, perfect for the tykes and grandma since she thinks regular old mac n cheese is just "too suspicious!"
I haven't had hush puppies since my travels through the South but these tasty treats brought me back to food shacks in Louisiana and this truck stop in Texas. Soft bite size balls of bready goodness not really accustomed here to the surly southwest but these might make you think otherwise.
For some reason I am never really a fan of fried zucchini, unless its tempura style, because most places get it wrong. The outside is usually alright but then when you bite into it the veggie filling is all soggy and gross. Not here. Oh no, not by a long shot. I actually like the fried zucchini at Crispy's so cheers on making me a believer in the dish because no one else has.
Then, of course, is my ultimate undoing (next to tater tots) and that would be the dreaded onion ring. This fried orbital of allium stuffed crisis makes me tingle like a stoned monkey arriving on Banana Island for the first time. To be blunt, I love onion rings. Next to Frankie's Cheesesteaks on Campbell, Crispy's has the best rings in town. Dear god they are good, dear god take them away from me. As if chubbo here isn't wide enough.
Thank you Crispy's for your combo platter of deep fried enchantment. For when I die, please bury me in flour dredge and egg coating because on the other side, when they throw my celestial form onto the pyre in Valhalla, my Metal brethren will eat well and I can go in peace knowing that just down the street from where I used to live a small stand inspired me and kept me from going to the gym on a regular basis.
|Yon landscape of 'oh hells yeah'...|
Then, of course, came the final test of Crispy's virtue. I brought our cat, Lil Poundcake, a hush puppy from the steamy fried yum pile.
"Get that crap away from me! You think I wanna eat anything with 'puppy' in it's name? Man....you crazy!"
AKA: she loved it.
Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
End of August 2015