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Sopa season

Our top-five picks for the best local casuela

Mi Nidito serves up  </p>
<p>our favorite bowl of <em>Casuela</em>, also spelled <em>Cazuela</em>, and otherwise known as <em>Carne Seca  </em></p>
<p>or Beef Jerky soup.

Mi Nidito serves up

our favorite bowl of <em>Casuela</em>, also spelled <em>Cazuela</em>, and otherwise known as <em>Carne Seca </em>

or Beef Jerky soup.

Spring in the upper Sonoran Desert is a great time to take in our world-class sopa.

Between now and June – when triple-digit temperatures make it a little weird to have something steamy next to your face – we’ll survey the best bowls of Mexican soup to be had in four installments: casuela, posole, albondigas and cocido.

We encourage bickering, so if we’ve left out your favorite destination for this installment’s sopa – casuela – let us know at tasteplus@tucsoncitizen.com.

And feel free to weigh in with your favorite bowl of posole, albondigas and cocido for upcoming chapters.


On a good day, Naco is about as pleasant as a rug burn, but the irascible doofus knows his casuela, so I forced myself to tolerate him on this whirlwind casuela tour. We downed close to a hundred bowls in the last six months to come up with our top five:

Mi Nidito Cafe, 1813 S. Fourth Ave.: This is the last place I wanted to have on this list for the same reason that so many people hate the Yankees. The “Little Nest” on Fourth had people waiting a good half hour for a table way before Bill Clinton came in and ordered the entire left side of the menu, and it’s been even more crowded since. This is exceptional casuela, time after time. The broth is similar to that at Maria’s, but even better. This is where the “stew” in the translation comes in, to the point where “broth” is the wrong descriptor. This stuff tastes like it’s been slow-cooking for years, a richer-than-rich, savory beef flavor with a hefty kick of spice. Naco ends each bowl with the “steering-wheel” maneuver, hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, guiding every last drop from the bowl under his ever-whitening mustache.

El Indio Mexican Food Restaurant, 3355 S. Sixth Ave.: They do everything well here, and the casuela is no exception. The broth is of the light, clean variety, not unlike the dainty but potent bases in the pho at a good Vietnamese place. Potatoes are barely there, just the way we like it. The fluffs of dried beef are as salty as the broth is subtle, making for an ideal pairing. Keep your beverage close by, because the delicate broth hides a sneaky, latent kick of jalapeño that’ll build in you. If you’re not careful – Naco rarely is – it can lead to a coughing jag that will have you seeing a few stars.

Maria’s Café, 3530 S. Sixth Ave.: This place means business. The waiters wear ties and white shirts with “Maria’s” embroidered above the pocket, and pretty much all look like the guy on the telenovela who runs the edgy architecture firm that doubles as a dance studio at night. Their luxurious casuela could pass for a rich French Onion soup were it not for the beef and the green chiles. The broth has a satiny viscosity that borders on greasy. No spuds here, just well-seasoned, finely shredded beef in an exquisitely matured broth, the kind you can’t fake in a hurry.

Cora’s Café, 24 W. Irvington Road: Just about everything they do at Cora’s varies a little from day to day, but if that’s something that knots up your shorts, you should be sticking to the chains with the rest of the sheep. There’s not a lot of depth to the broth, but it works. The beef and green chiles are nicely balanced, and the potatoes are diced to the size of dice.

Las Cazuelitas De Tucson, 2615 S. Sixth Ave.: This is probably the most authentic version, one revered by those who know a lot more about this than I do, but for our money, it’s a little skimpy on the meat, and too generous with the spud. It’s like half a baked potato sitting there in the middle of the bowl, protruding out of the broth. The broth is flavorful but restrained, and what’s there of the meat is good.


Here’s a recipe originally featured in the “Arizona Territory Cook Book: Recipes from 1864 to 1912.”

2 pounds beef jerky

2 medium potatoes

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped green chiles

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons lard (or oil)

1 clove garlic minced

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon flour

8 cups water

salt to taste

Soak jerky in water for 15 minutes. Pound jerky to separate fiber and to fluff meat. Peel and dice potatoes in 1-inch cubes. Fry onions, chiles, tomatoes and cilantro slowly in lard. Add beef, garlic, oregano and flour. Add water and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes.

Source: “Best of the Best from Arizona Cookbook,” edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley (Quail Ridge Press, 2006, $16.95)


Our top-five picks for the best local casuela

CASUELA (or CAZUELA): Sometimes referred to as “carne seca soup,” casuela (literally translated “stew”) features dried meat seasoned with tomato, green chile, onions and spices. Potatoes are used in varying sizes and portions, though omitted in some versions.

POSOLE (or POZOLE): Usually attributed to Mexico’s coastal state of Jalisco, a thick soup made with pork, hominy, garlic, onion, chile peppers and cilantro.

ALBONDIGAS: Meatballs packed with rice and flecked with mint in a light broth with tomatoes, zucchini and other vegetables.

COCIDO: A beef soup – usually with beef on the bone – loaded with large-cut carrots, potatoes, chayote squash and half a cob of corn.

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