Four-block area just west of the University of Arizona has become an eclectic mix of eating establishments.
Check out our interactive map of hot restaurants at Main Gate Square.
Main Gate Square has quietly evolved into a foody epicenter that may have no local equal.
What impresses is not just the number – 34 and counting – but also the variety of food establishments and their density in the four-block center owned by the nonprofit Marshall Foundation.
That’s by design, says Jane McCollum, the foundation’s general manager.
“What we’re trying to do is draw more people to the street, and in order to do that, we try to select places that have a unique cuisine or unique experience that comes with their cuisine,” she says. “What we’re also trying to do is – in addition to appealing to students, faculty, and staff – we’re trying to go a little more upscale to appeal to the neighborhood residents and the people staying at the (adjacent) Marriott, and those people want better than fast food.”
The Foundation, which makes all of the money it donates to the community through renting its real estate, donated $800,000 to charities last year. Sixty percent of that went toward scholarships for University of Arizona students. With the opening of four more shops this fall, food establishments will number 33 at Main Gate.
“We’re just about built out,” McCollum says. “We’ve got a Vietnamese place called Saigon Pho that will be coming in, and other than that, we’d like to get a Sushi place and Italian cuisine.”
Main Gate tenant Tim Hibsman says that despite Main Gate’s popularity, its diverse mix of restaurants is still lost on Tucsonans who haven’t ventured into the area since they (attended) UA.
“As busy as it is, a lot of people in town still don’t know what we’ve got down here,” says Hibsman, who co-owns Chow Bella, which opened in December. “Every day we get people who say they wish they’d had an area like this when they went to school here.”
Hibsman says he pays a little more in rent than he might at another shopping center, a price he’s more than willing to pay.
“Oh, it’s definitely worth it,” he says. “They take such good care of the complex, and they’ve done a good job marketing the place. I’m really happy with it.”
Ditto for Terra Schacht, who, with husband Jordan, opened The Cereal Boxx in April.
“It’s become so diverse,” she says. “They’ve really done a good job of hand-picking who would work best here for the public.”
Even at a destination as seemingly a sure thing as Main Gate, a few spots have seen businesses come and go. McCollum says the foundation saw a good fit at one such spot for Vila Jarrell’s eatery.
“We’re upstairs on the deck in a space where three other restaurants failed,” notes Jarrell, co-owner of Vila Thai. “But that’s exactly where I wanted to be, because we wanted to be an oasis, a place where students and professionals could get away from things on the street.”
Main Gate still has to combat a decades-old characterization as a place full of drunken college students, but it only takes one visit to dispel that idea, McCollum says.
“We really don’t have a lot of bars,” she says. “What we have is a really eclectic mix of restaurants and shopping, and that’s attracting a really eclectic mix of customers.”
Check out our interactive map of hot restaurants at Main Gate Square.
COME AND GET IT!
1. Johnny Rockets 622-2245 Retro-style diner chain
2. Penguins Yogurt 902-2340 Local frozen yogurt, ice cream smoothies shop
3. La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill 670-9700 Mexican fast-food chain
4. Pei Wei Asian Diner 884-7413 Asian fast-food chain
5. Pita Pit 882-7482 Pita, salad and soup chain
6. Kababeque Indian Grill 388-4500 Local Indian restaurant
7. Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co. 624-4177 Local brew pub
8. Saguaro Grill (Marriott) 792-4100 American
9. Chipotle Mexican Grill 628-7967 Burrito and taco fast-food chain
*10. Which Wich? 884-0081 (opened Sunday) Dallas Maverick and former University of Arizona basketball player Jason Terry is such a big fan of this Dallas chain’s sandwiches, he became a partner in the Tucson shop. Grab the brown paper order bag, mark in your choices of meats, condiments and bread and turn it in. Your sandwich comes prepared as ordered.
*11. Sultan Palace (tentative opening in October) Local; the state’s only spot for Afghan food, Sultan Palace was formerly at 345 W. Drachman St. Owner Diba Kushkai says she will offer lunch and dinner specials.
*12. Saigon Pho (opening date not determined) Contract just signed with this locally owned eatery’s owners
*13. The Cereal Boxx 622-2699 Opened in April, this unique local joint offers 30 kinds of breakfast cereal with 40 different toppings, oatmeal parfaits and a full espresso and coffee bar. “Think of it as an ice cream place where you can mix and match and pick your own toppings – but with cereal,” says co-owner Terra Schacht.
*14. Paradise Bakery (opening in October) This popular Long Beach, Calif-based chain makes cookies, muffins, brownies, croissant, quiches, breads, soups, salads and sandwiches.
*15. Caffé Lucé 207-5504 This locally owned coffee roaster opened in June, sells its beans retail to the public and wholesale to restaurants, and offers a full line of espresso, coffee, tea drinks, pastries. And – starting next month – it will have live music two nights a week.
*16. Jamba Juice 792-1880 Fruit smoothies, shakes and snacks chain
*17. Wilko 792-6684 (opening next month) This upscale convenience store from local Peter Wilkie, who also owns Time Market Deli & Pizza and co-owns B-Line, will also feature deli foods and possibly, packaged sushi.
18. The Fat Greek 206-0246 George Markou is the owner and cook at this Greek restaurant.
19. Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches 206-9999 Subs and “giant” clubs chain
20. Oriental Express 624-5798 Local Chinese restaurant
*21. Vila Thai 903-9777 This upscalish locally owned restaurant upstairs that opened in December serves lunch specials to students during the day and fine dining-style Thai dinners to “professionals and students on dates,” says owner Vila Jarrell, an artist who moved here from Bellevue, Wash. Jarrell said she strives to teach students – many of whom are eating on their own for the first time – fresh, healthy eating habits.
*22. Chow Bella 623-1966 The brainchild of Tucsonan and Philadelphia native Tim Hibsman – who started the Philly’s Finest chain as well as Coach’s Deli in Tucson – opened in December. Chow Bella serves paninis, cheesesteaks and hoagies, plus salads, pasta dishes and foccacia pizza.
23. Espresso Art 624-4126 Locally owned espresso, coffee, sandwich and pastry shop
*24. Bakerzin 792-0530 This chic, Singapore-based French bakery chain chose Tucson and specifically Main Gate Square for its first American location, which opened in January. It serves soups salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, pizzas and hundreds of cakes and pastries.
25. Chen’s Cafe 882-7888 Locally owned Chinese restaurant
26. Silvermine Subs 620-6400 Subs, salads, and soups chain
27. Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins 882-7711 Doughnuts and coffee chain and ice cream chain share space
28. Frog & Firkin 623-7507 Locally owned English pub and pizza joint
29. No Anchovies 623-3333 Locally owned pizza, salads, subs and pasta restaurant
30. Café Paraiso 624-1175 Locally owned restaurant serving espresso, sandwiches and salads
31. Sinbad’s Restaurant 623-4010 Locally owned Mediterranean restaurant
32. Joel’s Bistro 529-7277 Locally owned French bistro
33. Starbucks 620-9344 Coffee, espresso and pastry chain
* 34. The Auld Dubliner 206-0323 Opened August 2006, this Irish pub concept from the makers of Guinness features live music Friday nights and Irish music jams Sunday afternoons.
* New in the past year or soon to open
Main Gate Square shopping, from American Apparel to Urban Outfitters, Friday in Weekend Plus tucsoncitizen.com/weekend