Northwest Tucson has an ill-kept secret when it comes to favorite places for breakfast and lunch. It's the Tohono Chul Park Tea Room.
Now under the direction of chef Albert Hall and his wife Lila Yamashiro, the duo behind the multiple award-winning Acacia at St. Philip's Plaza, the Tea Room continues to offer many of the menu items that have proven favorites over the years to patrons, as well as new dishes that put a strong focus on local, sustainably produced ingredients.
"We're trying to include as many native, seasonal ingredients as we can find," said Hall, "including those that are grown on the grounds of the park in our Ethno Garden."
Seasonal products from the Ethno Garden include squash, peppery beans, fava beans, okra, heirloom miniature tomatoes, figs, lemons, pomegranates and kumquats, Hall noted.
"Incorporating these ingredients into various dishes means that we have seasonal menu changes to reflect what's available from our garden and also from local, sustainable produce," he said.
Hall pointed out that many of the locally grown products are used in daily feature menu items such as quiches, vegetarian side dishes, hummus and tarts.
"As we plan out our garden for next year, we have a lot of considerations to tackle," Hall said. "Lee Mason, who's in charge of the Ethno Garden, and I have to determine what would best suit the needs of the Tea Room and also be the best for the public to observe growing, because the garden is there for public view as part of the park. We want to represent what might have been here 200 years ago and offer a broad variety of the items that would naturally grow here."
The Tea Room, housed in a Spanish-Colonial home known as the West House, is part of the park's 49-acre botanical preserve where nature, art and culture are complemented by the best in food. Travel + Leisure magazine has listed the park as one of the Ten Great Botanical Gardens in the world.
One enters the Tea Room through an arched, double-door entry that's wide enough to accommodate a horse-drawn carriage. The Tea Room's front courtyard is enclosed on four sides and filled with plants arranged around a central fountain. The rear courtyard, recently expanded, follows the back edge of the restaurant and gives splendid views into the park grounds.
The Tea Room seats 32 in its main dining room, 16 in the Chul Room, 75 in the Wilson Room, 21 on the front patio and 60 on the rear patio.
For a Tea Room breakfast, served 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and 7 to 10 a.m. on weekends, guests can choose from a wide variety of dishes, including huevos rancheros, eggs Benedict, apricot and cream cheese-filled French toast, house-smoked salmon and buttermilk pancakes.
The Tea Room's lunch menu, served Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., is expansive, offering specialties of the house such as tortilla soup, three kinds of enchiladas, quesadilla, steak tacos and angel hair pasta. Sandwiches are large and hearty, coming in the form of a Tohono burger, chicken breast, vegetarian, Sonoran BLT and Caprese (Willcox tomatoes, hand-pulled mozzarella, Sunizona micro greens and pesto).
Saturday and Sunday Brunch is available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering many of the items found on the breakfast and lunch menus.
Hall stressed the Tea Room's emphasis on sustainability, as well as value and superior service.
"Locally produced foods are inherently fresher and contribute greatly to the Arizona economy," he said. "We're trying to bring the Tea Room and park together for a seamless experience, and give people a unique experience they can't get anywhere else."
Operating the Tea Room will be a long-term labor of love, Hall noted, "especially because we respect the work the park does to preserve the natural beauty of the desert. As a native of Arizona, that's very important to me."