TUCSON, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) - Our passport to international flavors took us to Mexico. So, naturally, we headed south to Tucson for some of the finest Mexican cuisines.

We started at El Charro Café.

“I always say El Charro belongs to Tucson more than it belongs to our family. The door is open, and it’s on its own,” said Carlotta Flores, the chef and owner of El Charro Café.

Opened in 1922, El Charro is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant, continuously managed by the same family. So, when it comes to traditional Mexican cooking and culture, Flores would know.

Heritage is especially a factor when preparing the ancient tamale.
Heritage is especially a factor when preparing the ancient tamale.(El Charro Café for Arizona Highways TV)

“Some of you may know this meat also [known] as machaca. The difference between carne seca and machaca is [that] machaca is usually done in the oven, where [as] carne seca is actually done outside in a wire cage,” said Flores.

From creating meals with hundreds of pounds of meat per day to freshly-made salads, Flores says that every dish is handcrafted with heritage in mind. Heritage is especially a factor when preparing the ancient tamale, which is done in their very own tamale factory.

“We make a four-ounce tamale and eight-ounce tamales for the bigger appetite,” said Flores. “Tamales have a history to them that link heritage and family dynamics. Each one is a little bit different. Each one has its own little taste and it has a culture to it that’s known too. My mom makes the best, and there is absolutely no doubt that it’s an art that’s passed on within families.”

When it comes to tamales, in Flores culture, caring is sharing.

“If I go to your house, you give me some of yours. And if you come to my house, I give you some of mine. And then we all sit around the table and say whose was best,” said Flores.

Flores talked about the various ways to make a tamale and how her mother is the ultimate tamale-maker.

“Some have jalapenos and some have olives. Some have raisins. Some have potatoes. But bottom line, at the end of the day, my mom makes them best,” she said. “I’m gonna put the meat in it, and these you can put meat. You can put green chile. You can put beans, and whatever you want.”

Speaking of chile, our next flavorful find took us towards New Mexico to Safford, Arizona for San Simon green chile. It is used in several southwestern fares.

“I eat chile for everything. They told me that’s why I’m healthy!” said chef Carmen Escobedo of La Paloma restaurant while dicing and slicing hot pepper to make meat empanadas, a staple in Latin American cuisine that dates back to the 1500s. “I’m ready to go!”

And so were we as we sat down for an Arizona Highways style taste-test. It was “delicioso!”