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  • Pima County proving to be a Foodie’s Paradise

    By Diane Frisch, Director, Attractions and Tourism

    In December 2015, Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy designated in the United States, joining
    Diane Frischthe UNESCO Creative Cities Network. The Tucson City of Gastronomy (TCoG) is a non-profit organization with a mission of “growing a sustainable desert community by supporting our creative food cultures.” This designation along with the support and promotional efforts of the TCoG Board of Directors, Visit Tucson, Pima County and the City of Tucson have helped bring awareness to the food heritage of our region and showcase the local food scene on a global stage. 

    According to Visit Tucson, the designation contributed significantly to the increase in media coverage of Tucson as a destination, from $5.5 million annually prior to the designation to more than $30 million in 2018. Their reports also show a 30% growth in lodging occupancy and a 10% increase in tourist spending over the past three years. TCoG has worked with other creative cities on chef exchanges to send local, award-winning chefs to represent Tucson around the world, developing training for future chefs to represent the region and a restaurant certification program to brand local restaurants within the City of Gastronomy.

    Sonoran Restaurant Week

    These activities, in conjunction with Visit Tucson’s promotional efforts, have not only resulted in increased media exposure for Tucson, but also generated $694 million in visitor spending at Pima County restaurants last year. That’s an increase of over $84 million in the food and beverage industry, equating to 2,100 new jobs in local restaurants. Since the designation, our region is host to 28 new annual culinary festivals with 16 new ones added in 2018 alone.

    One such culinary celebration was the reintroduction of an organized local restaurant week sponsored by Visit Tucson and other local partners. Sonoran Restaurant Week, which began Sept. 6 and continues through the 15th, involves over 30 local restaurants each offering three course, $25 or $35 price-fixed menus. The week also featured a Tucson Taco Tour for a more casual gastronomic experience, capitalizing on the fact that we have 12 times the number of locally-owned food trucks and carts per capita than New York City. Festivities of Sonoran Mexican foodRestaurant Week have benefited the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, with restaurants donating gift cards to participate. Those gift cards will be offered as prizes to those who donate to the Food Bank during the month of September. 

    Although the official restaurant week may be drawing to a close, many local restaurants and food trucks will continue to serve residents and visitors delicious dishes representing the various food cultures in our community. Even some of our Pima County attractions, including the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson and Pima Air & Space Museum have food establishments on property offering local cuisine. Take advantage of their resident admission discounts and check them out.  

    Tucson ‘Eat’ Yourself 

    Speaking of food cultures, the fall event season is right around the corner as is the community-wide, free, folklife festival known as Tucson Meet Yourself. This festival celebrates the traditions, culture and diversity of the desert borderlands—and there’s no shortage of food to enjoy.

    Tucson Meet Yourself takes place in downtown Tucson Oct. 11-13, starting at 11 a.m. each day. Pima County will have a presence inside the Joel D. Valdez Main Library and an activity Pavilion just outside the Library featuring: 
    • The Loop Store selling bicycle jerseys, running shirts, Loop t-shirts, hats and sunscreen
    • Selfie station and photo booth
    • Health screenings
    • Pet adoptions with Pima Animal Care Center
    • Wildlife, trail maps and recreation information with Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation
    • Games with Kino Sports Complex 
    • Arts and crafts inside the Children’s Library
    • History of the Living River with the Regional Flood Control District
    • Road repair and safety with the Department of Transportation
    • Pure Water Challenge with Regional Wastewater Reclamation
    New this year, the Pima County Activity Pavilion also will highlight the hidden talents of some of Pima County staff in a Pima County’s Got Talent! segment on our activity stage on Saturday afternoon. Please stop by to enjoy the variety of talents and interact with representatives from our County departments at the Joel D. Valdez Library during the festival each day until 5 p.m. We can’t wait to meet you!
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