In 2015, Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. The designation recognizes the city’s culinary history — one that’s rooted in Hispanic and Indigenous cuisines that date back more than 4,000 years. And it’s a legacy that Tyler Fenton, chef and owner of BATA, is working to honor by offering a menu that emphasizes local and regional ingredients.
“Given how we source our food for the menu, we draw huge inspiration from Tucson and the desert,” says Fenton, who’s also the proprietor of Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink. “We like to use heritage ingredients whenever possible, like tepary beans and white Sonoran wheat — ingredients that are native to our region and have been growing here for a really long time. They connect us to our sense of place.”
A frequently changing menu means there are no favorite-dish guarantees if you’re a regular customer. But in dining at BATA (named for robata, a Japanese style of grilling), everyone is assured of a culinary adventure.
Sample dishes include: grilled pork chorizo verde skewers with cilantro and pickled chiles; chile-butter-poached black cod with Arizona grains and a tomato-chile relish; and dry-aged beef tartare with buttermilk, purple barley miso and a white Sonoran wheat tortilla.
“Everything on the menu is somehow touched by fire,” Fenton says. “Some dishes have been touched in very obvious ways, like grilling. Some have been touched in subtle ways, like being dusted with a powder of something that’s been dried over the fire.”
There are multiple ways to experience BATA, too. The main dining room, part of a massive former warehouse that dates to the 1930s, offers a seamless dining experience, with servers guiding each guest through the menu. That’s the experience Fenton recommends for parties of two to six. Singles or pairs might also enjoy sitting at the bar, which offers BATA’s full menu, along with an ever-evolving cocktail menu. For more cocktails and a dreamy wine list, Barbata, downstairs, is a great place to wait for a table.
Finally, “for guests who want a truly immersive experience, we offer a prix fixe tasting menu at our ‘kitchen counter,’ ” Fenton says. “You’re served by the cooks who prepare the meal. Guests are able to hear the origin of the sourced ingredients and the thought process behind each dish.”
It’s a front-row dining experience that’s one of a kind — just like everything else at BATA.
35 E. Toole Avenue