When chef Wendy Garcia was a girl growing up in a small Mexican town, she followed her father around the family kitchen.
“I grew up in a family of farmers and big eaters,” Garcia says. “My dad loved to cook and eat big meals. I’m the oldest, so I was with my dad in the kitchen all the time. We had a little farm at the house. He would plant vegetables, and I would help take care of them. I was his helper for machaca from scratch in the morning for breakfast, enchiladas for lunch, carne asada for dinner. We were always in the kitchen, cooking and eating and prepping.”
Garcia moved to Tucson at age 17 and began working in kitchens as a dishwasher before working her way up to sous chef. But she burned out, quit other people’s kitchens and began making butternut squash tamales from scratch. She sold them at farmers markets before returning to what she knew best: the recipes she’d learned as a girl.
“I started to cook what I knew by heart from home,” Garcia says. “Cooking is home for me. I really enjoy losing myself and forgetting about everything when I’m cooking.”
That passion led her to launch Tumerico in its Sixth Street location in 2014 and add a second location, at Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue, in 2019. The vegetarian and vegan menu changes daily, based on the season and the availability of local produce. But there’s one constant: tamales.
“I believe that simple, fresh, local ingredients are important to create a good, nourishing, tasty meal,” Garcia says. “What’s a better meal than nopalitos harvested from the backyard and fresh chiles from a local farmers market for a salsa, or a good soup made of local tepary beans? I just love getting local ingredients and creating a meal that will make someone’s day, physically and mentally. Tucson has many wonderful ingredients to cook with. Tamales are definitely a favorite for all of my lovely customers.” Other favorites include nopalitos with mole, tacos, mesquite and prickly pear lattes, and turmeric lemonade.
The innovative menu, as well as Garcia’s passion for food and community, recently garnered the attention of the James Beard Foundation. The prestigious culinary organization nominated Garcia as one of the best chefs in the Southwest, making her one of 12 chefs and restaurants from Arizona to be nominated in 2023.
“I’m honored to be on the nomination list,” Garcia says. “My team has worked really hard to bring great meals to our awesome customers. We are excited to keep cooking for the community. I’m grateful and humble that I can be of service.”
2526 E. Sixth Street and 402 E. Fourth Street