Found a place to stay in Tucson in an old downtown neighborhood near the University of Arizona. Within walking distance are dozens of ethnic restaurants cheap enough for college students. And me.
My favorite haunt is a little Guatemalan place called Maya Catzal, run by a nice family that escaped persecution by a repressive regime in the 1980s. I have driven to Maya Catzal for years. Now, I can walk.
Friendly faces, warm chips, fresh salsa and hearty beans and rice are a constant at Maya Catzal, but the rest of the menu is varied.
My favorite is chili rostitadoes, a baked chili pepper stuffed with potatoes, nuts and cheese, deep-fried in an egg batter and covered in green gravy.
But if you want meat, the rich mole sauce, made from chocolate and ground nuts, provides a gravy for chicken, pork or beef like you've never tasted before.
Thai food is always a sensual delight. The combination of fresh exotic vegetables, sweet coconut milk, hot peppers and roasted herbs makes for a taste unlike anything else Asian.
The service in Thai restaurants always seems to be prompt, unrushed and sweet. Thai people have a gift for calm.
The Vietnamese throw everything in their soup. Last night, we had a soup that contained shrimp, crab, beef and squid. Throw in fresh been sprouts for crunch, fresh basil and cilantro for flavor and you have a healthful treat.
Get hooked on sushi and every now and then you'll just have to have it. Yes, it is raw fish. Yes, it might be dangerous. No, I have never gotten sick.
The best bet when you walk in the door is not to try to figure out the 450 items on the menu. Just tell the chef to fix you up something good. They hate to disappoint. And they often throw in something free.
Tried an Afghan place the other night. We sat on cushions on the floor. Afghan food is sort of halfway between Indian and Mediterranean, as you might expect. Lots of sour cream, lamb, beans, lentils and potatoes. Hearty stuff, baked until it is mush.
Indian buffet lunches are an incredible value. The Gandhi Cuisine restaurant charges about $5 for access to a spread of rich Indian dishes that changes every day.
No cuisine is healthier than Indian, and none is better tasting. If I had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, Indian would be it. The sauces -- cold and hot, sweet and sour, fermented and fresh -- provide endless variety.
Every culture has its lefse. Mexicans have tortillas, the French have crepes, the Greeks have pita bread and the Indians have naan fried bread, which you use to sop up every last drop of the good Indian sauces.
Greek foods are getting more popular. Pita sandwiches are healthy and well known. But if you get into a real old-time Greek place, you can order a shank of lamb covered in a stew that will make you feel warm and cozy.
Greek salads with feta cheese -- a crumbly, salty, curdled cheese made from goat's milk -- are the best way in the world to get your raw vegetables. Greek salads are so popular that they now show up in American restaurants. Imagine that.
If you're in Tucson, you can't forget the many strains of Mexican food.
There is New Mexican food, which features sopapillas, a deep fried bread you dip in honey, with the meal.
There is Mexico City food, which features all fresh ingredients and lots of fish.
There is the traditional local fare that, in Tucson, means fresh salsas loaded with cilantro, an herb you either like or hate. I love it, but some people think it tastes like soap.
I haven't had a burger in a month, but my need for a good old-fashioned pancake never dies.
For that need, we found Bobo's, a breakfast joint on Grant Road.
After a healthy wait outside the front door, a woman who introduced herself as Grandma came out to fetch our party.
The coffee was of Minnesota strength and served in porcelain cups. The pancake draped over the edge of the already over-sized plate.
In a touch you wouldn't find back in Minnesota, the big fat grease-covered cook turned around from his grill and led the entire restaurant in a rowdy version of "Old McDonald Had a Farm."
It felt like home.