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Best of 2023: The Best Desserts in Tucson

January 5, 2024

Normally, I combine Tucson with my overall 2023 year, but this year, I felt my hometown needed its own designated category for the Best Desserts in Tucson. From this list, you will find everything from fine dining to hole-in-the-wall establishments. You can also expect to see a variety of cuisines that range from contemporary, Italian, French, Hong Kong and more.

As far as sweetness levels go, I will say my personal preference leans more towards a well-balanced sweetness. I do not like anything that is overly sweet or over-the-top. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking those things, but just know you won’t find those type of desserts in this post.

And as a final disclaimer, not all of these desserts are available year-round. In each description, I will specify what is available and what you can generally expect. But, I hope it will inspire you to explore the other seasonal desserts a concept may have in a given moment.

Now without further delay, let’s jump into my favorite desserts that shined in Tucson! Below is my list for the Best of 2023: Desserts in Tucson.

BATA

Item: Green Tea Granita and Lime Sorbet
Availability: Seasonal Special

When it comes to desserts, BATA always wins my heart for some of the best desserts in Tucson. The desserts are elegant, innovative, and absolutely beautiful. For my birthday I was served a dessert trio that featured savory, decadent, sweet, tart, and refreshing elements. Of the three that I received as on my complimentary birthday plate, my favorite was the green tea granita with lime sorbet. The bay leaf ice cream and apricot emulsion was a close second.

I absolutely love granitas so this was a given for me, especially when you include green tea– another one of my favorite things. The particular aroma of green tea that they used had more of a bitter flavor, which complimented the citrus sorbet. The mezcal caviar added a subtle smokiness to it all, which took away some of the heat from the jalapeño. Below are the three outstanding desserts that I received:

  • Bay leaf ice cream, apricot emulsion, candied thyme + black pepper hazelnuts, tepary bean
  • Monsoon Chocolate cake, masa buttercream, roasted yeast garum caramel, rosé vinegar, dried fruits
  • Lime sorbet, green tea granita, mezcal caviar, jalapeño + tarragon oil, charred corn husk

While you can’t experience these specific desserts anymore, I still implore you to try whatever exciting, seasonal desserts that BATA has on their menu. If you’re unfamiliar with BATA, you can read about my BATA chef’s counter experience at on Tucson Foodie where I enjoyed a carte blanche menu with seven courses.

BATA | 520-367-4718 | 35 East Toole Avenue Tucson, AZ 85701

Bob’s Steak and Chop House

Item: Bob’s Classic Bread Pudding
Availability: Regular Menu

Located in the newly-renovated Omni Tucson National, Bob’s Steak and Chop House brings up a lot of memories. I remember Alex and I went there for his 21st birthday with his family, and today, we still enjoy frequenting the restaurant. But the dessert that never fails to impress is the Bob’s Classic Bread Pudding, which is served with an indulgent Grand Marnier Caramel sauce and luscious French Silk Vanilla Ice Cream. For this style of ice cream, egg yolks are used to create a rich texture. However, it’s best if enjoyed at the restaurant. If you’d like to get something to go, then I’d recommend a wedge of the carrot cake.

Bob’s Steak and Chop House | 520-877-2377 | 2727 W Club Dr, Tucson, AZ 85742

Cafe Francais

Item: Raspberry and Pistachio Crème Croissants
Availability: Seasonal Special

I have been wanting to try Cafe Francais for a while and finally had the chance to in December! When I found myself on the same side of town as the bakery after my half-marathon, I rushed over with my sister to pick up some desserts. What stood out to me the most was one of their seasonal pastries, the raspberry and pistachio crème croissant. While I initially thought it might be overly packed with sweetness, it was all actually quite balanced. The tartness and zing from the housemade raspberry jam complemented the pistachio crème, which the owner described as mix between a pistachio frangipane and a french buttercream.

As far as the croissant structure itself goes, it is a true labor of love. It takes this quaint bakery three days to execute their artisan croissants that include the following steps: making the dough, the lamination process, shaping, baking, and filling the croissant.

Tip: They have limited hours, so check their hours on their website for the most current schedule. As of right now, they are open Thursday thru Sunday, from 7:00am-1:00pm.

Cafe Francais | 520-326-1155 | 7831 E Wrightstown Rd ste. 113, Tucson, AZ 85715

Donut Wheel (Ina Rd.)

Item: Glazed Donut
Availability: Regular Menu

Growing up, my family only bought donuts from the Donut Wheel on Ina Rd. in Marana. It became my donut standard for quality and taste, and it’s still one of the best desserts in Tucson. The shop offers an assortment of croissants, donuts, and other pastries. As a kid, I always went for the decadent Boston cream, which is filled with a rich custard then topped with chocolate icing. But now, a simply glazed donut is all I need. The donut itself is pillowy and airy, while the glaze has the perfect level of sweetness. In case you needed another reason to come by, this shop has been ran and operated by the same hardworking family for more than 20 years!

Donut Wheel | 520-744-2811 | 4524 W Ina Rd, Tucson, AZ 85741

Mama Louisa’s Italian Restaurant

Item: Cannoli
Availability: Regular Menu

To-date, this has been my favorite cannoli that I’ve had in Tucson. But it shouldn’t be entirely surprising, given that Mama Louisa’s has been serving this cannoli to Tucson since Joe Elefante Sr. and his family bought the restaurant from Luigia (Louisa) Casadei in 1973! Three generations later the current owner and executive chef, Michael Elefante, continues to serve this same style cannoli.

After taking my first bite of the cannoli, there were two things I immediately noticed: the ricotta filling and the crunchy shell. I loved how it tasted like a dessert without being too sweet.

“Desserts are not meant to be overly sweet,” said Chef Michael. “It’s just meant to be a nice sweet kiss at the end of the meal”

When I inquired more on the cannoli recipe, Chef Michael informed me that this is a family Christmas-style cannoli that has been passed down from generation to generation. The soft and velvety ricotta he uses is sourced from Wisconsin. For the crunchy shell, it’s not overly sweet, and is made with a special cinnamon oil. As the final touch, semi sweet chocolate chips are folded into the ricotta filling, where everything is then pipped to-order.

Mama Louisa’s | 520-744-2811 | 2041 S Craycroft Rd, Tucson, AZ 85711

Maynards

Item: Beet Gelato and Yogurt
Availability: Seasonal Special

Located in the historic train depot, Maynards is always a dreamy and romantic option in Tucson. With high ceilings, the restaurant features windows that stretch across the wall that neighbors its own herb garden. And since the windows are located on the east end of the building, you will only experience a soft, natural light around dinner time. One of my all-time favorite desserts was a seasonal special that was served in March by the previous executive chef, Brian Smith.

The beet gelato and yogurt dessert was unique, and brought back memories of a beet dessert Alex and I had for a 2016 New Years Eve dinner we enjoyed in Paris. That meal was our first fine dining experience and is still one of my all-time favorites.

Beautifully plated, yogurt ice served as the base, where it then included beets three ways: powder, sorbet and purée. The purée was created with yuzu for a citrus touch. To add a crunch, it featured granola with pecans.

Maynards | 520-545-0577 | 400 N Toole Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705

Miss Dessert

Item: Vanilla Snow Fruit Frenzy
Availability: Regular Menu

If I lived closer, I would go to Miss Dessert on a weekly basis! Miss Dessert is a refreshing dessert spot that has a menu filled with Hong Kong desserts. I love how some menu items are as simple as the mochi mango, a mango wrapped with fresh mochi, while other creations include fruit and milk teas, crepes, and dessert bowls. What I love about the Vanilla Snow Fruit frenzy is that it consists of vanilla ice layers that are topped with basil seed, watermelon, mango and palm seed. The owner, Harry, branched out from Phoenix to Tucson since he recognized an opportunity to bring Hong Kong dessert bowls to the Old Pueblo. This is ideal for anyone looking to combine fresh fruit with a light dessert.

Miss Dessert | 1800 E Fort Lowell Rd #140, Tucson, AZ 85719

PY Steakhouse

Item: Butternut Squash Sticky Rice Pudding
Availability: Custom Menu

PY Steakhouse is my all-around favorite restaurant in Tucson, particularly because of the Chef’s ‘Trust Me’ menu. To date, I’ve experienced the eight-course menu once, and the five-course menu twice. But what I love the most about PY Steakhouse’s ‘Trust Me’ menu is that no two menus are ever the same. The culinary team works hard to create a custom menu that’s catered to your party’s preferences and dietary restrictions. On my most recent visit to PY Steakhouse, the dessert from this tasting menu was my absolute favorite that I’ve had from them: butternut squash sticky rice pudding.

Inspired by the popular South East Asian mango stick rice, Executive Chef Ryan Clark used an abundant amount of coconut milk to create a glutinous texture that bounded the rice together. Then rather than using the sweet and tangy mango, the culinary team took a savory approach.

At the dinner, Executive Sous Chef Roderick LeDesma shared the team choose butternut squash from Pivot Produce for a seasonal and savory approach. Using the sous vide culinary technique, the team combined butternut squash, honey, and spiced brown butter, to create a tender texture and aromatic flavor. From the spices, they incorporated juniper, cinnamon, clove, star anise and a hint of vanilla. This same spiced butter was served as the finishing touch, along with toasted pepitas.

If you’d like to learn more about the Chef’s ‘Trust Me’ menu at PY Steakhouse, check out my Best of 2022: Tasting Menu post.

PY Steakhouse | 520-367-4718 | 5655 W Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85757

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano

Item: Affogato
Availability: Regular Menu

Tavolino is a restaurant that I started frequenting in 2018 for their happy hour. After many margherita pizzas later, Alex and I still find ourselves coming back to this Foothills restaurant. While it’s more on the simple side, I adore their affogato.

What makes their affogatos stand out to me is the quality of the ingredients. To start, you have an espresso with a beautiful extraction time that results in a rich crema. When an espresso doesn’t have the right extraction time, it can either be too bitter or too watered down, but you don’t have to worry about that at Tavolino’s. Combine this with various housemade components: vanilla gelato, whipped cream, and a delicate, yet crunchy, wafer.

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano | 520-531-1913 | 2890 E Skyline Dr, Tucson, AZ 85718

Wildflower

Item: Banoffee Trifle
Availability: Regular Menu

My love for Wildflower started over 20 years ago when my father took me out to dinner prior to a father-daughter dance at my elementary school. I specifically remember that was the first time I tried crème brûlée. Since that first crack of my spoon against the caramelized shell, I’ve been a fan of Wildflower’s desserts.

The desserts at Wildflower are best shared, unless of course, you enjoy things on the sweeter side. One of my favorite recent desserts from the restaurant has been the banoffee trifle. It features a luscious and rich dulce de leche mousse, a layer of dulce de leche with sliced bananas, vanilla crema, and graham cracker crumbles.

Wildflower | 520-219-4230 | 7037 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85704

If you enjoyed reading my about what I considered the ‘Best Desserts’ in Tucson from 2023, then let’s connect. For more food and travel content, please feel free to follow me @HappilyPinkBlog on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok!

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