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Every Monday as we run Maynard’s, we stop outside a patio on south 6th Avenue where they serve us cold water with lemon. Usually the dining room is full of people laughing, eating and drinking. From the outside, the ambiance looks cool and hip, without being intimidating. Every Monday, as we gratefully take the water in hand, I think to myself, “I HAVE to eat here soon!” Finally, I managed to squeeze a dinner in at Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails.

Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails is headed by Chef Janos Wilder. Janos is a Tucson establishment (both the man and his restaurant of the same name), and has been since the early 1980’s, when he opened his first restaurant downtown. With a passion for local ingredients, Janos has used our desert beans, spices, flours and more to become a nationally recognized and award-winning chef.

The catch: If you want to eat top-notch–and top dollar–Janos fare, for years you’d have to go to the restaurant, Janos. I’ve still never managed to eat there, mainly due to the cost. Right next to that restaurant, also with an amazing view, is J-Bar, a more casual and cost effective alternative to the fancy schmancy place. My food experiences there have been a little inconsistent, and the drive in my central Tucsonan mind always brought up the thought, “Ugh. It’s so. Far. Away.” (For the record, it’s not really that far.)

But! Last year! Downtown Kitchen opened! And now we have a great, centrally-located Janos restaurant that features a creative bar menu and some scrumptious dishes. I happened to go on a Saturday night with a large group and we started at the bar. Downtown K&C has an extensive bar menu, featuring cocktails original and classic. I had the Old Man and the Sea ($9), a rum drink with grapefruit, lime and Maraschino liqueur. It was pretty tasty, and I was intrigued by the rest of the drinks on the menu.

Dinner time. The menu changes seasonally, and sometimes they have neat menus that originate in a certain country (I know last summer they did one that was all Argentinian or something). Not a lot of vegetarian options graced the menu, but the one that did was stellar: “Somen noodles with sweet & sour shiitakes, tossed with olive + sesame oils, basil, gai lan, zest, parsley + EVOO.” ($12) It was really flavorful and filling!

I also got to try the Marinated Pork Tenderloin With Rock Shrimp Etoufee, which was melt-in-your-mouth pork. I have issues with the other white meat most of the time, but this was tastay! Some other diners at our table were very happy with their Herb Potato Gnocchi with Braised Duck, too.

Overall, our service was good–they didn’t even hassle us about splitting the checks despite our enormous group size–and we all ate our fill. The atmosphere at Downtown K&C fit the mood of a classy Saturday night; music was good but not too loud, the space was well lit enough to read the menu but still dim enough not to require indoor sunglasses à la Corey Hart.

Not that it’s technically a downside, but the reality is that it’s a little more than I often pay for dinner. With a cocktail, pasta, tax and tip, my bill was around $28. But I got what I paid for: a nice setting, great food, a delicious (and strong) beverage, and good service. I definitely want to go back, if only to try the Cuban Sunset. 

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