Has the Tucson cheese crisp even crossed the state line? Seems like it would be a natural for any of our innumerable Mexi-Cal restaurants and cocktail cantinas, but I’ve yet to see this simple, irresistible starter anywhere.
Except my own kitchen, that is. A crisped flour tortilla, the bigger in diameter the better, with cheddar cheese melted on top, a cheese crisp is the perfect, ready-in-a-flash drinks accompaniment or quick bite—especially since I always have a block of Tillamook cheddar and flour tortillas in my refrigerator.
But don’t take it from me—listen to Tucson native son Don Myers, owner of Brunos Italian Kitchen and Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea. Not only born and raised in Tucson, Myers also attended the University of Arizona there, lettering in varsity gymnastics all four years.
A restaurant guy down to the ground, Myers started working at Casa Molina, a Tucson institution founded in 1947, as a teenager in the 1970s and continued through college, doing everything from washing dishes, bussing and waiting tables, to tending bar and cooking. He went on to a career with El Torito before opening his own restaurants. When in Tucson, he still dines at Casa Molina—“same menu, same owner, and there’s a waiter working there, Rogelio, who worked with me 44 years ago,” Myers says. He remembers prepping tall towers of tortilla bases for cheese crisps, to be topped and oven-blasted to order.
Myers says mild Anaheim-type chile is a traditional addition to the cheese, as is sliced tomato and white onion. He describes another popular topping, an only-in-Tucson version of the dried beef called carne seca, which is salted and dried outdoors in screened boxes to a jerky-like consistency. “It’s then shredded and simmered with tomatoes, chiles, onions, salt, and pepper,” Myers says, adding, “It’s unbelievably delicious.” I bet. Lacking my own carne seca I’ve been content with chiles, most recently strips of roasted Hatch.
Want to make a cheese crisp of your own? (I highly recommend.) “Easiest thing in the world,” Don Myers says—his method follows.
Don Myers’ Tucson Cheese Crisp
Large, thin flour tortillas
Grated cheddar cheese
Roasted chiles, sliced tomato, sliced white onion
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brush both sides of tortilla with melted butter, place on parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake until crisp and golden brown, about 6 minutes. (Prep several; can be held and topped a la minute to serve.) Top generously with cheddar cheese and toppings of choice and return to oven until cheese is bubbling. Cut into wedges to serve.