The Restaurant That Has An Honorary Underwater Location

El Charro Café is an institution in Tucson, Arizona, a city with an impressive culinary pedigree. It is the oldest continuously-operating Mexican restaurant in the entire United States run by the same family, and very probably the place where chimichangas were invented. The restaurant's current owner, Carlotta Flores, is a busy woman: She made appearances on "Top Chef" and "Taste of the Border" this year in addition to a schedule already packed with hundredth-anniversary celebrations (per Biz Tucson). 

In addition to being considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country, El Charro has quite a history: Jules Flin came to Arizona to work as a stonemason on the cathedral of St. Augustin in Tucson, as reported by Atlas Obscura and El Charro. But he hadn't come to Tucson from Mexico; he was a Frenchman whose wife was half French and half Mexican, and the restaurant doesn't reflect the Flins' own home cooking: The idea for a restaurant was first cooked up by their daughter Monica, who had visited Mexico during a brief marriage and became enamored of the foods and flavors she found there. Monica had a great zeal for life and food and was herself quite a character. Biz Tucson claims that she "'smoked up a storm,' hunted, and drank martinis from a teapot while playing cards with her friends during Prohibition."

El Charro under the sea

Monica Flin persevered in her enthusiasm for her restaurant through challenging economic times, relocating El Charro to her family's home when circumstances required it, as Arizona Foothills Magazine details. The current decor includes the ceilings of black basalt rock that Monica's father quarried himself, as well as a host of original tables, chairs, saints' images, and more that were part of the original site.

The restaurant has endeared itself to generations of Tucsonans through a combination of tradition, innovation, and great food. They are best known for the jerky-like meat known as carne seca, which they prepare lovingly in a multi-step process that culminates with the pieces of meat drying in a cage outside under the Arizona sun (per Atlas Obscura). Under Carlotta Flores' guidance, El Charro has also tweaked recipes to be made without lard (originally to accommodate her dad's health concerns) and, increasingly, without red meat (via Biz Tucson).

The restaurant has even won a special place in the heart of a very unusual spot: under the sea — 400 hundred feet under, actually. While the restaurant's cooking is enjoyed above ground, the memory of that food is enshrined by the USS Tucson, a submarine that lovingly named its galley in honor of the renowned eatery. Though the food on the USS Tucson is a far cry from El Charro's fine fare, using primarily canned and frozen foods (per El Charro), at least its sailors can dream of what awaits them ashore.