Friday, April 22, 2022

El Charro Cafe and Fire Station 1

Corona de Tucson

April 21, 2022

El Charro Cafe, established in 1922, is the longest-running family-owned and operated Mexican restaurant in the United States.  We have heard and read about this iconic Tucson restaurant and last Tuesday, we joined Randy and his son Mike for lunch there.

The yummy variety of food offerings is the culinary creation of Monica Flin.  It was a slow start for Monica.  In the beginning, when a customer arrived and ordered, she would dash out the back door of the one room restaurant and cajole the neighboring Chinese grocer into giving her the ingredients she needed.  Then she would rush back to her kitchen, prepare the meal, serve it and collect the customer's money and return to the grocer to pay her bill.  Somehow, she managed to make a profit and the rest is history.  

Today, El Charro...translated Mexican Cowboy (typically one wearing an elaborate outfit with silver decorations, tight fitting trousers, ruffled shirt, short jacket, and sombrero) located in the family home Monica inherited from her parents in 1968. The home is in the Presidio District and has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.  Another bit of history mentions that Monica's parents moved here from France when her father, a famous stone mason, was commissioned to build the St. Augustine Cathedral around 1776.  He also built their home/the restaurant using black basalt rock quarried from the base of "A" mountain.  

A lot of the tables, curios, calendars, and murals and pictures of saints are from the original El Charro restaurant.   

Today, Monica's great niece, Flores  is the owner and chef of El Charro.  It is note worthy to mention that El Charro is the birthplace of the Chimichanga and El Charro's Carne Seca is still made by slicing thin strips of lean beef which is placed into a special drying cage and hoisted above the roof of the restaurant to dry by the hot Arizona sun for several days.  

As I mentioned, Randy's son Mike joined us for lunch.  Mike is an assistant Chief at Fire Station 1 located not far from El Charro in downtown Tucson.  Mike offered to give us a tour and we jumped at the chance.  Tucson's Fire Department  has a long history beginning in 1880 with a volunteer department that serviced 2 square miles.  

Today, there are 22 fire stations in Tucson serving 231 square miles.    

Outside, Mike points out that in 1934 firemen were called to put out a fire at the Congress Hotel.  Firemen recognized the faces of John Dillinger and Gang which led to their arrest.  And inside, Mike tells us about the fire engine used in that fire...a 1923 American LaFrance pumper.

It is a beauty...

The 1923 pumper remained in front-line service until 1949.  

A crew of retired firefighters completely disassembled and restored all of these fire engines from top to bottom in an effort to preserve the history of the department.  These restored vehicles are frequently seen in and around Tucson in parades and at special events.  The group meets every Tuesday from 9:00 am to noon year-round. They say, "It is not a job, but a privilege to come down and work on them."

This is a 1928 Arenas-Fox Piston Pumper purchased by the City of Tucson in 1927 for $13,000.  It operated as a front line pumper for many years before being placed in Reserve status.   

 The 1910 Horse-drawn Nott Steam Fire Engine really caught my eye.   It was Tucson's first steam engine and served Tucson from 1910-1917.  


All throughout the station there are displays of days gone by.

A call log book from 1924

A safety net or jumping sheet used when someone had to jump out of a tall burning building

Mike shows us the air-purifying respirator he first used 31 years ago

There are 16 firefighters on call at Fire Station 1 at all times. 

We can't say enough about what a great day it was.  Nor can we thank Mike enough for giving us his time and energy to share his knowledge and take us on a tour of Tucson's Fire Station 1.   A huge thank you to Mike !

This fire engine with sirens blaring pulled out of the station as we arrived.

And a huge thank you to Mike and all the other first responders who risk their lives to keep us safe. 


  1. Wow! What a great tour you had of the fire station--those old rigs are treasures! And, you went to a restaurant where Mike and I have actually eaten. I think we went there for an anniversary lunch one time--need to go back! Is the wind howling in Tucson?? Out here it's absolutely insane, the dust is so thick, not fit for man nor beast!

    1. We felt quite special to have Mike as a guide at the Fire Station Janna…the old rigs are treasures…so shiny and proud! El Charro was a real treat and I do love the history about how it started…
      YES, it is windy…gusts to 35 miles. Thank goodness where we live the dust is not so bad, but we can’t see the Rincons today!

  2. I had to look up El Charro, I'm such a Mexican foodie fan! Looks like a great place for lunch, had my mouth watering.
    Bet Joe's had his mouth watering as he viewed those fantastic machines in fabulous condition at Fire House #1. So nice to have a personal tour.

    1. There are a few really good Mexican restaurants here. Their history is fun to read about as well. Mi Nidito is another one I hope to visit soon. Joe was all about the vintage fire engines. I enjoyed watching him leaning in to check out all the mechanics.

  3. What an awesome tour! Could you imagine being the one responsible for washing and polishing? That would be a full-time job in itself!

    1. We totally agree! I should have asked about that…I am guessing the retired firefighter volunteers do it all as the on call fire fighters have several bays of fire engines and trucks they are responsible for everyday.

  4. We must definitely find our way to El Charro when we return! Thanks for sharing your personal tour of the fire station. Those rigs are so beautiful, showing off the clear devotion of their caretakers! Sounds like a most perfect day.

    1. It was a nice day Jodee. If you decide to find your way to El Charro, give us a shout.

  5. We've eaten at El Charro several times and never had a bad meal. I had no idea about the history. Thanks for sharing. Wow! What a fantastic tour of the firehouse. Those old trucks are beautiful. Lucky you two!

    1. We are looking forward to future meals at El Charro as well Pam. Thoroughly enjoyed our tour with Mike…the vintage fire engines are well taken care of.