Natural Wonders of Arizona: Day One

Our flights arrived in Phoenix around noon and then we had to head over to the rental car center to pick up our rental car. Two things to note there. One, you have to ride a shuttle bus to the rental car center and the ride over was maybe just under 10 minutes. Two, the rental car center is pretty big. After checking in at the counter, you head into the garage to pick up your car. Make note of which escalator or elevator to take because they’re marked and go to a specific floor for specific car rental companies.

After we left the airport we decided to head over to the H Mart in Mesa which is a Korean grocery store. The reason we chose to go here is because H Marts typically also have a food court so we could kill two birds with one stone. First we ate in the food court, ordering from two different restaurant vendors and then we shopped for snacks and drinks for the trip. The food court had quite a few options including a fried chicken place, a tonkatsu place, a chinese-korean place, etc. We ordered a hot stone bibimbap, stir fried seafood noodles (that ended up quite burnt tasting) and fried shrimp covered in sauce.

After checking out and packing away our snacks and drinks, it was time to head down to Tucson where we would be spending the night. Driving to Tucson from Phoenix is pretty simple, it’s basically a straight shot down the I-10 freeway and is about 2 hours driving time. By the time we arrived in Tucson, we would be able to check-in to the hotel so we decided to head there first. My parents are IHG loyalists so we would be staying in the northern part of Tucson near Saguaro National Park – West at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Tucson North – Marana.

The hotel seemed to be recently remodeled or possibly still in the middle of it according to a notice in the elevator (though we did not see or hear any construction). The room was spacious and seemed newly redone. However, there was a lack of attention to detail. The closet had really old wired clothes hangers you rarely see anymore. The bathroom was missing a bath mat towel. The light switch seemed a bit sideways and other small things like that.

After getting settled in, we decided to drive around downtown Tucson a bit and then around the University of Arizona. Downtown Tucson was on the smaller side and did not seem super busy, maybe because it was the weekend. The University of Arizona was definitely busy thought, especially the restaurants and bars nearby. Our guess was there was maybe a basketball game that just finished since we saw a lot of people dressed for a game flooding out of the athletic stadium side of the campus. We only drove around the campus but it seemed pretty nice.

When we finished our little mini driving tour, we decided to pick up something for dinner and then head back to the hotel to eat. We ended up choosing to pick up food from The 81 Hong Kong Cafe.

The 81 Hong Kong Cafe

625 E Wetmore Road, Suite 109, Tucson, AZ 85705

I chose this restaurant because they also had a few Taiwanese items on the menu and since the actual country of Taiwan has been requiring quarantine even for citizens, my parents have not been back since right before the pandemic. There were not a lot of people eating in the restaurant but there seemed like there was a lot of to-go or delivery orders as they were constantly bringing orders up front to the pick-up area.

The menu had items from Mainland China, from Hong Kong and from Taiwan. They also had a plethora of tea drinks and smoothies. Much to my delight they had an Avocado Smash drink that was basically an avocado smoothie which I love. My mom decided to try it as well and really liked it too. If you like avocado, I highly recommend trying an avocado smoothie. I have tried making it at home but it never tastes as good. My guess is I do not add enough sweetener. We also ordered congee for my mom and minced pork rice. We originally ordered another item but they ran out. It worked out though because avocado smoothies are actually quite filling. We did not even finish the minced pork rice that night but had leftovers for breakfast the next morning. The minced pork was pretty good but I felt like the rice was just slightly undercooked.

After dinner, we pretty much just stayed in the hotel room. My parents flew from the East Coast so they were still on eastern standard time and went to sleep pretty early. Pretty much every day of this trip ended after dinner but started too early in the morning for my pacific standard time sensibilities. Also, if you are wondering, Phoenix and Tucson are on mountain standard time.

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