By Zac Baker
Living in the middle of a desert requires certain adaptations to survive and be comfortable: frozen yogurt and ice cream shops, public pools and air conditioned buildings to name just a few.
One of Tucson’s most famous places to beat the heat is Eegee’s, a fast-food restaurant with a special shaved ice-like item (also named eegee’s) available in a few standard flavors and one specialty flavor that changes each month. Even though temperatures are finally lowering to more tolerable levels, the exclusive October flavor is worth the trip.
Eegee’s began in 1971 when two Tucsonans started selling lemon-flavored drinks out of a truck. Strawberry and piña colada flavored eegee’s and sandwiches were added to the menu, and since then the whole thing has transformed into a restaurant chain with 23 Tucson locations and a very strong following in the community.
It is hard to explain just what an eegee’s is really like. It’s cold and icy, but it’s much smoother and fruitier than a traditional shaved ice. The drinks are seen after little league games on weekends, UA students grab some and add alcohol and Mormons take eegee’s to their parties and add Sprite. Everyone makes it their own.
The sandwiches are good and the French fries are excellent, but the real winner is always the drink. Many people stick to lemon, strawberry and piña colada, the flavors that carry over each month, but a few of the flavors-of-the-month have earned a tremendous following—Lucky Lime in the spring and Mango Tango, watermelon and orange throughout the summer months. Black raspberry is not known as a smash hit eegee’s, but it has won me over.
On first bite, I did not think that it was anything to get excited about. I typically devour my favorite flavors because they are so good that pacing myself is impossible. But each bite got better and better, and the subtle sour element that lingers underneath became more apparent. It complemented the warm, salty French fries just right, and what I thought was a dull choice at the start became the perfect addition to my meal.
It dawned on me that the really popular flavors are like top 40 hits on the radio that everyone hears all the time, but that black raspberry is like your favorite album that no one has heard of. It is not consumed in a vulgar way, but appreciated slowly and personally. Like a wine paired to the right dish, black raspberry was the final piece that brought everything together while I ate my club sandwich and French fries.
The best part about the whole experience was that I was almost alone in the restaurant during dinner hours. There was just one other customer eating while I was there. Eegee’s is constantly busy at lunch on any given day regardless of the location you go to, but my evening visit was calm and quick, the cashier was kind, and the whole place was very clean. It made for an extremely nice way to try new things and savor and appreciate them.
The bright yellow, green and orange restaurants are staffed by a lot of high school students and young adults, and each location looks and feels the same throughout town. There is an air of homegrown entrepreneurship about Eegee’s—it is less polished and sophisticated than other fast food chains and restaurants. But the dedication to making a great drink and absolute lack of pretense are the best characteristics of the establishment. It succeeds just as it is.
Eegee’s locations are spread throughout all of Tucson and Oro Valley, and one location in Casa Grande. Hours typically range from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but vary slightly by location. Prices run similar to a combo meal at other fast food restaurants—expect to pay between $7 and $9 per person. The easy accessibility of many locations and the comparable price make it a no-brainer when compared to the other fast food options out there. Make sure to try the black raspberry while you are at it. ♦