We first came upon The Little One when it was called Little Cafe Poca Cosa, many years ago. We had just discovered its big-sister restaurant, Cafe Poca Cosa, which was then located in a cheesy downtown hotel. Cafe Poca Cosa has since moved to very classy digs and has crystallized its status as a beacon of creative Mexican food. The Little One continues as it always was: a boisterous, colorful, party-time eatery. Luis Davila, who created it, has passed on; his daughter, Sandra Davila, maintains all the restaurant’s unique charms and has added her own – a warm hug for just about everyone who walks in the door, friend or newcomer.
Like her father, Sandra is a character whose personality infuses the whole dining experience. She is one of those restaurateurs who seems to be everywhere, up front and in the kitchen, all the time. Her enthusiasm for the food, the restaurant, and for life in general is contagious. When we stop in one day for lunch, she shows off a really nice belt she is wearing, made of javalina and including a scabbard for a knife she “uses all day, for everything.” Its handle, she notes, was made from a mesquite tree in her back yard.
The Little One is a breakfast and lunch place, and one of its specialties is juice – incredible juice, such as one amazing refresher extracted from beets, mandarin oranges, lemons, and limes. At breakfast you can dine on huevos rancheros, the eggs enveloped in vivid red chili sauce, the plate also holding rice, lettuce, and a brace of fruit: pineapple, strawberry, and watermelon. Or start the day with huevos Mexicanos, scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and chilies; or machaca con huevo, which mixes moist shreds of beef with bits of green chile in a veil of scrambled egg.
Vegetarians can eat very well here. We rarely can resist at least one order of the tamale de elote – a souffle-like swirl of corn meal, sweet corn, green chilies, and cheese steamed to comforting warmth inside a corn husk. Chile relleno is another meatless meal, served in a mild salsa ranchero redolent of tomatoes. Vegans with big appetites will want to know about the “Gigantic Vegan Tostada,” which is a spill of pinto beans and seasonal vegetables atop a broad fried corn tortilla. Salsa ranchero comes on the side.
Moles are sensational. A thick mix of bittersweet chocolate, red chilies, ground peanuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds becomes a lush, syrupy mole negro that is dazzling on a chicken breast, or as part of a platter of cheese-stuffed quesadillas.
The Little One is not just a place to eat. It is a significant presence in the community. A blackboard in the dining room lists the charities and good causes in Tucson and south of the border to which customers’ donations are given: an elementary school, an orphanage, a children’s breakfast program, a girl who needs an operation.