top of page
Jackie Alpers


By Stacey Gregory

Thirty years ago, aspiring photographer Jackie Alpers found her way to Tucson after graduating with a photography degree from an art college in Columbus, Ohio. Her first job was teaching an after-school art program, which didn’t entirely pay the bills, so she got a job at El Charro Café as a busser and bartender. Eventually, she earned her way to server, and under the tutelage of Carlotta Flores and her family, she learned how to present food not only to guests but also to the camera lens. Flores also taught her about food and the history of food that implanted in Alpers a deep love of Sonoran cuisine.

She made her way to Swanstock, a stock photography company, as a photo editor responsible for sourcing photographs for book publishers and advertising agencies that honed her skills as a photographer. Eventually, she became a freelance photographer and food writer, leading to a recipe blog (at her husband’s encouragement), Jackie’s Happy Plate, showcasing her culinary adventures as a Midwesterner transplanted to the Sonoran Desert.

This led to her authoring two cookbooks; Taste of Tucson:Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona and Sprinkles!:Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicous Desserts, plus a monthly column with Food Network.

Taste of Tucson is an official selection of UNESCO’s Tucson City of Gastronomy and a RUSA and Eating the West Award winner. Not to mention Alpers is a 2022 Taste Award winner for food photography, a 2022 gold Muse Photography Award winner in the food photography category, and she has multiple awards from American Photography, The Lucie Awards, the International Photography Awards, The Color Awards, and the ADDY’s. All of her success continues to stoke her passion for food and Tucson. Lucky for us, she’s sharing her favorite places to go in her own words.

Miles of Mexican Food
El Charro Cafe
Eat a Cactus!
Jackie’s Secret Insider Tips

And I’m not just talking about the amazing starry skies above. See the “meat cage” at El Charro Café downtown, where thinly sliced beef is dried by the heat of the Tucson sun in a screened cage hoisted 40 feet in the air above the restaurant. The results are carne seca, and it’s not to be missed.


Prickly pear, barrel cactus, cholla, and even saguaros produce edible fruit, buds, and/or pads. And don’t stop there! The desert is chock-full of edible delights that you’ll find on restaurant menus throughout Tucson. Look for dishes featuring mesquite, chiltepín, creosote, hackberries, chia, and amaranth, which grow wild. Learn more at


Tucson has hundreds of amazing restaurants to explore, including some on the now-famous 23 Miles of Mexican Food. Some of my favorites, like El Torero and Aqui Con El Nene, may be a bit challenging for visitors to find. Luckily, has a comprehensive list.

bottom of page