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Sue’s Fish Still Thriving Amid the Burritos

Sue's Fish and Chips on 2500 S. Fourth Ave. stands tall, serving customers for 62 years amidst the surrounding Mexican restaurants. (Photographed by Ashley Powell)

Sue’s Fish and Chips on 2500 S. Fourth Ave. stands tall, serving customers for 62 years amidst the surrounding Mexican restaurants. (Photographed by Ashley Powell)

Surrounded by restaurants serving gorditas and burritos in South Tucson’s Fourth Avenue is Sue’s Fish and Chips, a hidden gem that has been serving customers for 62 years.

Sue’s thrives due to the word-of-mouth of regular customers, says current owner Darrell Rubink. Among those faithful regulars is Lyle Sedlacek, who first dined at Sue’s in 1958.

“I just loved it,” Sedlacek says. “I still love it.”

He recalls when a big order of fish and chips was 85 cents and a small order was 65 cents. Now, those items run for about $5 and $7. But Sedlacek and his wife still make the drive from their Oro Valley home to indulge in the crisp, crunchy fish and perfectly fried chips.

If you go

Sue’s Fish and Chips

2500 S. Fourth Ave., Tucson 622-5711

Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

The sound of oil bubbling in the fryers and aroma of fish permeates the air.  The restaurant draws customers in with its bright teal, yellow and orange exterior walls, which are covered with paintings of a shrimp wearing a cowboy hat, an oyster protecting its pearl and a fish holding a fish sandwich. At noon on a Friday, every booth in the small business is filled.

Rubink says Sue’s originated in a trailer on the corner of Fourth Avenue and 35th Street. It was 1952 and Sue’s was the first fast food restaurant in the area. It wasn’t until the following year that their main competitor, Lucky Wishbone, opened.

About a year later, Sue built the first building on the property that allowed customers to park and walk up to a small window and order. Within six years, Sue’s Fish and Chips opened as a small restaurant with six booths and a full menu, the same way it stands today.

Rubink bought the business from Sue’s son-in-law, Bill, 17 years ago when Bill wanted to retire. Rubink says Sue was so particular that she used to make all of the food herself. She would hire employees to help in other areas of the business, but she wanted to be sure the food was done right every time.

Frances Montano, one of Sues' employees, serves up an order of their famous fish and chips during the restaurant's busy lunch hour. (Photographed by Ashley Powell)

Frances Montano, one of Sues’ employees, serves up an order of their famous fish and chips during the restaurant’s busy lunch hour. (Photographed by Ashley Powell)

Employees now cook Sue’s famous fish and chips but there is still attention to detail. Instead of breading the fresh fish and dropping it directly into the fryer, the employees use a special batter with the breading beforehand. Sue’s also gives customers their special homemade spicy dipping sauce with a fish and chips order.

This restaurant, like many other businesses in the area, benefit from large events like the Tucson Rodeo and the the Gem and Mineral Show — those customers help keep their doors open. However, Sue’s has a uniquely busy time of year that may not bring in a similar flow of customers for other area restaurants.

Lent, a 40-day observance for many Catholics, begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 5 this year  and ends on April 17, or Good Friday. During this time, many people fast or give up luxuries as a form of repentance. One of those luxuries may be meat.

Rubink says that his business sees a lot of traffic during this time. Some 60 percent of South Tucson residents are Catholic, according to City-data.com. Sue’s customers reflect this same demographic.

“They come out of the woodwork,” Rubink says. “I will triple my volume during Lent… It’s like the circus is in town.”

Surrounding Mexican restaurants doesn’t pose a threat to Sue’s business, but instead helps it to stand out. Rubink explained that in places like Puerto Penasco, Mexico, it’s not only traditional Mexican food that’s popular, but also fried fish, shrimp and seafood.

“If you’re familiar with going to Mexico you’ll see smaller fish places and that’s the idea that they (Sue and her son-in-law) had,” Rubink says.

While Sue’s remains a small business based solely in South Tucson, Rubink’s biggest challenge is providing customers with a good product at a good price: something Sue was very particular about.