When it comes to the finest cinnamon rolls in Tucson, where should we go? Our journey for the top cinnamon rolls in Tucson took us on a two-day excursion to three of the most highly regarded bakeries.
If “comfort” had a scent, it would undoubtedly be the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Warm, pillowy soft, and gooey; the checklist for the perfect roll seems simple but isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. Like most yeasty bread, creating its dough requires precision and intuition, challenging even experienced bakers.
“If comfort had a scent, it would undoubtedly be the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls.”
We put Tucson to the test by visiting its most highly-recommended cinnamon roll stops, Robert’s, Gus Balon, and Nadine’s Bakery.
Top Rated Cinnamon Rolls in Tucson
- Gus Balon
- Nadine’s Bakery
So, who has the best cinnamon rolls in Tucson? Let’s dive in!
A quick Google search reveals the diner’s long history dating back to 1978 and their “bake from scratch or don’t bake at all” attitude. Robert’s website creator was so confident in their bakery’s cinnamon rolls that they went as far as calling them “famous.”
It doesn’t take a chef or food writer to note that the term “famous” has lost its meaning when it comes to food. Every family has its own “famous” something, but more often than not, “pretty good” is more fitting.
Though red flags are raised along with our skepticism when a restaurant uses this term, the long-time Tucson staple is a rare exception. It seemed as if every local had an immediate response when asked where to get the best cinnamon rolls in town.
Several Facebook groups also chimed back with the same name when asked the same question: Robert’s.
A combination of great reviews and its convenient central location made Robert’s the perfect first stop for our never-ending quest for the best cinnamon rolls.
The diner’s interior looked and smelled, as every diner should; charming and inviting, with the scent of fried bacon clinging to the air.
“The diner’s interior looked and smelled, as every diner should: charming and inviting, with the scent of fried bacon clinging to the air.”
Our server nodded knowingly as we gave her our orders as if she expected every guest to ask for the spiralized sweet.
With only a few people at Robert’s that morning, our food didn’t take long to get to the table. After hearing several people give their high praises to this particular cinnamon roll, we were surprised to see the plate placed in front of me.
This wasn’t a cinnamon roll. It was cinnamon toast.
The bun had no rise and was completely flat. We pulled on one roll layer and expected the spiral to unravel easily. However, it fought back. That brick of a bread would stay intact and required weaponry to break apart. In this case, a butter knife had to do.
The only upside was the icing, which was sweet, but not tooth-achingly sweet like the one you would get from a certain chain.
A few bites in, and we had to know. Did it come from a faulty batch? Was the baker having a bad day? What happened to the cinnamon roll the rest of Tucson loved?
“What happened to the cinnamon roll the rest of Tucson loved?”
It turned out that the baker they had for 20 years recently retired and was replaced with a new one, proving that it’s not a great recipe that makes a great pastry. It’s a great baker.
Tucson’s longstanding love affair with Robert’s wasn’t enough for their cinnamon rolls to be considered for the best cinnamon rolls in the world contest, let alone Tucson.
Next, we headed to Gus Balon.
A second look at Robert’s website will lead you to their “History” page.
Here you’ll learn that Gus and Kay Balon opened a restaurant in 1961 before their daughter married a man named Robert and started their own 17 years later. The name of the first diner? Gus Balon.
With the roots of both eateries coming from the same family tree, we assumed that many of the classic recipes are at least similar.
If Robert’s had a chance for redemption, this would be it.
Gus Balon has the same feel as its sister business and doesn’t look like it has changed much since 1961. The hostess was welcoming and addressed us as either “huns” or “sweeties” before seating us at a corner booth by a window.
We breathed a sigh of relief once catching sight of my order. The bun had plenty of height and volume, so it was easy to spot even from a distance. The bread was soft and released heat as we pulled it apart with a fork, revealing the light spread of sugary cinnamon filling inside.
“The bread was soft and released heat when we pulled it apart with a fork.”
Unlike Robert’s, Gus Balon’s cinnamon rolls came with a side of whipped butter, complementing the flavors of the breakfast classic.
This was more like it. Our quest for the best cinnamon rolls in Tucson was heating up.
The new baker at Robert’s may eventually bring back the former glory of their cinnamon rolls, but in the meantime, head to Gus Balon’s.
Does Gus Balon’s have the best cinnamon roll in the Tucson area? Does it qualify as one of the best cinnamon rolls in the world? Keep reading to find out.
We headed to Nadine’s Bakery next.
Nadine’s Bakery has delighted Tucson’s east side with sweet treats since 1979. From cookies to pies, and even custom cakes, their bakers are known as masters of all desserts.
We stopped by mid-week on a Wednesday, hoping to get cinnamon rolls (for research purposes, of course) and a few other goodies. Once inside, we were disappointed that their rendition wasn’t the ooey gooey kind but rather the dryer type with a drizzle of icing.
Not terrible, but not what we would prefer. Not what we had researched and read about in local Tucson food reviews.
Did it finally happen? Is the tried and true Nadine’s Bakery not as tried and true as we once thought? Was it not the cinnamon roll Tucsonians have talked about since 1979?
Our quest for the best cinnamon rolls was coming to a dismal ending. Or was it?
Seeing what must have been an underwhelmed look on our faces, the girl at the counter quickly said, “The baker of the good cinnamon rolls is only available on Fridays. Come back then.”
“The baker of the good cinnamon rolls is only available on Fridays. Come back then.”
We had to make a tough decision. Do we postpone our travels to nearby Phoenix or extend the trip? We were ready to pack up our gear and head to Phoenix to tray the world-famous cinnamon rolls at Lux Central when a customer at Nadine’s Bakery pleaded with us to stay until Friday. She promised it would be worth the wait.
We extend our trip and spent time consuming everything from Sonoran hotdogs to fajitas at the oldest Mexican restaurant in America, El Charro. Tucson is recognized for its distinctive and creative culinary accomplishments and has earned the title of the Gastronomy capital of the United States. After two days of consuming local fare, it was time to get focused on Cinnamon Rolls.
We returned two days later and walked out of Nadine’s with the warm, pillowy soft, and gooey sweet roll of our dreams. THIS, was the Nadine’s cinnamon roll we had read about online. This was the cinnamon roll that when you Google “Best Cinnamon Roll Near Me”, Siri suggests you check out Nadine’s Bakery.
Was this the best cinnamon roll in Tucson?
Plot Twist: Strawberry Lemonade Icing
This cinnamon roll differed from the previous two for various reasons, but mostly because it was a cinnamon roll with an unexpected plot twist.
Inside was a strawberry lemonade icing as part of their summer special. Our team was told that it would be the last week they carry the flavor this year, so naturally, we had to get it.
The dough had the melt-in-your-mouth texture one looks for in a great roll, and the filling provided a light tanginess that paired well with the already flavorful bun.
“The dough had the melt-in-your-mouth texture one looks for in a great cinnamon roll.”
Though we wished Nadine’s had a classic cinnamon roll that Friday morning, it’s hard to complain about near perfection.
Best Cinnamon Rolls in Tucson
Much like pizza, a cinnamon roll is one of those foods that, even when made terribly, is still decent. However, again much like a pizza, the challenge is finding something extraordinary and memorable. Was a trip to Tucson extraordinary and memorable?
Over the last four years, our cinnamon roll experts have toured the world in pursuit of the best cinnamon rolls. We aren’t traveling thousands of miles in a quest for average. We’re searching for extraordinary and memorable experiences.
Though it seems as if Robert’s mastered their recipe for years, a change in bakers proved to change the quality of their product drastically, a letdown to those of us who didn’t get to try it at its prime.
Gus Balon’s current version is undeniably better but falls at a close second compared to Nadine’s irresistibly fluffy and drippy version of the strawberry lemonade iced cinnamon roll.
“Nadine’s irresistibly fluffy and drippy version of the Strawberry Lemonade Iced Cinnamon Roll is the best in Tucson.”
The Best Cinnamon Roll in Tucson can be found at Nadine’s Bakery but it’s not what you think!
This unexpected plot twist was worth the additional two days in the Tucson area. Their Strawberry Lemonade Cinnamon Roll is the best in Tucson and has been nominated for the 2023 World’s Best Cinnamon Roll Competition.
The Strawberry Lemonade Cinnamon roll is the perfect escape for those living in the Tucson area. All the best fall eating and drinking seem to share one ingredient that exists purely to bring joy. No, it isn’t pumpkin spice — it’s cinnamon. But, Nadine’s Strawberry Lemonade Cinnamon Roll takes cinnamon to a new level. It’s the perfect balance between summer and fall. Cinnamon rolls are a delicious treat to enjoy, especially right now.
Whether you are celebrating national cinnamon roll day on October 4th or simply grabbing a snack on the way to work, Nadine’s Bakery is the place to go.
Our advice? When searching for cinnamon rolls in Tucson, look no further and roll over to Nadine’s Bakery. Just remember to go on a Friday.