Tucson’s top 10 Sonoran hot dogs

By: Dan Gibson

August 25, 2015

Yes, the Sonoran hot dog probably came from Sonora – Hermosillo, more likely than not – but most of the history of a bacon-wrapped hot dog in a toasted bun covered in the accessories of the America/Mexico border (beans, chopped tomatoes, onion, mustard, jalapeno sauce, mayonnaise) has been lost to time. Whoever came up with this mashup, the true birthplace of the dish is on the streets. A cart outside a bar. A trailer in an empty parking lot somewhere. Sonoran hot dogs are the perfect expression of street food.


Wherever the Sonoran dog originated from, it found its true home in Tucson, Arizona. It’s anyone’s guess how many places serve the urban delicacy – one local food expert estimated in 2009 that there were 200 (if that were true then, there are certainly far more now), and while the unpretentious entrée still keeps its street roots intact with a cart on most worthwhile Tucson corners, there are also options at university area taco shops, restaurants next to national parks on the edge of town and downtown eateries. Someday – and it’s already on its way to happening – the Sonoran hot dog will be everywhere, but remember that it once found itself in Tucson.


El Guero Canelo

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | El Guero Canelo

Most visitors start with the original, and who can blame them? © Dan Gibson

El Guero Canelo has three locations now – with a fourth on the way – but it started with just one man, Daniel Contreras, and a food cart in 1993. Yes, they have tacos, burritos and the like and they’re delicious, but people come here for their Sonoran hot dogs. El Guero Canelo is the place that generally first comes to mind when people talk about hot dogs in Tucson, and for good reason; they were here early and built an audience. One distinguishing characteristic: you can get a second hot dog jammed into the bun with the Sammie dog for only a little extra.


BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | BK

Thankfully, BK’s 12th Avenue location is basically across the street from rival El Guero Canelo, which allows the adventurous eater to try both within one lunch hour © Dan Gibson

BK, the other oft-mentioned contender for Tucson’s Sonoran dog crown, has a location basically across the street from El Guero Canelo on 12th Avenue, plus the two owners have a complicated history making for an exercise in polarity among local hot dog connoisseurs. Some swear by El Guero Canelo, but BK definitely holds its own. They also make Sonoran hot dogs in the most classic manner possible and offer a full menu of mostly carne asada-themed dishes. The wise choice is to get one from both spots and decide for yourself.


Aqui Con El Nene

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Aqui Con El Nene

While the original location is a classic, the Grant Road option inside a gas station allows you to pick up a delicious hot dog and fill up your tank at the same time © Dan Gibson

Aqui Con El Nene is the hot dog place you name-check if you’re trying to sound like a real expert. Plus, there’s an extra air of authenticity to a place that has one location in the parking lot of a bar and another inside a gas station. They offer a variation on the standard dog, melting cheese into the bun on what they call a chipilón.


Taqueria Jason

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Taqueria Jason

Food trucks are harder to find east of midtown, but Taqueria Jason serves food that would hold up anywhere in Tucson © Dan Gibson

El Guero Canelo opened up a location on the eastside of Tucson in 2011, but for a few years, a truck on 22nd Street represented for Sonoran hot dogs in this part of the city. Thankfully, Taqueria Jason offers a great dog (and a bacon-wrapped chile on the side), plus unlike many of these choices, you can get a raspado (shaved ice, fresh fruit, ice cream) for dessert.


Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails

Everything on the bar menu is delicious, but you have to try James Beard Award winning chef Janos Wilder’s elevated take on Sonoran hot dogs © Dan Gibson

James Beard Award winner Janos Wilder’s menu at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails captures his passion for global street food, combined with the ingredients and inspiration of the Southwest. His take on the Sonoran hot dog, the J Dawg (available on the bar menu), is no different, with chorizo black beans, a smoked poblano cream and pickled cactus. The cost is a bit higher than the street cart counterparts (although not as much you’d think), but worth every penny.


Saguaro Corners

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Saguaro Corners

The menu at this classic eastside spot just outside Saguaro National Park has recently been updated to include this two-bite appetizer © Dan Gibson

If you want a touch of Sonoran hot dog flavour, but don’t want to commit to an entire regular-sized portion, split a plate of the mini Sonoran hot dogs at Saguaro Corners, set in the shadow of the Saguaro National Park. The same big flavours in a smaller, still delicious, package.


Boca Tacos y Tequila

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Boca Tacos and Tequila

Chef Maria Mazon is a regular winner at local food competitions and her funky twist on the Sonoran hot dog shows off her innovative thinking © Dan Gibson

Chef Maria Mazon makes magic every day in her spot next to the University of Arizona with a new set of freshly made salsas coming out of the kitchen at Boca Tacos y Tequila each day. Of course based on the restaurant’s name, her take on the Sonoran dog is served in taco form. The odds are solid that some of this substantial taco with a bacon-wrapped dog, grilled onions, beans and salsa will end up on your shirt, but so be it.


Ruiz Hot Dogs

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Ruiz Hot Dogs

There isn’t a menu, but that works, because there’s only one thing to get at Ruiz © Dan Gibson

You have to applaud Ruiz Hot Dogs – a cart with an accompanying mobile dining room parked on the edge of Tucson’s downtown – for their dedication to their craft. They sell Sonoran hot dogs and that’s just about it. And they’re delicious. They do toast the buns, so they have that going for them as well.


Tucson Tamale Company

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Tucson Tamale Company

Inside this building you’ll find great tamales, including their Sonoran dog/tamale hybrid © Dan Gibson

Unfortunately, the delightful people at Tucson Tamale Company haven’t given the Sonoran Hot Dog tamale a full-time spot on their menu, but check in to see if you can get an all-beef hot dog sautéed in bacon, chopped onion, tomato, green chile and spices, then wrapped in corn masa with cheese and pinto beans. It’s a spectacular clash of culinary items, both special to Tucson.


Wild Dogs

Tucson's Top 10 Sonoran Hot Dogs | Wild Dogs

If you find yourself in Willcox, Wild Dogs is waiting for you © Dan Gibson

Wild Dogs is located a little out of the way over in Benson, but if you’re heading out to Kartchner Caverns (and you should), stop by this spot that specializes of hot dogs of all kinds. They offer a delicious and unique take on the style, going with refried beans and adding guacamole.


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Have you sampled any of these Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson? Have we left your favourite off our list? Let us know in the comments section below.


Written by Dan Gibson



Dan Gibson

Dan Gibson is a Tucson native, a certified taco judge, former editor of the Tucson Weekly and the coach of a soccer team of eight year olds.

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