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 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, 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 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 chipilÃ³n.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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