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 lot somewhere. Sonoran hot dogs are a 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 there were 200 (if that were true, 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 dog will be everywhere, but remember that it once found itself in Tucson.
Video: What the hell is a Sonoran Hot Dog?
El Guero Canelo has three locations now – with a fourth on the way – but it started with one man, Daniel Contreras, and a food cart in 1993. They have tacos, burritos and the like and they’re delicious, but yes, people come here for the Sonoran 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, only a bit 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 for which is your favorite. Some insist by El Guero Canelo, but BK definitely holds its own. They make Sonoran dogs in the most classic manner possible and also have a full menu of mostly carne asada-themed dishes, The wise choice is to get Sonoran Dogs from both spots and decide for yourself.
Aqui Con El Nene
Aqui Con El Nene is the hot dog place you name-check if you’re trying to sound more knowledgeable than the folks who only know El Guero and BK, 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 of a gas station. Aqui Con El Nene has authenticity covered by a mile, plus they offer a variation on the standard dog, melting cheese into the bun on what they call a chipilón.
El Guero Canelo opened up a location on the east side of Tucson in 2011, but for a few years, a truck on 22nd Street represented the Sonoran dog in that 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.
Wherever the Sonoran dog originated from, it found its true home in Tucson, Arizona.
James Beard Award winner Janos Wilder’s menu at his downtown Tucson classic captures his passion for the street food of the world combined with the ingredients and inspiration of the southwest. His take on the Sonoran dog, the J Dawg, available on the bar menu, is no different, with chorizo black beans, a smoked poblano cream and pickled cactus (minus the needles, don’t worry) taking things up artisanally. 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 flavor, but don’t want to commit to an entire regular-sized portion, split a plate of the Mini Sonoran Dogs at this restaurant in the shadow of the Saguaro National Park. Same big flavors 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 her kitchen 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
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 sauteed 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.
A bit off the beaten path out in Benson, south, and east of Tucson, 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.