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Local Flavor: Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, Arizona

by Larissa on February 12, 2014

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Sonoran hot dogs are considered by many to be Tucson, Arizona’s signature street food. Since we’re crazy for a good hot dog (such as Buffalo’s chargrilled beauties) we had to give them a try.

These southwestern treats are not for fat and cholesterol wimps, so readers beware! Here we go: a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, cooked in bacon fat until only the lean strips of bacon remain . . . topped with pinto beans and a collection of condiments that vary by vendor, but usually include chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped onion, jalapenos, mustard, mayonnaise and maybe cilantro, all nestled into a bun that that can carry the load. Whew!

Sonoran hot dog, Il Guero Canelo,

Chemistry professor (and hot dog connoisseur) Alex analyzes the intricate composition of a Sonoran hot dog at El Guero Canelo, deftly holding it all together

Opinions vary as to its origin, but the Sonoran hot dog emerged sometime in the 1960s and is found throughout southern Arizona (which sits in the middle of Sonoran desert) and the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico. Typical sources include taco stands, food trucks and hundreds of carts that pop on weekends.  A few have graduated to “restaurant” status: former food trucks all grown-up, meaning you can sit down inside.

Sonoran hot dog menu

Here are the results from our Sonoran hot dog tasting:

  • El Guero Canelo is considered by many to be the “granddaddy” of the Sonoran hot dog, perhaps because they bake buns specially designed to handle the whole kit and caboodle. Sliced on top, but not the sides, the bun almost acts as a bowl for the dog and its toppings. We enjoyed the flavors of the meat and toppings, but found that famous bun a little too soft to manage everything inside. By the third bite everything was tumbling into a soggy pile on our plate. It still tasted great, but we had to finish it with a fork.
  • BK’s Carne Asada boasts their Sonoran hot dog was voted #1 in Arizona. We’re not sure by whom; we didn’t think it was that great. The tomatoes on top were pale and grainy, and the bun was a garden-variety supermarket hot dog roll that promptly fell apart.

Sonoran hot dog-BK Carne Asada

Anemic tomatos and a  flimsy roll made us wonder about the fuss over BKs

  • Calle-Tepa Mexican Street Grill was our favorite of the bunch. A good quality dog with toppings that nestled into a roll hefty enough for heavy lifting. Even after we broke it in half to get a cross-sectional view of all the ingredients, we could still eat the whole thing with our hands. Instead of fresh tomatoes and onions, they use fresh pico di gallo as a topping; the blend, which included fresh jalapenos and cilantro, added a complexity that enhanced the beans and dog.

Sonoran hot dog-Calle Tepa

Calle-Tepa’s fresh pico di gallo and sturdy bun made it the winner in our tasting

Just like any other local food classic, there is bound to be a lot of disagreement of just which is the best. But one thing is for sure, no matter where in town you go, a Sonoran hot dog is a taste of Tucson.

Where do you like to go for a Sonoran hot dog?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren February 13, 2014 at 6:30 am

I fell in love with hot dogs when I traveled to Denmark. THESE look so amazing too. Must..try…!!

Thanks for sharing :)

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Larissa February 13, 2014 at 10:57 am

Denmark? I didn’t know they were known for hot dogs–must put it on the list! :)

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miguel hulsey February 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm

I stay away from El Guero and BK’s…bland. For the REAL DEAL, I go the cart vendors. El Rey at Ft Lowell/Campbell or Ruiz Brothers at S 6th and 22nd. For me, it’s not bonafide unless the bollilo roll is toasted! I think I am heading there right now…

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Larissa February 13, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I LOVE toasted rolls! Will definitely put both of those carts on my list for my next visit to Tucson. Thanks for the tip!

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Dante April 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

the carts are way better than both BK and Guero.

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Larissa April 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Thanks Dante. Point taken–but there are so many we hardly know where to start! Next time we’re in Tucson maybe you can take us on a “Sonoran Hot Dog Cart Safari” 😉

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Bobby May 6, 2016 at 2:07 am

Sonoran Hotdogs came from the food carts in Sonora MX, not from Tucson. I remember eating them when I was a kid in the 80’s. You’d never see these hotdogs in Tucson in the 80’s.

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