Sonoran-style hot dogs have toppings aplenty - and bite.
It's nearing 90 degrees outside, but the heat from the grill on a recent
Friday afternoon makes Nelson Gracia's post at the hot dog cart one of
the most smokin' locales in South Tucson.
The cart, part of El Güero Canelo, 5201 S. 12th Ave., is an area of the outdoor eatery specifically delegated to making a Güero specialty - Sonoran-style hot dogs.
At least 50 juicy, bacon-wrapped franks sizzle and crackle on the grill, creating an aroma that is intoxicatingly reminiscent of a late-summer baseball game. But these dogs are unlike anything you'll find at a typical ballpark. In fact, these unusual treats are fast becoming a Tucson favorite that are found only in our little corner of the world.
"When I was a kid in Sonora (Mexico), there was a hot dog stand right outside the movie theater, and we all used to go there," said Güero manager Arturo Contreras, the owner's brother.
To make a hot dog, Gracia, today's grill guru, deftly plops a bacon-wrapped frank into a steamed bun and adds pinto beans, fresh and grilled onions, diced tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise and a special blend of jalapeño sauce. In less than a minute, Gracia has created an aesthetic and culinary masterpiece.
If you think it sounds a little weird, you're not alone.
"People don't want to try it, but when they have one, they all want to have another," Contreras said with a laugh.
"You can't just eat one!"
And it seems Tucsonans agree with him, because at El Güero Canelo alone, the cart serves up more than 5,000 dogs a week.
One of those happy hot dog gobblers is Tucson resident Rene Pallanes, who eats at Güero at least once a week.
"I've been doing this for a couple years," he said. "They are fantastic with the bacon!"
Just a few blocks down the street from Güero is BK Hotdogs, 5118 S. 12th Ave., the hot dog stand where Sonoran-style dogs debuted in Tucson.
"We started the Sonoran hot dogs here," said BK general manager Olga Vargas. "My brother got the idea to bring them here because he liked them at home (in Sonora)."
BK differs from Güero in the respect that it is more like a roadside stand than a restaurant, and its dogs are a few cents cheaper than Güero's, at $1.85.
"A lot of the Hispanic people in Tucson came here from Sonora, so we came up with the idea of having something that reminded us of where we're from," Vargas said. "When people eat here, we want them to think they're in Mexico."
So where exactly did the concept of Sonoran hot dogs originate?
The simple answer is, it's a mystery.
Vargas thinks they started in Hermosillo, Sonora, and somehow made their way north.
Mario Solano, a Güero employee, thinks that when people began migrating to Arizona, they brought their hot dogs with them.
Jim Griffith, a retired folklorist, thinks we might never know.
"Finding origins of customs or things like this that grow up in communities is difficult," he said. "They're a neat combination of the familiar and the exotic, perhaps for both (the American and Mexican) cultures."
Tucson-born Craig Pierce, who now lives in Queen Creek and made it a point to visit Güero while he was in town, doesn't really care.
"They're awesome. I don't know how they do it, but those aren't normal hot dogs!"
If you’d like to give these delicious dogs a try, here are a few of the best places to dig in:
El Güero Canelo
5201 S. 12th Ave.
6:30 a.m.-midnight daily
5118 S. 12th Ave.
9 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
2828 E. 22nd St.
Mondays-Thursdays 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m.-9 p.m., closed Sundays.
C&D Hotdogs N More
6970 E. 22nd St.
Tuesdays-Saturdays 7a.m.-5p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays.
J BAR Latin Grill
3770 E. Sunrise Drive
Only served during happy hour, from 5-6:30 p.m.
Note: These dogs are a "gourmet" version of the original, with chorizo black beans and smoked tomato ketchup.