Wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon, this famed hot dog sits inside an over-sized toasted bun, topped with beans, grilled onions and tomato. Drizzled with mayo, sweet-and-spicy cream sauce, jalapeño salsa or mustard—often a combination of several—and served alongside fresh, roasted chili peppers, the aptly named Sonoran hot dog is a one-of-a-kind delicacy in high demand around the Sonoran Desert.
A bit of mystery behind this dish lies in where it originated. Most agree the dog’s history can be traced to Mexico, traveling up the coast from central Mexico and making its way into Arizona and even parts of California—however, some passionate enthusiasts will insist it got its start in Tucson. Whether the bacon-wrapped dog was first piled high with tasty toppings in town or south of the border is irrelevant to the fans it has acquired and the local restaurants that serve it.
“It’s this Mex-American franken-dog that has no business working, yet somehow it does,” says Dominic Armato, writer and self-confessed food nerd. Traveling through Tucson to try a variety of Sonoran dogs, “I’m interested in the interplays of Sonoran and Arizona-Mex—how dishes and traditions drive back and forth across the border, where the differences lie, etc.,” Armato explains.
Each Sonoran hot dog gobbler in the Old Pueblo has a beloved place to get their fix, whether it be at a sit-down establishment or from a street food cart.
“Everyone should start by going to El Güero Canelo,” resident Jessica Bright suggests. “They set the standard for all things Sonoran dog. The bread is just right; bacon is just right; mustard, mayo, jalapeño—all just right.”
Even Adam Richman of Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” made the journey to Southern Arizona to bite into the local favorite at El Güero Canelo.
Another top stop is BK Carne Asada, which Jeremy Singer visits twice per month. “BK's Sonoran hot dogs are phenomenal. I go there for the Sonoran hot dog, fast service and salsa bar,” he says.
El Charro in Tucson, the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family, recently started serving the Sonoran dog due to popular demand. Owner Ray Flores says his restaurant has stepped up the dish by using all-beef hot dogs, applewood-smoked bacon and top-quality bread.
City-signature dogs are not a new phenomenon: think Chicago-style, Coney Island, or Seattle’s cream-cheese dogs. The Sonoran dog, however, plays fast-and-loose over the international border, as well as the boundary between culinary disaster and genius.