I have lived in Tucson off-and-on for over 35 years and have eaten many Sonoran hot dogs. The Carretas (hot dog carts), food trucks, and sit-down brick-and-mortar-type restaurants that have my favorite versions of the Mexican treat have a few things in common:
- The buns are soft and sometimes toasted. The Sonoran hot dog is a difficult food to handle, and you need a good platform on which to build. A toasted bun performs much better, and the crispy texture is heavenly.
- While tomatoes are not my favorite food, it would be an unconscionable sin to forget the savory vegetables or pico de gallo with cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
- Don’t forget the roasted pepper on the side!
You can tell from my waistline that I enjoy food, and I’ve eaten around the world – from fry-bread cooked at the back of a car on the side of the road in the Navajo reservation to the street-stalls of Iloilo City, Philippines. But, Sonoran hot dogs are one of the finest foods you can get anywhere in the world.
Tucson is one of the best places in the world to get Mexican food, and outside of southern Arizona and Mexico, you would be hard-pressed to find a version of this hot dog worth eating. Tucson happens to be the first city in the U.S. that UNESCO named a “Creative City of Gastronomy.”
Whenever I am in Tucson, visiting my heart’s home and the family that lives there, I try to eat one or two of these a day. I will never know when I may get back, so I like to fill the tiny nooks and crannies of my stomach with bacon-wrapped hot dog goodness before I hit the road again.
What is a Sonoran Hot Dog?
“First, wrap a hot dog in bacon. Then simmer it in bacon fat until only the lean strips of bacon remain. Finally, top it with pinto beans and a collection of various condiments that usually includes chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped onion, jalapeños, mustard, mayonnaise, and perhaps cilantro, and sandwich it in a bun that can carry the load.”
This cholesterol creation has been around for more than 60 years, coming across Mexico’s border, so many different versions have popped up, even some dripping in melted cheese.
The roll itself is something special, and whether toasted or not, it’s split along the top in a way that holds the mountain of ingredients in place.
Most places will include the roasted pepper, but if not, try the bacon-wrapped version.
These are three of Tucson’s best places to get a Sonoran hot dog based on my own experience and the experience of my friends and family who live and eat there every day.
After this pandemic is over and we are allowed to travel again, you can bet that five minutes after I arrive in Tucson, I will be standing in line at one of these restaurants.
704 E Prince Rd | 520-336-3779
If you scroll on over to their Instagram, you can see just how delicious their food is:
La Reyna serves the Sonoran hot dogs, but they have other menu items that are just as good. They offer lovely bacon-wrapped peppers, Mexican sodas, and fresh homemade horchata and limonada.
I’ve tried the Chipilones, which are the same dogs covered in melted cheese. Trust me – you want to try it this way at least once.
This place is not one of the traditional Carretas or hot dog carts - the kitchen is a food truck, and there is seating in a storefront nearby.
Delicious any time of day or night, but incredibly tasty with a cold Cerveza.
El Guero Canelo
5201 S. 12th Ave | 520-295-9005
One of my requirements for an excellent Sonoran hot dog was that the bun should be toasted, and El Guero Canelo’s homemade rolls are not, but I couldn’t have a list of the best without including this iconic restaurant.
When you put together Sonoran Hot Dogs and Tucson, you always have to mention El Guero. I mean, founder Daniel Contreras was given a James Beard Award in 2018 for helping build Tucson’s gastronomic legacy.
The whole menu is worthy of 5 stars, and the only problem with them was that pre-pandemic, they were always busy, even though there were two Tucson locations and one in Phoenix.
El Sinaloense Hot Dog Cart
1526 N Alvernon Way | 520-358-0779
I couldn’t close up this list without mentioning one of Tucson’s Carretas or traditional hot dog carts. I haven’t been to this one, but friends tell me that the hot dogs they serve are better than anyone else’s.
I know the rolls are toasty by the pictures and the first-hand taste-testing of a few of my friends and accompanied by a roasted pepper.
What Are Your Favorites?
Tucson is lucky enough to have hundreds of restaurants and Carretas that serve the Sonoran hot dog, and hopefully, by the time I leave the mortal coil, I will have tried them all.
Whatever your preference – toasted or not, cheese or no cheese, mayo, and mustard – you are bound to find a version you like on the streets and tucked away in the alleyways of South Tucson. Keep your eyes open and look for the hot dog cart that has the most cars surrounding it.
In our society, where people try to conform to the “perfect” body shape they see on Instagram, eating high-calorie food like this may be a no-no. But take it from me; nobody cares if you are a size 0, and you owe it to yourself to stuff your face with a few of these Sonoran hot dogs.
I’ve traveled the world and tasted the best foods there are, and you are so lucky to be able to live in a place like Tucson, where the food is exciting and delicious, and all you have to do is drive down the street to one of your local Carretas and get one of these treats.
Consider yourself fortunate.