My friend Bill says that Tucson is famous for Sonoran Hot Dogs. And here I am, alone again in Tucson with a week left before I am reunited with my family, never having tasted one of these artery-clogging specialties. What’s a Temporary Bachelor Man to do?
Of course there’s only one response to that. On Saturday I recruited my neighbor Mike to be wingman as I crossed the threshold to this medically-cautioned treat, plunging headlong into a sea of mayo, mustard, and jalapeno sauce. We piled into the old Mercedes diesel and clattered our way across to 12th Street on Tucson’s south side, where the two undisputed champions of Sonora hot dogs can be found: El Guero Canelo, and BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs.
El Guero Canelo’s name refers to the founder, “the blonde Mexican guy.” I have no idea what BK stands for, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the owner’s initials. Both of these restaurants have opened other locations in Tucson, but both keep their original 12th Street locations as well, almost directly across the street from each other. The hot dog business must be good.
BK was our first stop. An open-air restaurant, it features a tall, happy (and apparently suicidal) hot dog welcoming you to come and eat it. Perhaps this hot dog is smiling because it knows that real Sonoran dogs are smothered in ingredients. Nobody’s going to eat that naked thing. It’s almost perverted to think of a hot dog so undressed when you are expecting the rich, fat taste of one wrapped in bacon and buried beneath beans, onions (grilled and fresh), tomatoes, mayo, mustard, and jalapeno.
We decided that the BK dogs would be best with a “Mexican” Coke (meaning, in the original style green glass curved bottle that you hardly ever see in the USA anymore). A bottled soda tacks $1.75 onto your tab, but even still the meal of a Sonoran dog plus a Coke comes to less than $5.
The Sonoran dog, whether it comes from BK or El Guero Canelo, is a minor work of art. The sauces are decoratively zippered across the top, providing fair warning to those who attempt to eat them. As with the Double-Double with extra sauce at In’n’Out Burger, you WILL need a napkin. And possibly an angioplasty.
Being old guys, Mike and I both anticipated this glorious pig-out and ate lightly for the previous day. We were hoping to earn cholesterol credits (at least in our minds) that would offset the highly unbalanced (but delicious) meal of a hot dog wrapped in bacon and doused in mayonnaise. I think the only way we could have really earned these would be to have jogged all the way across Tucson, but being 104 degrees today, we weren’t even considering that.
The BK dog had a definite jalapeno bite to it. Three bites later, however, and my taste buds were so busy struggling with the unaccustomed “full fat” flavor that I stopped noticing the jalapeno. No doubt my tongue was also coated by then, protecting it from the sharpest of the spice.
Five or six bites later, it was gone. My brain said, “MORE!” even though these things are surprisingly filling. I was ready to call it a day after my first Sonoran dog, but Mike insisted on pressing onward. We had come all this way for a hot dog trial and we weren’t going to shy away from the challenge now. So we fired up the Mercedes again and drove all of 300 feet to El Guero Canelo for Round Two. (Exercise was definitely not part of the plan.)
Like the competition across the street, El Guero Canelo on 12th Street is an open-air place with a roof for shade. I like the extremely casual atmosphere of the place. It’s somewhere between a street vendor and sidewalk cafe, on the ambience scale. If you want a Sonoran dog, you can get one at dozens of locations in Tucson, but still plenty of people from all over Tucson come down to 12th Street to eat at one of these two restaurants.
For the second dog, I switched from Coke to Jarritos orange soda, and found there’s absolutely no impact on the dog-eating experience. A Sonoran dog will overcome anything.
I did like the El Guero Canelo touch of a roasted pepper on the side. But overall, I couldn’t decide whether I like BK or El Guero better.
They say we are hard-wired to love fats and sugars, as a survival instinct. If so, it will always be hard to resist the lure of a Sonoran dog and a sweet soda. Eat it, and not only do other tastes fade away, but soon you can’t even remember what was bothering you earlier. You float gently on a raft of lipids, and your biggest challenge in life seems to be chasing those baked beans that rolled away. It’s a bit of escapism in a bun.
I think that in a year or two I’ll have earned enough dietary credits to have another Sonoran dog. I wouldn’t recommend them as part of a regular diet, any more than I’d recommend the dreamy chocolate cake that Eleanor left in the freezer, but as a treat they are pretty special. It may well be, as Bill implied, that eating a Sonoran dog is an essential part of the Tucson experience. I may start recommending them to people who visit — or at least, those who don’t already have heart conditions.
Tom Palesch says
What timing! CBS TV featured this culinary delight on “Sunday Morning” with Mo Rocca imitating a famous magazine publisher eating a Tucson hot dog. Once again the old saying “great minds, etc. etc.”
Bill D. says
Thanks for the excellent report on your gustatory experience of Tucson’s Sonoran-style hot dog, while courageously chowing down on them at El Guero Canelo and BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs.
“BK” stands for the owner, Benjamin Galaz and his wife, Kariela:
I see you have a band on your right wrist in your “chowing-down” photo. Did they put this on you for patient identification, as they do at the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona (perhaps your next restaurant review destination)?
Zach Woods says
Hi Rich –
Was that a Mexican Coke with real cane sugar?
It tasted like it! MMMmmm …
Mike Young says
I love hot dogs that have a local tradition. I always get a Chicago hot dog or char Polish when I’m there.
Haven’t tried the Tucson hot dog. Heck, I didn’t even know that there was one. Now, I’ll have to check out your recommendations. Got to admit, however, that I’m dubious about the mayo. Mayo on a hot dog just doesn’t sound right. Are there any tasty alternatives to the mayo?
Bill: The bracelet was for a show I’d gone to earlier in the day … As far as I know, no doctor’s approval is required for a Sonoran dog, nor do they have a Surgeon General’s Warning (yet). I am intrigued by the Heart Attack Grill but at the same time the idea of an 8,000 calorie stack of cheeseburgers is terrifying.
Mike: As far as I know, a Sonoran dog comes only the way they make it! Maybe if you tip the guy well, he’ll “hold the mayo”.