In Tucson, Hot Dogs Get Their Due

Perhaps no meal has been more maligned than the humble hot dog. They’ve been called every name in the book: wienie, frank, tube steak, even lips and a**holes. And they’ve been accused of almost single-handedly raising the blood pressure of entire nations and causing rampant disease (which is, TBH, probably true).

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BackpackMr and I prepare to enjoy Sonoran hot dogs at El Guero Canelo. We loved them long before James Beard did. This photo is from about five years ago. 

But in Tucson, Arizona, the lowly hot dog is finally getting its due.

Those “in the know” know the only way to go when you’re in Tucson, is the Sonoran hot dog.

One of many Sonoran hot dog stands in Tucson. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
Sonoran hot dog. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

These piping hot piggies are wrapped in bacon, then cooked on a grill. They’re served in a bakery fresh bun known as a bolillo, which is just so, so good. And then, they’re topped with a mess of ingredients that differs from place to place, but typically includes: mayo, mustard, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, pinto beans, maybe fried onions, and salsa. Alongside that Sonoran-style dog you’ll often find a deliciously charred, roasted pepper.

Well-established or bricks-n-mortar Sonoran hot dog stands often also provide a bit of a salad bar with more salsas, cheese, roasted peppers and fresh lime wedges to really pimp out your dog.

A Sonoran hot dog vendor feeds the hungry drinking crowd at bar time on 4th Avenue in Tucson. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

You can get these hot dogs for pretty cheap in Tucson, often from hot dog carts parked alongside the dusty roads. Some sit-down restaurants even sell them, notably, Barrio Brewing Company, which brings a solid effort to the table.

As long as we’ve been going to Tucson (practically every winter for about a decade now) we seek out a Sonoran hot dog. A trip to Tucson just doesn’t seem complete without one.

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One of many hot dog carts in Tucson This one, located on Ajo, made particularly good Sonoran dogs that my Uncle Jim and I enjoyed together. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
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The Sonoran hot dog from the Zahid cart on Ajo. I must have been shaking from hunger. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Recently the humble Sonoran hot dog got a nod from what are known as the Oscars of the food world: a James Beard Award. This award, often reserved for makers of elevated cuisine or fine dining, is the highest award given to individuals in the food and beverage industry.

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And in Tucson, longtime favorite El Guero Canelo snagged a James Beard Award for their  incredible Sonoran hot dog. Word has it, the owner hadn’t even heard of the James Beard Foundation until then. Which is a beautiful thing.

This week I took RollerbagMom out for lunch at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant. It wasn’t our first time there, that’s just how we roll.

Two dogs (one a double, or “Sammy”), a trip to the lavish toppings bar and a coke set me back about 10 bucks.

Thursday’s lunch at El Guero Canelo in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Call hot dogs what you will, but I call that a heckuva deal.

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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