Sonoran hot dog chipilon from Taqueria Aqui con Nene, 4415 N. Flowing Wells Road.

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Food is more than food. You know this. It’s the people who make it, and the people you eat it with. So when we’re talking about a food as quintessentially Tucson as a Sonoran hot dog, I can’t write about it without considering its context.

Every Sonoran dog shares nearly identical component parts: bun, dogo, bacon, pintos, tiny chopped cubes of tomato and onion, mustardmayosalsaverde, hot little pepper on the side.

You can mix it up and get a Tostidogo — a Frito pie with the volume turned all the way up — using Tostitos brought north from Mexico still with the health warnings on them, in Spanish. Cut up pieces of wiener and a disproportionate amount of gluey, perfectly manufactured, Yellow #5 nacho cheese. But you probably don’t.

For you, these component parts could mean a trip to El Güero Canelo, piled into a white Dodge Caravan with your extended family, talking smack even before it got the James Beard Award. James Who.

It could mean a pit stop near Alvernon and Pima, parking in the broad expanse of that sandy lot where you can see the whole sky and most of the Catalinas. Here in Tucson we know what to do with space. This place is never empty. You sit on your tailgate with some buddies from work, or under the vinyl army tent, out of the sun. Hunger is the best sauce, and El Sinaloense can’t be beat.

Sonoran dog at El Sinaloense #5, 1526 N. Alvernon Way.

For me, a Sonoran dog means bringing friends from out of town to my city, and together discovering something I had been willfully ignoring for 24 years. My mom always called Sonoran dogs a gut bomb, something for the male metabolism, like a chimichanga. My friend Jenny moved here from Maine a COVID snowbird, neither retired nor in college — and brought her love of hot dogs with her. She couldn’t believe I was holding out on her.

“Knowing Tucson had your own hot dog really would have been a selling point,” she said, a month after we signed the lease.

At the time I had been a vegetarian, on and off, for 7 years. Jenny had actually been the friend to first convince me to try it in college. She hadn’t eaten meat since she was 12. Then we graduated college and she joined ranks in the restaurant industry. Eating meat was the point: seafood purchased off the boat, livestock raised within biking distance from her house, hot dogs grilled by a cook friend in his backyard. Context.

Before I got this job, Jenny had been again chipping away at my resolve this time, in the opposite direction. I was a parasite of her fine cooking, sheepishly sampling tiny bites of Thai larb, ma po tofu with ground pork, homemade pizza with jalapenos and pepperonis (“double pep”).

I gave in four days before she moved out of Tucson. We had just picked up a traveling companion from the airport. On the way back to our home near the University of Arizona, we passed Tacos y Hot Dogs El Manantial. Jenny had eaten here many times, on lunch break from Tanline Printing or on the way back from a pickleball match at Kino Sports Complex. Although I abstained, the phrase “Tacos y Hot Dogs” became part of our vernacular, referencing the uniquely Tucson pleasures hidden in plain sight.

So we stopped at Tacos y Hot Dogs at nearly 11 p.m. and nearly 100 degrees. The shade tent didn’t make a difference anymore, but we sheltered there anyway as we waited for three hot dogs to come out of the food truck. This would be my first Sonoran dog, ever.

When you’ve been dancing around a particular food item your whole life, the experience of finally eating it is an exercise in managing expectations. And there it was: soft bun, grilled in mayo and pan grease until gently crispy; the crack of the sausage casing between my teeth; the cascade of condiments mustardmayosalsaverde bite; the almost redundantly hearty, fatty-savory morsels of pinto bean and bacon. 

Yet, my first Sonoran dog, and for all the dogos to follow, was more than the component parts. It was gleefully disobeying my mom and seven years of conditioning my stomach to indulge with friends under flood lights and a crescent moon. Like Jenny would be here forever even though I could count the hours we had left.

But who knows? Maybe she is still here, with every bite.

This essay and map is the first installment of a series mapping every Sonoran hot dog stand in Tucson. This story focuses on midtown and central Tucson.

The map's breakdown of Tucson's regions is based off of our neighborhoods guide.

Banvino’s Hot Dogs

Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Barrio Brewing Co.

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. | Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Buena Vida Restaurant

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Burro Station

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. | Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. | Friday, 5-10:30 p.m. | Saturday, 6-10:30 p.m.

Hot Dogs “El Chapin”

Hours: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily

Taqueria El Cheke

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Taqueria El Chikitin

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. | Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. | Saturday, 9 a.m. to ???

El Güero Canelo

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. | Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Los Nogalitos Hot Dogs

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. | Saturday 2-11 p.m.

Cross section of a Sonoran hot dog at Los Ponchos Hot Dogs, 1901 E. Fort Lowell Road.

Los Ponchos Hot Dogs

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Hot Dogs “La Reyna”

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Sammy El Sinaloense Sonoran Hot Dogs

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. | Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

El Sinaloense

Hours: Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. | Saturday, 10-12 a.m. | Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The cart for Hot Dogs Obregon, in the Food City parking lot at 22nd and Country Club.

Hot Dogs Obregon

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. | Sunday, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Taqueria Aqui Con El Nene

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

You Sly Dog

Location and hours change regularly. Follow their Facebook page for updates.

Yummy Doggz y Mas

Hours: Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Because so many Sonoran hot dog joints are informal, this cannot be a fully complete list. If we missed any, please let Ellice know at elueders@tucson.com or @elliceeats on Instagram.


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