A Sonoran hot dog just just received the highest honor in American gastronomy. The James Beard Awards recognize pioneers in the gourmet food world, which usually means high-brow chefs like Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. But the foundation also has another category — American Classics — which now includes Tucson's own El Güero Canelo.
This morning, the foundation put out a list of five restaurants with "timeless appeal," that are "cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community." El Güero Canelo was mentioned along with ...
— Los Hernandez tamales in Union Gap, Washington
— Dong Phuong Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans
— Sun Wah Chinese restaurant in Chicago
— Galleria Umberto Sicilian pizzas in Boston
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This is what the foundation had to say about El Guero Canelo
"The Sonoran hot dog evinces the flow of culinary and cultural influences from the U.S. to Mexico and back. Decades ago, elaborately dressed hot dogs began to appear as novelty imports on the streets of Hermosillo, the Sonoran capital. Today, Tucson is the American epicenter, and Daniel Contreras is the leading hotdoguero. A Sonoran native, Contreras was 33 in 1993 when he opened El Guero Canelo. The original stand is now a destination restaurant, outfitted with picnic tables and serviced by a walk-up order window. Fans converge for bacon-wrapped franks, stuffed into stubby bollilos, smothered with beans, onion, mustard, jalapeno sauce, and a squiggle of mayonnaise. Contreras operates three branches in Tucson, one in Phoenix, and a bakery to supply the split-top buns." 🌭🌭🌭
Surprise! You're a James Beard winner
Owner Daniel Contreras said he was surprised when representatives from the foundation called him about two weeks ago. "I didn't know who they are! They asked me for information and they asked me for this and that, and I said, 'Wait a minute, I don't even know who you are and you want my social security number. No way, man,' " he said with a laugh.
Honorees were chosen by a committee of food industry experts, writers, restaurant critics and more. To qualify, restaurants must be locally-owned and have been operating for at least a decade. El Güero Canelo began as a South 12th Avenue taco stand in 1993, and has expanded to three restaurants across Tucson, as well as a meat market and a location in West Phoenix.
"To me it's a very high honor ..." Contreras said. "The things we have done, 18 hours a day every day for 24 years, it pays out."
Contreras credits his success to the quality and soft texture of his hot dog buns, which come from El Güero Canelo's bakery in Magdalena, Sonora. "The hot dogs we make, it's the same as the other ones. But I make my own hot dog buns."
Contreras, the "cinnamon-haired blond guy" in the restaurant's name, says he plans to travel to Chicago to participate in the awards ceremony May 7 at the Lyric Opera. After that, he's looking toward retirement, and handing over the expanding business to his four general managers. They "wanna roll," he said.
The original restaurant at 5201 S. 12th Ave. was steady on Thursday afternoon, with many patrons high-fiving Contreras as they walked by. A young couple Amber Arikan and Alejandra Aguilera were up at the front polishing off a plate of the iconic Sonoran dogs with roasted yellow peppers on the side. "This is my first time here in Tucson, and my first meal was the hot dog," Arikan said.
When Arikan got off the plane from her home in Victoria, Texas, the first thing she wanted to do was eat. "She's like 'I'm starving,'" Aguilera said. "And I'm like, 'I know where to take you ...'"