How LA Destroyed Northern Mexico's Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs may be the quintessential street food of Los Angeles, but they originated in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Photo via Flickr user Jenni Konrad
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs and I go way back, like a childhood friend that you don't keep in touch with, but you know would have your back in a tight situation. The "dogo," which is the street term of endearment for hot dogs in Mexico (specifically, its northern states), has always been with me.
Unsurprisingly, my life has always run parallel to the migration of the porcine-infused vessel of flavor now that I think about it. It, like me, has also gone and found a home in other cities like Tucson and Nogales. But it was during my last trip visiting my family in my hometown of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, where I found out that the humble bacon-wrapped hot dog and myself also share the same birthplace. Apologies in advance to the hordes of proud Californians sporting state-shaped memorabilia somewhere on your body or wardrobe, but I am afraid that you can not take credit for this one.
The bacon-wrapped dog was invented decades before I arrived in Mexico in the late 80s. Some scholars (yes, people have researched them) claim a circus introduced the hot dog to Sonorans in the early 20th century. By the early 1950s, vendors were wrapping franks with bacon and hawking them on the street.
Carts carrying dogos migrated the other way across the border to the streets of Tucson, occupying unpaved corners and civically activating large parking lots after business hours.
Twenty years later, vendors created a hub for the dogs at the University of Sonora's entrance, where cart owners would line the sidewalk, side by side, and shout out their unique toppings to help hungry patrons make up their mind on what to pick.
Aside from the beans, tomatoes, onions, mustard, and crema that the bacon-wrapped dog was already buried under, a curious toppings buffet was waiting to join the party: canned mushrooms marinated in soy sauce, shredded cheese, nacho cheese, chopped cucumbers, guacamole, cottage cheese, and last but definitely not least, crushed Ruffles con Queso.
Around the same time I began rocking a bowl haircut and giant bows as an eight-year old, the line dividing Mexico and the United States began to blur, and so did the bacon-wrapped hot dog's territory. Hermosillo was becoming increasingly Americanized and had one of the largest Carl's Jr. restaurants in the world. Meanwhile, carts carrying dogos migrated the other way across the border to the streets of Tucson, occupying unpaved corners and civically activating large parking lots after business hours.
Tucson's bacon-wrapped hot dog culture goes back as early as 1993, when Daniel Contreras began selling tacos de carne asada off a four-foot cart named after his childhood nickname: El Guero Canelo. A friend later suggested that he try selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs after finding many hungry patrons were asking for the Sonoran—not Californian—treat.
In true honor of American assimilation, a regular squishy hot dog bun replaced the bolillo as the sausage's comfy home.
By 2010, the Arizona Daily Star reported that there were more than 100 carts in Tucson serving
"Sonoran Dogs" in bolillo rolls, a type of puffy Mexican white bread, with a healthy collection of toppings.
Tucsonans in the early 1990s would drive down to 12th Avenue and find El Guero Canelo and a rival cart, BK Tacos, to get their fix. The two stands have since grown into local chains with Tucsonans claiming their loyalty to one or the other as if they were the Beatles or the Stones.
"I had an insignificant little cart," Contreras told me one day while on his way to his fourth restaurant and first venture outside of Tucson. "From there it just grew. Many call it magic, but I say it's by the grace of god."
Both vendors have since been featured on multiple food shows and channels, receiving visits from the New York Times, Man vs. Food, and Alton Brown.
Over the last few decades, versions of the bacon-wrapped hot dog have popped up all over the United States and Mexico. Some claim that they originated in Mexico City; many say they were born on the streets of Tijuana. Still, the overwhelming majority—including myself and the painstaking research that I have done—rightfully refer to the concoction as the Sonoran hot dog and cite Hermosillo as its birthplace.
"I tried looking for the family of the man who supposedly created the bacon-wrapped hot dog in Hermosillo, Don Vicente," Contreras said. "No one could tell me how to find him or his descendants. No one knows what really happened."
When the bacon-wrapped hot dog was named the official hot dog of Los Angeles just weeks after I moved to the city, it seemed like kismet. After some time apart, I felt like I'd be reunited with my lifelong encased buddy. I had already seen bags of Ruffles con Queso at grocery stores and thought that maybe the other original toppings had caught on as well.
I was sorely mistaken.
The alluring smell of bacon hugging each frank over a hot griddle was enough to make me forget that in Los Angeles they're not Sonoran dogs. (Someone dubbed them Danger Dogs and the unnecessarily dramatic name proved to be an omen. My first visit to a cart in LA later turned into my first visit to a Hollywood urgent care center.) In true honor of American assimilation, a regular squishy hot dog bun replaced the bolillo as the sausage's comfy home. Consequently, since a bolillo was used for its cradling powers against the bountiful toppings, most of the original Mexican toppings that made the bacon-wrapped hot dog special got the boot as well.
There were no beans, no tomato. Rarely guacamole and salsas, and definitely no Ruffles, ever. Instead, there were only grilled onions and bell peppers.
When I explained this to a Guero Canelo employee, he was shocked.
"You mean they put [the hot dog] on a regular, American hot dog bun?" he asked with a laugh. "Oh my gosh. That's crazy."
Since then, the hot dog and I have parted ways. While it has gone the LA way by slimming down and not carrying on the extra weight, I remain the same size, still hoping—always hoping—to make room for those Ruffles con Queso that secured my Mexican-American identity.