When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: El Güero Canelo
Location: 5131 West McDowell Road
Open: About two weeks
Sonoran hot dog aficionados (those exist, right?) have probably heard of El Güero Canelo. Maybe they've even driven two hours south to try the restaurant for themselves. Since 1993 El Güero Canelo, which means something along the lines of "the cinnamon blonde," has been serving some of Tucson's best Sonoran-style dogs, even earning an appearance on Travel Channel's Man v. Food with their bacon-wrapped, heavily-topped hot dogs. There are already three locations of the restaurant around metro Tucson — and as of about two weeks ago, there's a fourth right here in town.
Of course, here in the Valley, we already have plenty of places for an excellent bacon-wrapped dog. So when we found out El Güero's doors were open, we headed to West Phoenix to see how Tucson's best stacks up.
Located just west of 51st Avenue on McDowell Road, El Güero in Phoenix resides in a spacious former tire shop. The cavernous room has been painted and feels quite clean, but with fluorescent lighting and simple decor, it still sort of feels like you're eating at an auto shop. Or maybe next to the auto shop at the Costco food court.
On the upside, it's bright, clean, and air-conditioned, which, let's face it, is more then we can say about some of our other favorite Sonoran hot dog spots.
Customers place their orders at a counter and then grab a seat while waiting for their number to be called. Over a loud speaker you'll hear numbers being steadily announced (first in Spanish, then in English) as customers troop up front to fetch trays full of food. Most often the they return with plastic trays loaded with several hot dogs, though the restaurant also sells a good number of tacos, quesadillas, and carmelos.
On the recommendation of the friendly young woman taking our order we tried a trio of the restaurant's beef (carne asada) tacos ($2.25/each). These can be served on either corn or flour tortillas (we chose corn) and came with a side of finely shredded cabbage. The grilled beef was fine, flavorful and moist, but by no means the best we've had in town.
Where the taco truly shines is as a vehicle to explore El Güero's salsa bar. Here you'll find four types of salsa (pico de gallo, avocado creama, and two variations of red salsa we'd call "spicy" and "spicer"), as well as cucumbers, radishes, pickled onions, and roasted jalapeños and onions. We amped up the flavor on our taco with a drizzle of the spiciest salsa, then cooled down with some of the creamy but subtle green sauce.
A carmelo ($4.39), or what most people would call a quesadilla, comprised melted cheese and chicken in a folded-in-half quesadilla. It was mundane, but fine, though in the end we wished we'd spared the stomach space for something better.
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Which brings us to the main event. We ordered El Güero Canelo's Sonoran dog "with everything," as the employee put it, which meant wrappped in bacon and topped with pinto beans, grilled onions, jalapeño sauce, tomatoes, mustard, and mayonnaise. The best part of the whole, messy situation was the grilled onions — because, honestly, grilled onions make everything taste better. Their sweet flavor mostly dominated our palate; we could hardly taste the bacon though the jalapeno sauce did contribute a noticeable amount of spice.
Perhaps the best part of the hot dog was El Güero's bolillo bun. Closed on either end but split and filled in the middle, this sweet, fluffy bun was thick and soft. If you're the kind of person that usually tosses the nubby end of the hot dog bun once all the meat's been devoured, prepare to be impressed with El Güero's offering.
In the end, El Güero's Sonoran hot dog just didn't rock our world. But it is a solid and, maybe more importantly, reliable place to get your bacon-wrapped hot dog fix. We'd happily return now and then for a taste of Tucson's most famous regional offering, though the hot dog cart up the street will still be our favorite late-night stop.