Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso
If you haven't yet experienced the pleasures of eating a bacon-wrapped hot dog sluiced with mayonnaise, well, you're missing out on what might be the figurative Rosetta Stone of borderlands cuisine. The Sonoran dog is sort of an edible symbol of the weird and wonderful culinary syncretism that happens when two cultures bump up against each other. If you can understand the Sonoran dog as a cultural mashup, it can help explain so many other quirks of Arizona-Sonora Mexican food.
Like many popular folk dishes, the genesis of the Sonoran dog is shrouded in some low-grade controversy. Some argue that a bacon-wrapped red hot was first spotted in 1950s-era Mexico City, but more people seem to agree that the Sonoran dog is rooted in the streets of Hermosillo. It's been a street staple there for decades, and these northern dogos eventually migrated north to Tucson and Phoenix.
The Sonoran dog is now comfortably ensconced as the native hot dog of the Sonoran desert. Today, you can spot it sometimes on restaurant menus. There was a period when it was illegal to sell a bacon-wrapped hot dog out of a mobile cart in Phoenix, though. Over the years, Phoenix's Sonoran hot dog vendors have had to wrangle with Maricopa County and City Hall over health-code regulations and permits to keep their businesses up and running.
If there is a patron saint of the Sonoran dog in metro Phoenix, it would probably be Aureliano Dominguez, who is credited with being one of the first Sonoran dog vendors in metro Phoenix, and also helping organize the fight to keep mobile hot dog carts legal on the streets of Phoenix.
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Dominguez is the owner of El Caprichoso, which currently has four locations around the Valley, and which sells one of the most credible and consistently well-constructed Sonoran dogs in metro Phoenix.
The bacon-wrapped dog is squeezed into a split-top bun, the bread given a nice crisp on the griddle. The hot dog is juicy, and like most versions of the Sonoran dog, it's topped with a kitchen-sink assortment of toppings: some well-seasoned beans, a dappling of pico, a dusting of salty white cheese, and the crowning touch, a squiggle of mayonnaise.
You eat it on a picnic table covered in oilcloth, under a glowing roadside tent that feels peaceful despite the city grit and steady whoosh of street traffic. It seems to taste best with a chilled bottle of Mexican soda pop on the side.
The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.