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Tucson knows … all Mexican food is not created equal!

Posted on April 21, 2013

Want to get some Mexican food in Tucson? Well, you can’t throw a taco farther than you can find a Mexican restaurant in Tucson. Most of the local restaurants serve Sonoran-style Mexican food, which isn’t always available outside of the Southwest. So what you think of as Mexican food may not be on menus here, which are based on the traditions of the large state just across the border: Sonora, Mexico.

What’s Sonoran Mexican food? Typically, it’s dishes with refried pinto beans, not black beans, which are more typical of Mexico City-style food. Given the Sonoran Desert’s vast stretches of land, northern Mexicans tended to keep more cattle than the rest of the country. So, traditional dishes used more beef, mostly grilled, reflecting the ranchero lifestyle. That’s what “carne” means. Carne asada is the Mexican barbecued beef – thinly sliced skirt steak, served in soft tortillas with your choice of condiments. Carne seca is dried, spiced beef often used for machaca when mixed with such ingredients as peppers, chiles and eggs.

Sonoran Mexican food uses more flour tortillas than the rest of Mexico, where corn is more plentiful. The popularity of flour tortillas gave rise in the northern part of the country to the ubiquitous burrito, which is often filled with machaca. Thank Sonora for the creation, also, of the breakfast burrito, which is featured on our GOLD breakfast menu with Pepper Jack cheese and choice of chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) or bacon. Flour tortillas are also used for quesadillas, which are on the menus at GOLD and the Lookout Bar & Grille with chicken, peppers and cheese folded inside the grilled tortilla.

One favorite specialty in Tucson is the early summer green corn tamale, which takes the tender young cornmeal made into masa (dough) into which kernel corn, green chiles, cheese and an olive is usually stuffed, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed.

Finally, there is the famous Sonoran hot dog. There’s some dispute as to the inventor, but many credit Tucsonan Daniel Contreras, whose red hair gave rise to his nickname and the name of his chain of restaurants, El Güero Canelo. For the uninitiated, a hot dog is wrapped in bacon and enveloped in a soft Mexican roll topped with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño sauce, cheese, mayo, ketchup and mustard. Numerous curbside stands serve them in Tucson, in addition to brick-and-mortar restaurants.

And what’s a heaping plate of Sonoran Mexican food without an ice-cold cerveza or stiff margarita … well, that’s a blog in itself! ¡Salud!