Places to eat, and interesting stories about food in Arizona

Want to know where find local apples in Arizona during the fall? Here are six ways to experience Arizona’s apple-growing heritage. We’re including u-pick farms, markets, a guest ranch in a orchard and one trek that’s, erm, a little out there, but we wanted to offer all sorts of options . . .

a crate full of freshly picked apples in a field

Go Arizona Apple Picking at Apple Annie’s

Apple picking is about as wholesome as it gets-it’s the ultimate family-friendly event. Although most orchards are now wholesale only, Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox is one Arizona apple orchard where picking is encouraged. Harvest season is late August through October; you pay for what you pick. It’s a fun day’s activity, but best of all you get to go home with a basket of fresh, crisp apples! Don’t feel like picking your own? No problem, you can buy an already-picked batch at the Country Store on site.

During weekends throughout the fall there are festive events most weekends, including pancake breakfasts with hot cider syrup and apple topping, apple cider donuts (our favorite!), lunch at the Orchard Grill (which features burgers cooked over apple wood) and pies, pies and more pies.

  • Location: 2081 W Hardy Rd. Willcox, AZ 85643
  • Phone: (520) 384-2084
  • Website: Apple Annie’s
  • Hours: Fruit orchard open daily, 8am to 5pm July-September; 9am to 5:30pm in October. Country Store open daily 8am to 5pm year round. (Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas).

Spend the night in an Arizona apple orchard

The Beatty’s dog, Red, out in the orchard in Miller Canyon, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

If you really want to immerse yourself in the orchard experience there’s no better way than to sleep among the apple trees. In this case we mean a cabin in the orchard, not literally sleeping under the trees (more about that later . . . ). Here at Beatty’s Guest Ranch, cabins are tucked into the orchard, which itself is tucked into Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Spend a few nights in this cozy setting; at 5,800 feet in altitude, you can be sure of cool fall evenings.

Whip up breakfast in your cabin using some of Beatty’s farm-fresh eggs accompanied by apples and other goodies grown at the ranch. All foods grown at the ranch are available for purchase in their on site store. The ranch is adjacent to several Miller Canyon trails, and only a few miles from the Coronado National Memorial, part of the National Park System. This area is also birding country; warblers pass through during their fall migration. In summer the apples aren’t yet ripe, but you might just see a hummingbird or two–or twelve. The ranch holds the record for the most species (14) ever spotted in one day!

A cabin in the orchard, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

PRO TIP: Miller Canyon is prime birding territory; in addition to apples, during a stay at Beatty’s Ranch you may “harvest” a few hummingbird and warbler sightings, depending on when you visit

Explore Sedona’s heritage of apples in Arizona

image of apple sorting equipment-apples in arizona

It’s hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago Sedona was the place to go to find an Arizona apple orchard. Nearby Oak Creek provided ready access to water, and Sedona farmers developed irrigation systems to supply their orchards. The Sedona Heritage Museum at Jordan Historical Park is housed at a former apple processing facilty. The museum’s logo is even the signature red rocks superimposed on an apple!

The orchard acreage was sold off in the 1970s, but the remaining buildings of the Jordan family farmstead remain to illuminate Sedona’s fruit-filled history. View vintage farm equipment and apple sorting machinery, and see a 1940s one-room farmhouse, where apples took pride of place. (While there, be sure to explore the exhibit on Sedona’s history in western movies.) This is one of the cool things to do during the Fall in Sedona.

  • Location: 735 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
  • Phone: (928) 282-7038
  • Website: Sedona Heritage Museum
  • Hours: Open daily 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Major Holidays.
historic photo of orchards near Sedona
Photo courtesy Sedona Heritage Museum

Visit a historic Arizona apple orchard & homestead

historic, rusty farm equipment in front of Pendley orchards at slide rock state park
Historic farm equipment on display in front of the historic Pendley apple orchard at Slide Rock State Park

What is now Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona was once the Pendley apple orchard and homestead. Summertime visitors love to sluice down the water slide of the creek, but in the fall visitors come to see the beautiful colors . . . and the apples. The orchard, farm machinery, packing shed, old cabins and farmhouse at the site of the old Pendley homestead are all available to visit.

Frank Pendley planted his first apple orchard in 1912 after acquiring the site two years earlier under the Homestead Act. Park staff still farm the orchard, using Pendley’s original irrigation system. Be sure to visit in September and October, when the 13 varieties of apples grown on site are harvested and available for sale.

  • Location: 6871 N. Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336
  • Phone: (928) 282-3034
  • Website: Slide Rock State Park
  • Hours: Open daily, 8am to 6pm, Feb through November; 9am to 5pm Dec, Jan. Closed Christmas.
apples in a wooden box

Trek to a forgotten apple orchard in the mountains

wild apples out in an untended orchard-apples in arizona
Imagine finding these after a 10-mile hike through desert landscape!

Earlier I mentioned an apple experience in Arizona that was a little “out there.” This is it . . . literally and figuratively. In the late 1800s a quirky character named Elisha Reavis established a farm and in a remote valley in the otherwise dry, forbidding Superstition Mountains in eastern Arizona. Many rumors circulated about Reavis: some called him the “Hermit of the Superstition Mountains,” other say he scrapped with the Apaches. No one really knows for sure, but an apple orchard on the site planted after his death is a lasting legacy.

Today, what remains of this Arizona apple orchard continues to flourish (in a wild sort of way) in this tucked-away corner of the Tonto National Forest. Those intrepid enough to find Reavis Ranch can enjoy all the apples their belly can hold–after a 10-mile hike to reach it! Plan to make this an overnight trek, camping at the orchard before making the 10-mile trek back. For some, it’s an annual pilgrimage:

  • Location: Trailhead is located at Reavis Trailhead Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 (off state route 88)
  • Hours: Open all year; apple trees bloom in the spring, and are likely bearing fruit in September and October.

Pick up fresh Arizona apples at a Farmer’s Market

apples lined up in wooden bins at a farmers market apples in arizona

There are places in Arizona that produce apples, but are not open to the public. Most, however make their products available at local farmers’ markets throughout the state. So if you find yourself craving the the delicious fruit from an Arizona apple orchard, but aren’t in the mood to pick your own (or go on a 20-mile hike), download this Arizona Farmers Markets Directory to find one near you.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE AT RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY OF A GUIDE TO ARIZONA’S FARMERS’ MARKETS!

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Ted’s Hot Dogs in Phoenix (well, technically Tempe) is the lone western outpost of a legendary Buffalo, New York hot dog empire. We’re big fans, so when we learned there was a Ted’s in Arizona we just had to give it a try. Could the classic Buffalo dog make the journey to the southwest?

Wait, what? Hot dogs in Buffalo? What about Phoenix?

(We’ll get to the hot dogs in Phoenix in a bit, bear with us. ) Most people think of chicken wings when they think of Buffalo. But the city on lake Erie may also be the hot dog capital of America. One of the things that makes Buffalo hot dogs special is that they are chargrilled over real hardwood charcoal to give them a crisp smoky taste. Imagine being able to get that awesome 4th-of-July-backyard-barbecue flavor whenever you want . . . sign us up! When we mention to Buffalonians how lucky they are to get chargrilled hot dogs all over town they just shrug their shoulders: that’s how they’ve always eaten their hot dogs.

Hot dogs on a tray at Ted's Hot Dogs in Phoenix (Tempe), Arizona

A little context: the history of Buffalo hot dogs

One of the most popular spots for hot dogs in Buffalo is Ted’s Hot Dogs. Founded in 1927 by Greek immigrant Theodore Spiro Liaros, the restaurant was an upgrade from the cart he had used to sell his dogs. It wasn’t until 1948 that Ted’s opened their second location in the Buffalo area and have now expanded to nine locations in Western New York.

The menu is a simple one consisting of chargrilled hot dogs, burgers, chicken and sausage. Sides include french fries and onion rings with a range of sauces including Ted’s cheddar, chipotle ranch and creamy horseradish. If you have room for it, you can add a milkshake made with real ice cream, not a mix like other fast food joints. Although all the food is good, we really come for the chargrilled hot dogs.

Another thing we like about Buffalo hot dogs is that you can have it how you want it. We were once almost kicked out of a dog house in Chicago when we dared ask for ketchup (a big NO-NO on a Chicago dawg). Buffalonians have a more “live and let live attitude” with how you decorate your dog. Some people put the fries or onion rings directly on top, while others are more content with a squirt of ketchup and mustard with a bit of relish. You might try adding Ted’s signature Hot Sauce, which appears to be a sweet-spicy ketchup-based red relish mixed with a secret blend of spices

PRO TIP: If you like a nice crispy hot dog, (like us!) be sure to ask for it “well done”! (Just sayin’)

A bit of hot dog “science”

A few years ago we wrote about Buffalo hot dogs for USA Today 10Best. We learned one of the tricks is using only Sahlen’s hot dogs, lovingly made (natch) in Buffalo, NY. Sahlen’s hot dogs are a combination of pork and beef that are produced by the 5th generation of the Sahlen family. But wait . . . there’s more! It turns out it’s not just the brand that makes the difference.

Sahlen’s produces both natural casing and skinless hot dogs. According to company spokesperson Jeff Vance, hot dogs that are grilled over charcoal should have a natural casing, which is better for the high heat of an open flame grill. The natural casing hot dog will split as it cooks, heating up the interior while still providing a signature bubbly browned exterior, that many people, including us crave. Vance says, “Skinless franks are wasted on a charcoal grill – they don’t split and just turn black.” (On the other hand, Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson are cooked on a flat-top griddle; skinless is best in that case.)

A Sahlen’s hot dog in perfect chargrilled crispiness (from Sahlen’s website).

Hot dogs in Phoenix: Why did Ted’s open there?

With such a loyal fan base in Buffalo, how did this lone outpost of Ted’s Hot Dogs end up in the Phoenix area? Well, have you ever been to Buffalo in the winter? It’s freezing and the lake effect snow wafting off of frigid Lake Erie can build up tall enough to cover an NBA center (Seriously. Buffalo gets an average of 7 feet of snow per year.) It turns out many Buffalonian snowbirds make their way to Arizona for the winter and what they really miss is a taste of home. Which is why in the 80s Ted’s opened their Arizona location in Tempe.

Hot dogs in Phoenix: Does Ted’s measure up?

We’re happy to say that it does. We were nervous before we got there. Would they stick with their signature hardwood charcoal, or simplify the process, making hot dogs in Phoenix on a flat-top griddle? Nope. The signature aroma of burning charcoal that met us told us we were about to have the real thing.

Fortunately, Ted’s is not a one-trick pony; the side of onion rings along with a loganberry milk shake (another Buffalo local flavor) lived up to the quality of the hot dog. The food is also reasonably priced for what you are getting. It’s wonderful to see that a Buffalo New York legend has made the transition to Arizona. New generations will get to savor hot dogs in Phoenix as they were meant to be, grilled over hardwood charcoal with a smoky flavor redolent of backyard cookouts of my youth.

Native Buffalonians can savor a true taste of home in Phoenix. And that taste is char-grilled hot dogs, not chicken wings. Let’s face it, you can find wings anywhere.

How to find Ted’s Hot Dogs in Arizona

  • Address: 1755 E. Broadway, Tempe, AZ 85282
  • Hours: Monday- Saturday 10am -10pm, Sunday 10:30am- 10pm
  • Phone: 480-968-6678
Map showing location of Teds hot dogs in phoenix (tempe)

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One of the reasons we love Tucson is because there are quirky attractions here that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s the best Mexican food in America or the world’s largest collection of military aircraft, here are our top 12 unique things to do in Tucson Az.

Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Company mural

1. Munch through the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America

El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s no secret that Tucson offers up the best Mexican food in America. We’re not talking chain restaurants in mall parking lots, this is the real deal. Tuscon is part of the Sonoran Desert, which extends down to the state of Sonora Mexico to the south. The region has been sharing culinary treasures since long before there was a border wall. They’re so proud of this culinary achievement that there’s even a Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America route you can take, a tasty journey, and one of the unique things to do in Tucson Az.

2. Plane-spot at The Boneyard

Aerial view of hundreds of military aircraft lined up at the Boneyard-one of many unique things to do in Tucson Az

The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is the largest military aircraft repository in the world and the final resting place of more than 3,000 (yes, three thousand ) aircraft. Officially known in military-speak as the “309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center” (AMARG), you can catch glimpses of the aircraft liked up in neat rows as you drive around southeast Tucson, particularly on S. Kolb Road. But to really see them up close the best thing to do is take a guided bus tour on the grounds of this Tucson airplane graveyard. This is definitely one of the things to do in Tucson AZ that you cannot do. Anywhere. Else.

3. Reach for the stars at Kitt Peak National Observatory

onal Observatory view from above

If you’re looking for things to do in Tucson AZ, but want a different perspective, you can always look up at the stars. Located one hour southwest of downtown Tucson, the Kitt Peak National Observatory hosts the widest range of research telescopes on the world. Three of the nearly two-dozen telescopes are set aside for public viewing events. After winding their way up the curvy road, stargazers take part in nighttime observing programs peering into the farthest reaches of the universe. If you’re not a night owl, there are also daytime activities.

4. Chow down on some Sonoran Hot Dogs

Orange tray with 4 sonoran hot dogs

Okay, so maybe this is not one of the things to DO in Tucson AZ, but more one of the things to EAT. The Sonoran hot dog is so popular that it ranges from southern Arizona across the border to Mexico where they originated. But what is a Sonoran hot dog? In a nutshell, take a top-split bolillo roll then stuff it with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, pinto beans, chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo), jalapenos, mustard AND mayonnaise. They are found all over town from humble street carts to the James-Beard-award-winning El Guero Canelo.

Here’s our rundown of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, based on eating way too many of these yummy treats. (Actually, there’s no such thing as too many!)

5. Soak up the Mid-Century Vibe

Tucson Arizona Sun Land Motel neon sign

In some ways Tucson feels like the land that time forgot. I mean that in a good way. Where many cities have plowed over their history for new development, Tucson enjoys a wealth of surviving Mid-Century architecture and cool neon signs that make you feel like you’ve snuck onto the set of Mad Men. There’s even an annual Tucson Modernism Week that celebrates the city’s Mid-Century architecture and design.

One of the really fun things to do in Tucson Az is to drive around town to see the neon signs in their original locations. Make sure to cruise the Miracle Mile Historic District north of downtown, then check out the many preserved signs at the Ignite Sign Art Museum, one of several unusual museums in Tucson.

6. Tickle your tastebuds in America’s First UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

Taqueria Pico de Gallo Tucson Arizona

In 2015 UNESCO designated Tucson a Creative City of Gastronomy, joining such foodie destinations as Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. This selection is based on Tucson’s status as one of the oldest settlements in North America. With 4,000 years of agricultural history, its blend of Indigenous ingredients and Old World traditions form a unique and contemporary Southwestern cuisine.

All this foodie heritage is supported by a wealth of farmers markets, community gardens and food festivals that promote eating local, providing endless good eats on your quest for things to do in Tucson AZ. For a visitor this means you’ll eat very well here; the plethora of locally owned restaurants offer plenty of unique dining experiences.

7. Hunt for Truly Nolen Cars on Tucson’s Corners

1939 Ford Deluxe Truly Nolen classic car

One of our favorite things to do in Tucson Az is go on a sort of classic car “scavenger hunt.” Tucson is the world’s largest open-air classic car museum due to the efforts of a man truly named Truly Nolen. In the 1950s Nolen started setting up the antique cars to advertise his exterminating company. The fleet has grown to 50 Truly Nolen cars parked around town. It’s difficult to miss them parked in strategic locations with TRULY NOLEN emblazoned on the side. During your visit you might run into a 1923 Dodge Roadster, a 1934 Hudson, or a 1939 Ford Deluxe like the one above. You can see more classic cars park outside their offices at 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716.

8. Pedal the Chuck Huckleberry Loop

Photo credit: Nicci Radhe

How many cities offer more than 136 miles of interconnecting paths almost completely without street crossings? The Chuck Huckleberry Loop (known locally as simply “The Loop”) is a system of mostly paved paths that connects parks throughout the city. A system of over-and under-passes make it a terrific way to get around town. In January 2018 the County completed a connection on the north side of town that turned created an actual “loop”, with a complete circuit of 53.9 miles.

There’s a reason why so many professional cyclists train in Tucson during the winter. Although amateurs like us, along with joggers, walkers, wheelchairs, and parents pushing strollers use the Chuck Huckleberry Loop too. And since this is Tucson after all, you might even see a horse along the way, along with Farmer’s Markets and outdoor public art along the route. The Loop is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson AZ.

9. Drive up to Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is a unique Sky Island that rises 7,000 feet over Tucson, providing a cooling respite during the summer heat wave. There’s even a community called Summerhaven, along with ski activities in the winter, plus hiking, rock climbing and generally enjoying nature year-round. On a relatively balmy winter day it’s pretty cool to wake up to 65 degree weather in Tucson and see snow from a storm dusting the peak of Mount Lemmon.

What makes a drive up to Mount Lemmon one of the really unique things to do in Tucson Az is the climate changes you’ll experience. During the hour-long 28-mile drive along the Catalina Highway scenic byway to its peak, you’ll pass through four separate ecological zones. You start in the desert surrounded by saguaro cacti and end up in an area lush with conifer trees that feels like the Rockies. It’s the climate equivalent of driving from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada, and all in one hour! Think of all the fuel you saved. The views from the top at Windy Vista Point (shown above) are incredible . . . and perfect at sunset.

The University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory atop Mount Lemmon provides SkyNights StarGazing programs using their Schulman 32-inch and Phillips 24-inch telescopes, two of the largest telescopes available for public viewing in the Southwest. If you’re not a night owl–or if perhaps driving down a steep, curvy mountain road in pitch black darkness isn’t your thing–there are also daytime programs.

10. Rock out at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show turquoise
Photo credit Pete Gregoire

For many people this tops the list of things to do in Tucson Az. According to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society, the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is “the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” We used to think that was just hyperbole, but we have been in town for the annual winter extravaganza and can attest that it truly is a one-of-kind event. Thousands of hobbyists and professionals descend on Tucson to shop, mingle and scratch their lapidary urges. If bling is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

11. Reflect on space at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Tucked below the University of Arizona football stadium, the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab produces the largest and most advanced giant telescope mirrors in the world. A 90-minute tour reveals the leading edge technology producing the next generation of telescopes to explore deep outer space. Personally, I would think a location right underneath the stomping feet of thousands of fired-up football fans would upset such a delicate manufacturing process, but what do I know?

12. Catch a flick at Cactus Carpool Cinema

Tucson’s dry climate provides the perfect setting for a long lost art that the Covid shutdowns have revived: drive-in movies. The folks at Cactus Drive-In have capitalized on this by acquiring a site at 6201 S. Wilmot Road in southeast Tucson, hard by the runway for Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the Pima Air & Space Museum. So perhaps you’ll be watching Top Gun on the 40′ inflatable screen while an actual fighter plane goes roaring overhead. Or maybe it’ll be an old western while you sit nestled among the cacti and ocotillos. Overall it’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson Az.


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Native American frybread (also known as Navajo fry bread or Indian frybread) is a bit of Arizona culinary history. Served in both sweet and savory versions, fry bread is a staple that has sustained the Navajo and other indigenous people through some trying times. But there’s a reason it’s stayed around so long–it’s delicious! And it made a significant impression on a young boy.

Discovering Native American Frybread (as a kid)

native american frybread taco, topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions
The stuff of a young boy’s dreams

You see, back when I was a mere pup of nine years old, one of my earliest food memories came from a trip out West. My mom took my brother and I, two suburban kids from Long Island, NY out to visit the desert landscapes we had only seen in western films. In Arizona we went to a rodeo, where I had my first taste of Navajo fry bread. Just like it sounds, it was a hunk of dough that was deep-fried and, in this case, dusted with powdered sugar. What was not to like?

frybread with container of honey and powdered sugar on the side

It was a lot for an east coast suburban kid to absorb. (And absorb it I did–I was quite a chubby child.) That taste of Native American frybread led to a lifelong love of fried dough, resulting in my latent donut fetish (but that’s a story for another day).

Native American Frybread is historic (in a complicated way)

Native American frybread originated as a result of a painful period in American history. In 1864 the United States forced tribes living in Arizona–many from the Navajo Nation–to leave their lands and relocate to New Mexico. This 300-mile journey came to be known as the “Long Walk.”

partially cooked frybread held over vat of oil by a large fork

This new land couldn’t easily support traditional Native American food staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent indigenous populations from starving, the government supplied the types of staples they themselves ate: canned goods, as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard. By putting their own unique spin on these ingredients, the Native Americans developed frybread.

In a sad and ironic twist, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Navajo in 1868, allowing them to return to their homeland (although the geography was much smaller). So much pain and heartache for a round-trip journey.

Frybread can be savory: Navajo Tacos

yellow and red sign with "frybread" written on it, roadway in the distance
It was difficult for me to focus on the scenery once I saw this sign

Fast forward 150 years or so, and we’re in northern Arizona exploring many Native American cultural sights. But with my taste buds were distracted by signs for fry bread tacos. Fry bread TACOS!?! Is there a way to improve upon the humble fry bread?

We were staying in Tuba City on the western end of Navajo Nation and stopped for a meal at the Tuuvi Cafe. The restaurant was conveniently attached to a gas station and every table was packed.

The waitress assured me that the fry bread taco was the best we’d find anywhere, so how could I resist? (To make things a bit confusing the Tuuvi Center is actually on Hopi territory, which is literally across the street from the Navajo Nation here in Tuba City. So instead of having a “Navajo taco” we were served a “Tuuvi taco.”) But I think we’re just splitting hairs here. When she brought out my plate with a massive heaping of food, it was so large that I looked around the room to see how many other people were joining me.

Native American fry bread in Tuba City. Sorry (not sorry), it’s partially eaten.

An Indian fry bread taco is just like the names says: picture a large dollop of ground beef, mix it up with spices, peppers and beans, melt some cheese on top, cover it with lettuce and tomatoes and plop the whole thing on a hubcap-sized piece of freshly fried dough. Imagine eating a cheeseburger with all the fixings on a giant donut and you get the idea.

The meat was perfectly spiced with a bit of heat but not too much. The fry bread underneath stayed crispy for the first few minutes before it gave into the juicy beef assault. I finished most of the topping but barely made a dent in the main event, the Native American fry bread.

The verdict: A Navajo fry bread taco is one of those things you should try once. But for me, as much as I love donuts, the combination of fried bread and beefy taco filling was a bit much.

(UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Tuuvi Cafe is now closed, but read on for recommendations of other places where you can find Native American Fry bread in Arizona.)

Native American Frybread can be dessert . . . SWEET!

Native American frybread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, sitting on parchment paper.
A dessert fry bread at Fry Bread House in Phoenix.

A week later we stopped at Fry Bread House in Phoenix for another go at this Native American classic. This time we opted to forego the hubcap-sized taco and focus on dessert. Much like a creperie in France, the menu featured different combinations of sweet toppings on a fresh, warm frybread: butter, honey, cinnamon, powdered sugar . . . you get the gist. We chose the cinnamon and sugar combo (they offered a butter-cinnamon-sugar combo, but we just couldn’t go there). The cinnamon and sugar melted into the crispy dough, providing the perfect complement of crunchy, gooey and sweet. We had found our favorite–and the little boy deep inside me rejoiced.

PRO TIP: Try a frybread simply topped with cinnamon and sugar. The topping is light and flavorful and really lets the delicate crunch of the Native American frybread come through.

Fry bread is an American Classic–Really!

In 2012 the Fry Bread House won a James Beard Award in the “America’s Classics” category, making the first Native American restaurant to receive the prestigious award. Now this was more my speed. Picture a nice big fluffy donut fresh out of the fryer and you have the Fry Bread House’s dessert fry bread. Who says you can’t have it all? (Another Arizona Classic, the Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson, also won this award in 2018–there are some great eats in AZ!)

Where to try Native American Frybread (& Navajo Tacos)

The following restaurants (in alphabetical order) serve Native American Frybread. (Confirm opening hours prior to visiting-there may be restrictions based on COVID-19 precautions.)

  • Cafe Santa Rosa, Tucson. Lots of frybread variations, both sweet and savory. Note: on the menu, frybread is called “popovers.”
  • Cameron Trading Post, Cameron. This combination restaurant/hotel/gift shop is located on Navajo Nation land, about 50 miles north of Flagstaff.
  • Courtyard Cafe at the Heard Museum, Phoenix. This museum showcasing Native American Art serves regional specialties in its cafe, including fry bread.
  • Hopi Cultural Center, Second Mesa. This combination restaurant/hotel/gift shop is located on Hopi Nation land, about 70 miles north of Winslow.
  • The Fry Bread House, Phoenix. Owned by the Tohono O’odham tribe, this is the restaurant that is a James Beard Award Winner.
  • Roadside stands, throughout Arizona. Often on the scenic byways, these pop-up spots often offer delicious, fresh, hot Native American Frybread. Somehow, it tastes more authentic in that setting. 😋

BONUS: You can try Native American Frybread at home

bubbly native american frybread in foreground, with woman's hand turning frybread in background

Want to make this at home? Try this native american frybread recipe. The folks at Smithsonian printed it a few years back, and we like it because the ingredients really are staples you’re likely to have at home: flour, baking powder, water and salt. And they recommend any type of oil for frying (meaning you don’t have to use lard if you don’t want.) The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can also use it for grillbread, and skip the “fry” part altogether. (Spoiler alert: the cinnamon-sugar blend tastes best on the frybread. Just sayin’ 😊 )

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The Sonoran hot dog in Tucson is no simple ballpark snack. This humbly-named culinary delight is the recipient of a James Beard Award. It’s a symphony of flavors and cultures (and a meal unto itself!) tucked inside a fluffy bollilo roll. Read on to learn more about the history of the Sonoran hot dog, and where to sample one.

What, exactly, is a Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson?

Spoiler alert: this puppy is a meal unto itself! Here’s how to recognize a Sonoran hot dog:

  • A bacon-wrapped hot dog
  • Pinto beans
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo)
  • Jalapenos
  • Mustard & mayonnaise
  • A bolillo roll (ideally top-split)
  • Bonus: a grilled guero chile on the side

Hand holding sonoran hot dog tucson in front of Mexican sign

Evolution of a cross-border street food classic

Like many food classics, opinions differ as to the exact origin of the Sonoran hot dog. They first emerged sometime in the 1960s most likely in the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico. Since this region is just 70 miles to the south of Tucson, flavors, as well as people, cross back and forth. Even the geography has a cross-border name: Tucson is located in the Sonoran desert.

Mexican hot dog cart
A classic hot dog carreta in Mexico

Bobby (a local who never gave me his last name) told me, “Sonoran hot dogs came from the food carts in Sonora, Mexico, not from Tucson. I remember eating them there when I was a kid in the ‘80s. You’d never see these hotdogs in Tucson back then.” Sometime in the last 30-40 years, these street food staples migrated north into the U.S.

The food carts definitely traveled north with the hot dogs. Known as “carretas,” you’ll find them on street corners throughout Tucson. Most basic carretas only make hot dogs, but many grew into more full-service food trucks that offer tacos, quesadillas and more. Sometimes you can sit at a few outdoor chairs and tables scattered out front. Fortunately, the sunny Tucson climate is perfect for this. A few carretas have even “graduated” to restaurants, where you can sit inside.

El Guero Canelo: Tucson’s Sonoran hot dog “ambassador”

Like any great regional food favorite, locals will argue about where to find the best version. Regardless of preference , Daniel Contreras is undoubtedly the Sonoran hot dog’s greatest ambassador. Contreras is the proprietor of El Guero Canelo, a mini-chain of restaurants serving the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. True to the roots of the Sonoran hot dog, Contreras started “El Guero” as a food cart in the early 1990s in south Tucson.

That humble cart grew and grew, eventually becoming a restaurant with enclosed seating. But as the cart grew, so did El Guero Canelo’s reputation. In 2018 the James Beard Foundation named El Guero Canelo one of its American Classics. And so a hot dog became a legend.

Daniel Contreras receiving the James Beard Award in 2018

The original cart occupies pride of place out front. In an ironic twist, Daniel Contreras didn’t begin is business with hot dogs. “At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs.” 

At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs. 

Daniel contreras, El Guero Canelo

Today Contreras has three restaurants scattered around Tucson, along with a meat market adjacent to his original South Tucson location. He also owns a bakery in Magdelena, Mexico where he makes all the tortillas and buns for his restaurants. That’s some hot dog entrepreneurship!

Sonoran hot dogs Tucson, 4 lined up in a row at El Guero Canelo
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs at El Guero Canelo. Notice the top-split Bolillo rolls.

Those buns are a signature of  “El Guero”: thick, fluffy bolillo rolls. Unlike typical hot dog rolls, these are sliced across part of the top, creating a “boat” in which to nestle the hot dog and its’ hefty heap of toppings.

Where to get Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, AZ

Following is our list of favorite spots to grab a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson (in alphabetical order). We’ve always been happy with the lip-smacking taste of Tucson at each of these. If you’re really ambitious (or hungry), you could make a mini-road trip out of trying several spots. You might not drive the mileage of an Arizona Route 66 Road Trip, but you’ll definitely cover some territory!

Aqui con El Nene

“El Nene” is a popular spot for Sonran dogs in Tucson

Aqui con el Nene Tucson, is affectionately known as “El Nene” by the locals, who consider it the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. It’s a popular spot in northern Tucson that falls into the hybrid-cart category. The large food truck is parked in front of a former restaurant/bar. Seating is in a covered outdoor pavilion or inside the former restaurant. (There’s a newer, brick-and-mortar shop on the south side of town as well.) It boasts an extensive condiment bar that includes enough fresh and marinated veggies to create a side dish to accompany your dog. Potato lovers should try the Papanchas, which are baked potato topped with your choice of Mexican meats and other goodies.

  • Locations (2): North Tucson; additional location in South Tucson
  • Category: The original location (north) is a food truck with indoor/outdoor seating
  • Address: 4415 N Flowing Wells Rd., 65 W. Valencia Rd.

BK Tacos

BK’s Tucson is another brick-and-mortar staple, with two locations in town. Originally known as BK’s Carne Asada & Hot Dogs, the name change reflects the growing focus on a variety of Mexican foods. The Sonoran hot dog has all the requisite ingredients, but we found the bun a little uninspired—it wasn’t toasted, and had trouble holding up to the mammoth fillings.

  • Locations (2): South Tucson; additional location north of downtown
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5118 S 12th Ave.

Calle Tepa Mexican Street Grill & Bar

Calle Tepa is a casual brick-and-mortar restaurant that offers a slightly more upscale setting for this Sonoran classic (i.e. you both order and eat indoors.) To keep with the “street food” theme, you order at a food counter that is a converted street cart. The rolls are hefty enough to hoist the dog for the duration, and the pico de gallo served on top is always made with gorgeous red ripe tomatoes and fresh cilantro. The restaurant specializes a variety of Mexican street foods, such as tortas and manchegos. Calle Tepa also has a bar in back, for those who’d like a Margarita or a cerveza with their Sonoran hot dog.

  • Location: Southeast Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 6151 E Broadway Blvd.
Doesn’t this look delicious???

El Guero Canelo

If you’re only going to get one Sonoran hot dog in Tucson, this is the place to go. (C’mon! It won a James Beard Award!) The original location is a stand that has morphed to include indoor seating. Fame has brought crowds and a bit of glitz: the diners now receive pagers to alert them when their food is ready, and a video of the James Beard Awards plays on a loop in the dining area. Regardless, the dogs are still tasty, although the custom-made Mexican rolls are not toasted. Two additional locations in Tucson (and one in Phoenix.)

  • Locations (3): South Tucson; additional locations in North & East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5201 S. 12th Ave., 2480 N Oracle Rd., 5802 E 22nd St.

El Sinaloense Hot Dog Cart

Despite its name (Sinaloa is the state in Mexico directly south of Sonora), this cart-with-tables serves up traditional a Sonoran dog in Tucson.

The atmosphere is classic careta; diners sit at folding tables and chairs tucked under a canvas canopy in the middle of an empty corner lot. The dogs are nestled in a nicely toasted bun, served with the traditional roasted pepper alongside.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Carreta
  • Address: 1526 N Alvernon Way

Hot Dogs La Reyna

La Reyna is a food cart/restaurant hybrid: seating is inside a storefront at a small strip mall, while the “kitchen” is the food truck parked out front. The hot dog is a traditional version of the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson

, with the bacon-wrapped dog nice and crispy and the roll toasted in butter on the griddle. When we’re feeling super-indulgent, we order Chipilones hot dogs. These are the same dogs, only with cheese melted on top-OH YEAH! La Reyna also makes their own horchata and limonada, the latter using fresh limes.

  • Category: Carreta with adjacent indoor seating
  • Location: North Tucson, just off 1st Ave.
  • Address: 704 E Prince Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

PRO TIP: If you like cheese on your Sonoran hot dog, order “Chipilones”


Los Ponchos

This carreta, or cart, is located on a street corner about 3 miles north of the University of Arizona. A few tables and chairs under a canopy alongside the cart is a traditional Sonoran hot dog in Tucson setup. It’s popular with students and faculty alike. In addition to the Sonoran hot dog, Los Ponchos features a “queso-dogo,” which is a hot dog-filled quesadilla. Try this if you simply must have a tortilla with your frank. (And we can personally confirm that it’s pretty darned terrific.)

  • Category: Food truck with outdoor seating
  • Location: About 3 miles north of the University of Arizona, near Midtown
  • Address: 1901 E Fort Lowell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

The Quesadillas

The homemade salsas at The Quesadillas make a worthy accompaniment to a Sonoran hot dog

The focus at this restaurant in eastern Tucson is on quesadillas, hence the name. But due to customer requests, they added a hot dog to the menu—Yay! Owner Marcos Barragan put his own spin on the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson.

. He uses all-beef franks and omits the beans. Instead of wrapping the frank in bacon, Barragan tops them with “bacon bits.” Don’t be fooled by the term, these “bits” are are large chunks of chopped bacon sprinkled on top. In addition to mustard, mayo and chopped tomatoes, we added some of daughter Alex Barragan’s homemade salsas. (we especially loved the jalapeno guacamole and pineapple chiltepin). They were so delicious, we almost forgot about the other stuff on the menu.

Insider tip: the restaurant does all grilling for the quesadillas over mesquite wood. They will they will grill your hot dog there upon request.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 2418 N Craycroft Rd.

Ruiz Hot Dogs/Los Chipilones

The Ruiz Sonoran hot dog carreta in Tucson

The Ruiz cart is about as classic as a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson gets. Order, then sit at one of the few stools attached. You’ll find the cart in a corner lot in southern Tucson. Because the atmosphere is pretty basic, the food must be really good. Here, we watched Gerardo work his magic. The hot dog was tender, with perfectly crisped bacon surrounding it. He topped it with delicious beans, mustard, mayo and the ripest red tomatoes. Plus, he grilled the roll to perfection, so it held up to his whopping toppings. Note: the family now has a brick-and-mortar stand with outdoor seating on the adjacent lot that serves tacos, quesadillas and breakfast.

  • Locations (2) : South Tucson (just south of downtown)
  • Category: Carreta with seating
  • Address: 1140 S 6th Ave, and in brick and mortar location next door.

Do these places have best Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson? We think they’re pretty darn fabulous, but who knows? There are new spots popping up all the time. Please let us know if you find one. These bacon-wrapped beauties are one of our favorite types of street food. We’re always game for chowing down on a Sonoran hot dog! 😋 🌭

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