I haven’t experienced the taste of a Sonoran hot dog since my first baby-steps into international travel — a hot dog elevated to a culinary experience. That was in the early 80’s, but in all these years since I’ve yet to find a match. Since travel and food are so tightly linked, it’s the experiences of taste and smell in new places that create the endorphins and memories.
I never thought my hot dog jones would be satisfied 40 years later, just forty miles away.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect crossing the Mexican border for the first time on my way south to Sea of Cortez beaches. Tales of gun-running and drug-smuggling filed the air during these volatile Reagan years. Although Mexicali was my crossing point, it’s actually the capital of neighboring Baja California. It’s a drive a handful of miles further east to the Sonoran border to find one.
San Luis Rio Colorado
I crossed and drove east to my destination, another border town, San Luis Rio Colorado. The small amount of Colorado River water not already used by American agriculture crosses the international boundary here and marks the Sonora state line. Even with a drastically lower flow, the river still gives Baja California and Sonora a fertile delta that provides this region with fresh produce.
The main street of San Luis that evening was filled with pedestrians and food carts. Among these food carts most sold hot dogs prepared in the Sonoran style — a toasted bun, grilled hot dog and refried pinto beans, topped with diced onions, tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise and jalapeno pepper relish.
A rite-of-passage — my first meal on foreign soil.
Home of the Sonoran Dawg
Las Gorditas Ricas in Salem serves their Sonoran Dawg nearly the way I remember those from down south. Instead of just one type of onion though, both grilled and fresh are used here. Also, in deference to American palates the jalapeno is served whole, roasted, and on the side. Roasting leaves the pepper not quite as spicy, and on the side gives me a choice to eat it or not.
After the young woman at the counter takes my order I settle into a table by the window overlooking the outside seating. On this balmy August afternoon the outside tables are all taken, or I’d have been out there too.
My Sonoran Dawg Takeaway
As I was leaving she asked “How was everything?”
My reply, “Perfect. I haven’t had a hot dog like this since Mexicali.”
She looked at me quizzically and asked, “California?”
Probably it was the mask muffling my voice, or maybe because I used the Mexican pronunciation, but I shook my head and repeated “Mexicali.”
I could see she smiled under her mask while she proudly declared “Yes, we make ours in a combo of the LA and Calexico styles. You won’t find them anywhere else up here in Oregon!”
As Calexico and Mexicali are twin cities that share opposite sides of the border wall, I let it go. No matter where the inspiration came from, this is the flavor of the Sonoran hot dog I remember.
When you go:
Las Gorditas Ricas
324 Church St NE, Salem, OR
Written by: Steve Smith
Steve inherited the wanderlust and has always needed to see what’s around the next corner. In his college years he enjoyed many memorable (and cheap) forays into Mexico sleeping under the stars, but today that’s all changed. Since 2006 he’s contributed stories and photographs to In The Know Traveler, and in 2014 he assumed an editor role with the same. Published both in digital and print formats, his international assignments have taken him to the Middle East, Asia, North/Latin/South America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Follow his Facebook page Steve’s Roadtrippin’ Travels that spotlights both his photography and how his road travels intersect with digital storytelling using dynamic space-age mapping technology.
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