I hadn’t experienced the taste of a Sonoran hot dog since my baby-steps into international travel. That was the 80’s, and in all those years I’ve yet to experience a match. But travel and food are so linked – the experiences of taste and smell in new places create the endorphins that bring on an addiction.
I never thought my hot dog jones would be satisfied 40 years later, just forty miles away.
I wasn’t 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. Mexicali was my crossing point, but it’s actually the capital of neighboring Baja California.
It’s a handful of miles further east to the Sonoran state line.
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 America 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, food carts, pharmacies, and opportunities for inexpensive lodging. 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.
This was my first meal eaten 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 use it or not.
After the young woman at the counter takes my order I settle for 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 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, the flavor was 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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