With its carne, corn, and nopales, Tucson's cuisine reflects the influence of the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona. What's more, much of what we now know as Sonoran fare, including chimichangas and air-dried carne seca, was created or popularized in Tucson. The city's position as a culinary crossroads is nowhere more apparent than along the south side's 12th Avenue, a bazaar of fruit stands, bakeries, and diners serving the flamboyant Sonoran hot dog, which originated in the mid-20th century in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora. Here, a 12th Avenue tour.
El Güero Canelo 5201 South 12th Avenue (520/295-9005; www .elguerocanelo.com) This eatery, with a canopy equipped with nozzles that rain down a cool mist to hydrate the desert air, serves tortas, tacos, and quesadillas, but its specialty is the Sonoran hot dog, an all-beef frank wrapped in bacon, grilled, and then festooned with tomatoes, pinto beans, onions, mustard, hot sauce, and mayonnaise.
La Estrella Bakery, Inc. 5266 South 12th Avenue (520/741-0656; www.laestrellabakeryinc.com) Inside this stucco bunker is an array of panes dulces (pastry breads) and yeast-risen doughnuts still warm from the oven. It's also a source for bolillo rolls—essential for the Sonoran hot dog—as well as sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead.
BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs 5118 South 12th Avenue (520/295-0105; www .bktacos.com) Order strips of spicy grilled flank steak in a taco, and graze at the spectacular salsa bar, which includes chunky guacamole and nearly a dozen other garnishes.
Juice n' Fruit 5012 South 12th Avenue (520/295-5188) Cool off with one of the jugos naturales y medicinales (natural and medicinal juices), or try the "pico de gallo": melon, mango, and other fruits sprinkled with hot pepper, salt, and lime juice.
Oasis Fruit Cones 4126 South 12th Avenue (520/741-7106) The name of this place- is spot on. Here is an outdoor oasis of raspados (shaved ice infused with tropical fruit syrups), as well as aguas frescas (fresh fruit–flavored drinks) in such happy flavors as papaya, tamarind, and strawberry.
Los Jarritos 4832 South 12th Avenue (520/746-0364; www.losjarritos mexicanfood.com) This yellow-brick eatery makes moist green corn tamales, to take home or eat hot here. The menu also includes crumbly house-made chorizo, grilled prickly pear cactus served with chiles, and carne seca with refritos (refried beans) and salsa.
Perfecto's 5404 South 12th Avenue (520/889-5651; www .perfectosrestaurant.com) This café serves chimichangas and such local favorites as a manta ray and shrimp soup. On weekends, bring your own jug and take home some menudo, a tripe and hominy stew that is believed to cure a hangover.