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 Guero 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 cafe 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.