Aqui Con El Nene
Nirvana on a Bun, I don’t often eat in Shell stations, but when I do, I like to make sure there is an Aqui Con El Nene inside.
4.8 out of 5 Sonoran hot dog stars.
Hell, who we kiddin’, during my misspent 20’s – amongst various and nefarious things like cheap bourbon and 25-cent happy-hour beers punctuated by blissful bouts of Jagermeister – I ate more gas station hot dogs than was or is probably advisable.
At one point, my love of cheap hot dogs even caused my roommates to become concerned about their dog…a real dog, not a hot one. They took him to the vet because he had gas so bad they thought something was wrong with him. Had they asked, I may have been able to save them a trip, by revealing that he was getting the third of the three-for-a-dollar hot dogs I purchased and brought home at lunch every day as I took a ”break” between classes. (Oh well, some things are better left unsaid.)
In other Tucson Eats Dinner posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that I am both a pork BBQ and a hot dog snob. In fact, I used to consider the thought of any hot dog toppings other than mustard, onions, and chili to be certifiable crazy talk. Then I met my first Sonoran dog.
Beans and Mayo? Really? And then the explanation: “It’s wrapped in bacon.” As the story goes, I was converted.
Unbelievably hooked, once again, on hot dogs, I’ve now struck the mother lode. And unfortunately, it’s about 500 yards from my office, so avoidance is not a viable strategy.
Here’s how it started. We Westsiders who have to cross into to town via the Ruthrauff/Wetmore road corridor can’t help but notice the permanent occupation of Aqui Con El Nene in the parking lot on the northwest corner of Wetmore and Flowing Wells. Amidst the smoke and irresistible aromas pouring from the El Nene food trailer, throngs of adoring fans gather like it’s a freakin’ festival of street taco and hot dog love.
One day, drawn in by the possibilities, I stopped in but made the mistake of not having any cash on me. (Sorry, gringo, cash only.) I kept meaning to stop back in, but for some reason never did. And even though I would pass by almost every day for the next year, a little voice inside my head would say, don’t look back, you can never look back.
And then about a month ago (February 2014), it happened. The sons o’ bitches put an Aqua El Nene inside a gas station on Grant Road, about 500 yards from my office. This one not only accepts debit cards, it does so with high-tech efficiency and an extra 3% penalty for using one. I like them already.
My standard order: two tacos and a Sonoran hot dog. And then another Sonoran hot dog.
I started with two street tacos – one beef and the other with El Nene’s version of slow-cooked pork. While I was not completely blown away by the pork, both were what you hope and expect from street food. That is to say, a perfect base for holding pickled onions, salsa verde, guac, pickled jalapeños, and a couple other things I can’t recall. Tacos also arrive with a grilled-whole green onion and some form of pepper. I know not what it is, but I devour them each time.
Now, if you’re from Tucson, I don’t have to tell you that a proper Sonoran hot dog comes wrapped in bacon, slathered with mayo, smattered with beans, and is best served on a toasted bun, where it feels most at home. But I can tell you, of the many very good versions of Sonoran hot dogs I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, El Nene is hands-down the very best Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. And when it comes to their tacos, from chicken to beef or pork, or even head meat in between, each bite is a nirvana of a street food experience.
Gringo confession. I didn’t understand there was a bar of augmenting and obligatory condiments available – see the picture – when I got my first one. So I had to order another. Do not underestimate the power of the bar of augmenting condiments.
This Nirvana of Hotdogdom (and all other things El Nene) is, as I mentioned, located in the Shell gas station about a quarter-mile west of 1-10 on Grant Road. Thanks to Del Taco, it’s easy to spot. Just drive one driveway past the Del Taco and pull into the Shell.
Being a Westsider just got better.