A native to Tempe, food critic Mark Carpenter has for decades enjoyed the blend of cultures in and around his hometown, which resonates in the local food industry. He recently took a trip to Tucson to try out some famous spots. He believes the Mexican food in Tucson is highly underappreciated and, below, discusses the El Güero Canelo eatery that he thinks offers some of the best Sonoran food around.
As a local, Mark Carpenter has always known the Mexican cuisine in Tucson by the name Sonoran, which is the Northern Mexican state where the style of cooking originated. He’s watched the food scene in Tucson bloom over the last few decades, reporting on new and trending establishments as an online food and restaurant critic. During his eating adventures, he’s noticed that the quintessential Mexican food in his area isn’t appreciated across the country as it should.
“There are dozens of places in and outside of Arizona that are revered for authentic Mexican flavors and stand-apart dishes with nods to Mexico, but Tucson is often overlooked on the best-of-the-best lists,” says food critic Mark Carpenter. “The Sonoran cuisine that I was raised on remains to be some of the tastiest and most underappreciated food in the entire Southwest.”
Mark Carpenter tells us that for a couple of decades, Tucson’s growth downtown was at a halt. He says that for years every bar or restaurant that sprang up tended to offer the same menu or the same selection of drink with very little originality. The few local Mexican restaurants that offered truly authentic cuisine were always his family’s go-to meals, however.
Recently, he says, Tucson has experienced an abundant growth with newer generations settling into the area and expanding the economy. As a result, their presence has boosted the local food scene, which begs for delicious and original establishments that can tap into unique styles of cooking such as Sonoran.
“One of the best restaurants in town, which subsequently offers some of the best Sonoran food around, is El Güero Canelo that was recognized last year for its excellence by the James Beard Foundation,” says Mark Carpenter.
El Güero Canelo eatery is most famous for its Sonoran hot dogs, which are wrapped in bacon, covered in Mexican cream and pinto beans, and placed in a French roll. Today, there are three El Güero locations that foodies can load up on Sonoran hot dogs at, with Tucson’s replacing Daniel Contreras’ decades-old cheap eats destination. And, at each location, guests can load up on ethnic extras at the toppings bar like beans, tomatoes, grilled onions and all the fresh condiments they could dream up.
“The local Mexican food scene rarely gets the notice it deserves because of our small market in Baja Arizona, but we can keep up with any other Mexican cuisine in the whole country,” says food critic Mark Carpenter. “The Sonoran food found at restaurants like El Güero Canelo proves to all the out-of-towners that Tucson should be on every list of top American eating destinations.”