Friday night after a long week of retirement and we have dinner plans with friends, Amy and Steve. Sounds pretty normal, right? You’re imagining perhaps a local restaurant, a little music, a bit of relaxing conversation…well…not exactly. Imagine this instead, your friend calls that day to finalize plans and suggests, “Let’s get hog dogs and ice cream tonight.” My immediate thought following this statement is, am I an 8 year old? Do I look like a person who normally wolfs down hot dogs? Why not just propose a night out at McDonald’s for a Happy Meal and a trip to the ball pit? For some reason I say, “Sounds great!” immediately regretting my spontaneous decision. However, that same afternoon the instant I mentioned this strange dinner plan to our Spanish teacher, Dolores, her eyes lit up. When asked if she was interested in joining us, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, shook her head in the affirmative and said, “¡Claro, que, si!” which is español for, “Of course!” Now, I was curious.
I started by questioning, “What’s the deal with hot dogs?” She obliged by informing us that many people in Mexico take great pride in their hot dogs then asked where we were going for dinner. When she heard that we were planning to patronize a place in San Carlos she said, “We have to go to Guaymas.” (Pronounced Why Mass) “People in Guaymas say Guaymas is the capital of the hot dog and I agree.” With that the only true Mexican in the dinner group immediately took over control of our plans for the evening. Boy were we glad she did.
Dolores said, “For your first Mexican hot dog we should to go to the stand in Guaymas that’s on the corner by the old fire station and the prison! Wait, did she say prison? Quickly adding, “It’s not an actual prison anymore but rather a museum.” Even with finding the Antigua Cárcel y Museo or Old Jail and Museum on Google Maps after limited research I can’t actually say this clarification made me feel all that much better. Being an excellent teacher, Dolores often wants us to have real world experiences. As a result dinner had turned into a field trip in which Mike and I were expected to use our Spanish to ask complete strangers on the street directions to the hot dog stand. Now I was way more nervous about asking directions than I could possibly have been about eating a hot dog near a former prison.
At 7pm the five of us piled into our car and headed toward Guaymas. As we neared the location we were quizzed on the question we were tasked with asking. Dolores soon realized that neither of us could remember the phrase and agreed to show us how it’s done. She explained that it’s very important to watch the directions while we listen to them. She lowered the window and asked in perfectly beautiful Spanish, “Discúlpame, por favor. ¿Dónde está la vieja estación de bomberos? ” “Excuse me. Where is the old fire station?” She repeated this process each time we pulled to the side of the road. We watched as three very helpful locals explained how we might get to the location. Each time the second they began speaking, the obliging men turned away from us and began pointing to the left and right repeatedly while mentioning reference points and numbers rather than street names. This by the way resulted in us having a whole new respect for people who speak with their hands. Watching their common hand movements was oddly more helpful than the words they spoke. We used these non verbal directions and a short detour down a one way street going the wrong way, to reach the destination.
We arrived at a brightly lit street corner which was the “restaurant”. Steam was rising from a small silver cart and a delicious aroma filled the air. The long line led to three men working in tandem at an unbelievable pace. This was the family owned Los Pajaritos aka The Little Birds. The stand opens nightly at 6 pm and operates until they run out of hot dogs. And, they always do. Standing in line I mentally practiced the sentence I needed to be able to order my dinner. I was simultaneously wondering why I was even contemplating eating a hot dog. It’s been years since I’ve had one, I don’t actually like them and even though I’d learned that the sausages at Los Pajaritos were made of turkey, I did not dare let the processing creep into my brain. It’s my turn. The vendor picked up a napkin and grabbed a steamed bun that looked more like a small loaf of bread while using tongs points to the two dog options. I blurt, “Tocino.” Spanish hot dog stand lingo for I’ll take the one wrapped in bacon. Next he began pointing to the many condiments spread out before him. Grilled onions, raw onions, tomatoes, and chopped peppers. I can’t even speak, I just shake my head like one of those bobblehead dashboard dogs agreeing to everything. Now for the chili sauce, mustard and something that looked creamy. The vendor picked up each bottle and barked, “¿Uno, dos, tres? This was his way of asking how many lines of each would I like. I uttered some numbers and he thrust the dog in my hands. And just like that, he moved on to the next customer. I walked away with my hot dog toward the seating area which consisted of four plastic chairs placed neatly along the sidewalk. It’s crowded tonight and there were no seats available for our party of five. I passed a small table housing extra condiments and napkins and then to a cooler filled with a variety of iced down glass bottled Mexican sodas. I grabbed a soda and popped the top with the opener attached to the stand.
I looked around and noticed many people standing among friends chatting and enjoying their dogs their faces full of joy. The five of us stood together on the crowded street with our fellow hot dog eaters. The time had come to dive into the Guaymas – style hot dog. From the girl who doesn’t eat hot dogs, I must admit they were awesome. The bread was fresh, soft and airy. The odd mixture of ingredients created a delicious concoction. Was it a good idea to enjoy our first hot dogs standing on the sidewalk outside the fire station? All I can say is…I had seconds.
As our group gathered together licking our chops one of us asked, “Who paid?” Dolores informed us that customers pay at the end of their meal. When you’re finished you simply go back and tell the vendors what you ate and they collect your pesos. I questioned this process and she added that the vendors prefer it that way for two reasons. First, they do not have to stop between patrons allowing them to work more quickly and second, having you pay once saves them from needing to replace their plastic gloves so often which keeps their profits higher. Pretty smart. This is not only a great business practice but the honor system at its finest.
When our bellies were bursting and the time to pay had arrived we discovered the hot dogs only were 16 pesos or roughly 84 cents each. Mike approached the stand to pay the equivalent of $8.50 for the 10 hot dogs consumed by our dinner group. He soon ascertained that Dolores had already covered our meal. She wanted to be the first to treat us to the BEST hot dogs in Guaymas.
We followed our dog dinner with a visit to another multi-generational, family owned business in the form of a Nieves stand. This ice cream like dessert originates from the Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced Wa Ha Ka). It comes in both a water or milk base and has the consistency of snow ice cream that I made as a child. The sweet flavors are created from fresh fruits and natural ingredients. They range from dragon fruit (pitahaya) to Mexican vanilla (vainilla) and caramel (carmelo) to coconut (coco). There was even a tequila flavor. That evening fifteen options were offered. Our group made our selections and then settled into the plastic chairs under one of the 3 umbrellaed tables. The family dog snoozed on the ground nearby and the 5 year old grandson relished in his opportunity to clean the tables. We all agreed that his diligent efforts could only mean the tables at the stand were undoubtedly the cleanest in the state of Sonora. The nieves was filled with delicious, icy goodness and thus a perfect ending to the meal. Our friend, Steve, stealthily snuck the 125 pesos into the palm of the owner while we were enjoying casual conversation in the calm setting.
Dinner for five in Guaymas came to a grand total of about $15.00. While the cost of the entire evening with friends was unbelievably low, the experience was a definite highlight of our time in San Carlos. As Ian Garten, author of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook says, “Food is not about impressing people. It’s about making them feel comfortable.” Our night out for hot dogs and ice cream was impressive. In less than two hours these well known fast foods became the center of a comfortable, fun evening in Guaymas. I cannot wait for a return trip. ¡Provecho!
October 28, 2019
“Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry:Sudden Impact
To learn where you could possibly find a semi Sonoran-style hot dog in the US, read this article: https://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-sonora-hot-dogs-los-angeles-20170911-story.html
*Special thanks to Dolores for assisting me with edits on this entry.