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Late Thursday afternoon, March 15, 2007, I was driving back to my motel along busy Park Ave. in Tucson, AZ, after enjoying a delicious tostada at Nico's Taco Shop, one of Tucson's best know taquerias, when I passed a lot that was vacant an hour previously, and much to my surprise, I found a full-fledged taco/hot dog restaurant in operation, which had sprouted, like weeds from the previously vacant lot.  When I noticed that the restaurant specialized in hot dogs, con estillo Sonora, that was it:  I made a u-turn and headed back to the the taco truck to see what sort of fine cuisine they had to offer.

Photo:  As the sun goes down, I photograph the dinner crowd at El Manatial, which is composed of local citizens.

When I'm on these solo jaunts, I never, repeat, I never eat at traditional sit-down restaurants, as I prefer to dine at hot dog carts, taco stands, and small, family-owned diners.  Tucson is an absolute paradise for lovers of Sonora-style hot dogs, and various types of tacos, served from small diners, taco trucks and hot dog carts, which is as close to Mexican street food that you'll ever find north of the border.  

Photo:  El Manatial's hot dog cart, and the friendly guy is cooking my hot dog.

Photo:   As my hot dog was cooking, I couldn't help to observe another customer walk up to the guy and give him a bag of ice.  What???

El Manantial, which proudly displays the logo "Tacos Y Hot Dogs" is located in a vacant lot, at the busy intersection of East Park Ave. and 36th St., on Tucson's south side, which is a paradise for lovers of inexpensive, authentic Mexican food.  I can't vouch for the hours that the place is open, as the three guys that operate the restaurant were very busy, and didn't have a lot of time to talk, when I asked them questions about their operation.  El Manatial sets up shop near a concrete slab, which appears to be the remnants of a defunct mini-mart, and the slab makes a perfect foundation in which to set up their many plastic tables and chairs.  The main element to the restaurant is a taco truck, and adjacent to it is a canopy, to shade diners from the blazing Tucson sun.  Parked near the diner is a hot dog cart, where the Sonora-style hot dogs are grilled, which proudly displays the logo "El Manatial Tacos Y Hot Dogs Estillo Sonora."  Works for me...  The salsa bar is located in front of the hot dog cart, and it contains red salsa, salsa verde, pico de gallo, sliced cucumbers, halved key limes, sliced radishes, and diced red onions.  In back of the hot dog cart are two vans, loaded with supplies, that no doubt support the restaurant for logistical purposes.  The taco truck supplies electricity, as the place is rigged with both incandescent and fluorescent lights, and the ever-present television is tuned to a Spanish language channel.  All in all, the decor provides the perfect ambiance for a hot dog estillo Sonora, on a warm, Tucson evening.

Photo:  The shaded dining canopy is to the extreme left of the photo, and the taco truck, with customers, is in the center, and the hot dog cart is to the right of the photo.  Note the cement slab that the canopy and tables are placed upon.  The cement slab is from a defunct, 1960's era mini mart.

You walk up to the order window and order from the printed menu, that's to your left, and attached to the side of the catering truck.  Although El Manatial specializes in hot dogs, they offer other delicious entrées, such as tacos, burros, caramelos, quesadillas, tortas, and sodas to quench your thirst.  Everything on the menu is inexpensive, as the tacos only cost $1.25 each, and their delicious hot dogs are only $2.00; more on the hot dogs later.  As per the format with most Tucson taco trucks, you walk up the order window, place your order, pay for it, get a receipt, and  walk over to the guy that's working the hot dog cart, about 20 feet away from the taco truck.  During my visit to El Manatial, I wasn't the only customer enjoying hot dogs, as the guy at the grill had quite a few of them cooking, and there were many other diners, seated at the plastic tables, happily munching on delicious hot dogs. You take your receipt to the guy at the hot dog cart, give it to him, and they he'll ask what you want on your hot dog.  My default response is "con todo," as I love everything on a delicious Sonoran-style hot dog.  Ready.  Set.  Go! You receive your hot dog in about two minutes.

Photo:  I snap the photo as my hot dog is cooked, with other customers in the photo.  Note the stainless steel condiment tray in front of the hot dog cart, which holds lots of delicious salsas, diced vegetables and condiment.

El Manatial doesn't serve garden-variety hot dogs, as they serve one of the best hot dogs that I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy.  For starters, in the style of Sonora, the bun is large, soft, fresh and very "doughy" in texture. Unlike hot dog buns in the U.S., the bun is not split down the middle; instead its sort of hollowed out in the center, while the ends remain intact.  The bacon-wrapped hot dog is placed in the bun, along with a couple of spoonfuls of pinto beans, and then the garnishes are added, consisting of diced red onions, diced tomatoes, and salsa verde.  Mustard and mayonnaise are squeezed on the hot dog from plastic squeeze bottles (Note:  No ketchup is offered, which greatly differs from the hot dogs sold on the streets of Tijuana) and the hot dog is yours, ready to enjoy.  Oh one small thing that sets El Manatial apart from the competition is that they include a grilled yellow chili pepper with your hot dog, as per the tradition in this part of the world, but their grilled chili pepper is a cut above everybody else's, as the grilled chili pepper is tightly wrapped with a slice of bacon!  Oh Boy!

Photo:  My hot dog, from El Manatial, is probably the best hot dog that I've ever eaten!  Note the grilled, yellow chili pepper, wrapped in bacon, which is part of the meal, for a small price of $2.00.  This place is the best!

As you bite into your hot dog, the juice erupts from the dog, as El Manatial uses premium hot dogs, and the garnishes and condiments sort of blend together, and you're truly enjoying some quality time in hot dog paradise. The dining decor is pure outdoor Tucson, but somehow that compliments the delicious hot dogs that you'll enjoy.

You can't beat the price, at only $2.00 each, and you can't beat the quality, the presentation, the attention to detail, and the total product.  El Manatial produces one of the best hot dogs that I've ever eaten, and when you're visiting Tucson, they should be included on your things-to-do-list.

El Manatial - Tacos Y Hot Dogs
Park Ave. and 36th St.
Tucson, AZ 85719

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