It’s not about the bacon. Yes, wrapping a hot dog in breakfast meat gets people riled like that mutt in the Beggin’ Strips commercial. But, frankly, it’s insulting to the Sonoran dogs served at the new Papa-Pau cart, sitting in a gravel lot on Southeast 82nd Avenue.
Named for the Mexican state that invented it, this hot dog isn’t another applewood-smoked gimmick. A great Sonoran dog—and I had one at the famous El Güero Canelo in Tucson, Ariz., last week that wasn’t as good as Papa-Pau’s version—is subtle and complex.
The bun is made from slightly sweet dough and lightly steamed so that it has a slightly gummy coating, not unlike Chinese bao. Papa-Pau bakes its own to get it right. The dog and that thing it’s wrapped in are topped with vegetables grilled (mushrooms, onions and peppers) and ungrilled (onions, tomatoes and jalapeños), plus pinto beans, mayonnaise, nacho cheese sauce, a salty and smooth guacamole sauce, a tiny bit of chorizo and a sprinkle of powdery cotija cheese. No ketchup, please. And the bacon? Yeah, it’s in there—somewhere.
If the lone dish on the Papa-Pau menu sounds messy, it isn’t, provided it’s not overloaded. It’s about the balance of flavors—salty and sweet, spicy and cool, Gringo y Chicano.
The origins of the dog are also tidy, says Papa-Pau owner Luis Miramontes.
The Sonoran Desert straddles Mexico and Arizona. Creation myths abound. Arizonans have variously given credit to Tucson and the Sonoran capital of Hermosillo. Some point to Ciudad Obregón, a smaller city south of Hermosillo.
Americans don’t have the real story, Miramontes says. “I’ve met the guys who invented it. They’re brothers called Memo and Güero—those are their nicknames—and they both work carts on the same street, a famous street called Nainari, in Ciudad Obregón,” he says.
Miramontes is from Obregón, so he’d be happy to claim credit for his city—except he knows better. “The truth is that the dog originated in a very small town in the mountains called El Chinal,” he says. “The story goes that an American went to El Chinal and he was eating hot dogs, and [brothers Memo and Güero] saw that and wanted to make it to Mexican tastes. They did and then they moved to Ciudad Obregón to sell them because it was a bigger city. It took off from there.”
In Hermosillo, the Sonoran dog got fame and beans (“They’re the big city, the capital, so they get the credit,” Miramontes says. “And they did put the beans on it, which is important.”) Then it was on to Tucson, where The New York Times put the dog’s locus.
Now, the Sonoran dog
lands in Oregon. Not even in a cart pod—yet. “I talked to this guy who
owns a pod and he said, ‘Why do we want a hot dog cart? I could do my
own hot dog cart and put bacon on it,’” Miramontes laughs. “I tried to
explain, ‘Sir, this is no ordinary hot dog.’”
- Order this: Sonoran hot dog combo with homemade potato chips and soda ($7).
- I’ll pass: Vegetarian dog ($6).
EAT: Papa-Pau, 9603 SE 82nd Ave., Happy Valley, 890-3853, facebook.com/papapauportland. 11 am-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-9:30 pm Friday, 9 pm-midnight Saturday. $ Inexpensive.