Hermosillo redefines Sonoran cuisine

Local Butcher (Photo By: Sarah Pelfini Arizona Sonoran news Service)
Food is an essential part of Hermosillo, a four hour drive from Tucson. Photo by Sarah Pelfini/Arizona Sonora News.

Roughly 67 miles from the Gulf of California, surrounded by rocky hills and lush greenery sits Hermosillo, Sonoran’s thriving food scene.

Visitors walking along the cobblestone streets discover creamy white cathedrals in the distance offset by crumbling buildings strewn with colorful murals and artwork.Busy city streets wind around the center of the city where the air is thick and smells of charred meat and spices. Rotisserie chickens spin on large metal contraptions, colorful fruit line wooden stands, and fresh cheese wheels are sold on the corner.

Hermosillo City Street (Photo By: Sarah Pelfini Arizona Sonoran news Service)
Hermosillo City Street. Photo by Sarah Pelfini/Arizona Sonora News.

Hermosillo has developed a rich personality that combines a long history of cattle ranching, the desolate Sonoran desert, and strategic agriculture. Progressive chefs and street food vendors have redefined Sonoran cuisine by integrating new techniques and cultural fusions.

Sonora is best known for its various cuts of beef, with over 80 percent of its land grazing with cattle. Local resident Luis Phalange, an electronic factory planner, grew up eating carne asada, a marinated and grilled beef cut into thin slices. His family served the tender meat with avocado, cabbage, lemon, salsa, beans and flour tortillas. Phalange believes that the creative uses of beef have influenced the true “identity of the city.”

Some of the most delicious dishes stemmed from the adverse climate of the Sonoran desert. Issaac Othon, manager of Palominos Restaurant, explains that machaca is a traditional preparation of beef dried in the sun, salted, spiced with chiltepin pepper, and shredded. Cattleman originally ate machaca during long days on the ranch, but it can now be found incorporated in countless Sonoran dishes.

“It is something really special to Sonora,” Othon said. 

Machaca Scramble (Photo By: Sarah Pelfini Arizona Sonoran news Service)
Machaca Scramble Photo by: Sarah Pelfini/Arizona Sonora News.

The dried specialty can be found throughout Hermosillo in quaint convenience stores, taco stands, and home kitchens alike. Reforma 255 a modern eatery with a shabby chic style all its own, serves breakfast and lunch specialties integrating machaca in a modern way. The dried beef is reconstituted with beef broth mixed with sautéed onion and tomatoes and folded into eggs. Machaca can be found in everything from burros, tostadas to tacos.

Bill Steen, a founder of the Canelo Project, a non-profit that rebuilds adobe homes, has seen the food scene develop in the past few years, “there are really exciting things happening with food in Hermosillo.” 

Seafood has had a crucial presence in Hermosillo street food, with the beaches of Bahia Kino just over an hour away. Taco stands lined along the dusty streets grill up freshly caught fish, batter it, fry it and cover it with cabbage, lemon and salsa.

One of Steen’s must-try spots is Bermejo, a modern restaurant celebrating where the ocean meets the desert. The eatery has brought an entirely new meaning to “surf and turf” by reinterpreting traditional seafood dishes with fresh flavors and a refined touch. Menu items include ceviche, grilled fish and octopus. Each plate evokes style and finesse, but maintains the true soul of Hermosillo.

With family roots in the city, Steen has spent a lot of time absorbing Sonoran culture. As a kid, he remembers eating his mother’s enchilada dish, which began with a mixture of green chilies and Campbell’s mushroom soup.

“I remember after a long afternoon of drinking beers with my friends, I could bring them all home and my mother would make this dish and everyone would just go crazy for it,” Steen said.

With each generation, the food we eat takes on new variations and Hermosillo is embracing this change. Othon explains that chefs and restaurant owners are “always looking for new ways of cooking.”

Hermosillo Hills (Photo By: Sarah Pelfini Arizona Sonoran news Service)
Hermosillo Hills (Photo By: Sarah Pelfini Arizona Sonoran news Service)

Although Sonoran cuisine is founded in traditional spices, variations of beef, seafood, and cheese, the integration of Mexican and American culture has spurred incentives for change. Steen explains that Sonoran cuisine has become “the integration or the push of America into Mexican culture.”

Phalange grew up surrounded by many traditional dishes such as menudo and pozole, but his mother has integrated different cultures into her food. “Through the years she has been reading [Italian] recipes and translates them into Mexican food.”

Although the new cultural additions may steer from the traditions of Sonora, the people of Hermosillo aren’t shying away from putting their personal spin on American dishes.

After baseball became popular in the city in the 1940s, many American traditions followed along with it. The most recognized fusion is known as the Sonoran hot dog.

The street food delicacy traditionally consists of a billowy roll stuffed with a grilled sausage wrapped in bacon. But what makes this decadent street food so special is the toppings. Everything from beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, various salsas, cucumber, and chile guero give the dog an entirely new identity.

Phalange urges people to come and try the Sonoran specialties for themselves.“America attempts to emulate our hot dog, but it doesn’t compare to the Hermosillo way” he said.

Hermosillo’s lively and colorful personality is indicative of the arid desert, glistening ocean, and the melding of different cultures. The plazas are bursting with vibrance and life, the people are warm and inviting, the food is flavorful and fresh.

Phalange explains Hermosillo’s distinct character is unlike any city in the world, “nuestra casa es su casa.”

Sarah Pelfini is a reporter for Arizona Sonoran News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at spelfini@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *