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Aug 25, 2006 08:59 PM

please enlighten me: sonoran?

I am heading to Tucson from Canada in a couple of weeks. I have been reading through some of the recommendations, but as I haven't a clue what "sonoran style" means, it doesn't really help. Anyone out there feel like enlightening this ignorant Canadian?

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  1. Mexico is made up of states and the state that borders Arizona to the south is the state of Sonora. And, due to proximity, the vast majority of Mexican restaurants in Arizona serve Sonoran style Mexican food. Tell tale Sonoran food includes pinto beans cooked down with lard and salt and refried, burritos made from flour tortillas, and the standards found on many a menu; tacos, enchiladas, tamales etc. It has been described by many as comfort food. It is a rare day that you will leave a Sonoran style restaurant hungry - expect a generous use of cheese and red and green chili sauces. Different states are known for different types of cuisine. When someone talks about a Baja style taco chances are it is made by taking two small corn tortillas, lightly grilling them then topping with fresh grilled, chopped meat and topped with some onion, cilantro and maybe a fresh salsa. Also – as the Baja is on the water you will see more fish on the menu. Other styles of Mexican food that people talk about are Oaxacan, Veracruz, and Yucatan. Not sure if that helps.


    1. Maybe someone with far more "heritage," than I possess, will give you the definitive statement, but until they come along, here goes.

      The cuisine of Mexico is very diverse. Each "state" is known, for instance, for its different mole. The same for much of the fare. The states of Baja and Sonora reache from the Pacific, across much of the border with the US. California and Arizona border with Sonora. In general terms, I associate Bajan and Sonoran, with lighter tomato-based sauces, chunkier salsas, more "fresh" veggies, and Pacific seafood to the west and along the Baja.

      When one gets to the New Mexican/Mexican border, the corn used for tortillas, etc. is more often blue, or red, rather than white, or yellow. The spices change a bit, and the sauces and salsas are usually a bit thicker, but are still usually tomato-based. The New Mexican chilis are used more often (though do find their way into the dishes) and the Chipolte (a roasted chili) gets extensive use.

      By the Texas/Mexican border (Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas), the corn is back to yellow (in most cases), the sauces are thicker, and more often beef broth-based, with less tomato. I find that the cheeses are often a bit more pungent, and there is less in the fresh veggie department. Without measuring Scoville points, I find that the heat index goes up from West to East, but this is a general impression, and one can always ask to have, even the Baja fish, kicked up a notch, or two.

      One usually doesn't get back into the seafood realm, until you get down the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where Caribbean influence comes in.

      You might also want to search this board for Sonoran, as there was a discussion thread very recently on what constituted Tex-Mex and what, Sonoran.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        In Yuma, I find it helpful to distinguish the old-line, Sonoran, restaurants from the Mexican restaurants that reflect and cater to the more recent immigrants from across the border.

        The old line places emphasize flour tortillas, serve a lot of burritos including chimichangas and burritos enchilada style, add a lot of cheese, and use primarily beef. Food tends to be flavorful but mildly spiced in general. Tacos are rolled or folded - both with fried shells. Albondigas is the characteristic soup. Often these places cater to gringos, and combination platters are common.

        The new style places reflect the various origins of more recent immigrants, so styles of preparations may vary more from place to place. They often serve soft corn tortillas for tacos, have spicier salsas, prepare a wider range of dishes, more often use pork and chicken, serve a range of caldos (soups) like pozole, caldo de pollo or de res etc. The best food is rarely found in combination platters at these spots. Instead focus on meat preparations that you like: green chili, pollo asado, carnitas, steak ranchero, etc.

        This is, of course, an oversimplification, and I suspect that good restaurants reflect and respond to their clientele.


      2. wow. thanks for taking the time to clarify. That helped a lot and now I will have a better idea of what to expect in Tucson.

        1. If you're in Tucson, a good quick education is at St. Mary's on St. Mary's and N. Grande. Don't worry that it doesn't look glamorous. True Sonoran style tortillas, flour, huge, and paper-thin. Best time to go it as breakfast, get a burrito,a bag of fresh (and hot) tortillas to go, and whatever else catches your eye.

          1. Just got back from getting my Sonoran fix in Tucson yesterday . . . wonderful, as always! But it's good to be home in New Mexico!