Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Is this the best hot dog in the universe?
OMG. It’s increíble! And tastes as good as it looks.
I’m looking down at a viper’s nest of crispy candied onions, tomato chunks, a crooked line of yellow mustard with red balls dotted along it so it looks like a coral snake twisting under a big fat roasted chile guëro.
And it’s all bursting out of a maybe eight-inch rough-top French baguette, with Swiss cheese licking over the edges — full of holes, not cooked.
Whew. And, oh yeah, yelling “Hello-oo! Under here! I’m part of the deal too, ya know!” is this giant wiener.
One bite and whoo hoo! Da wiener ain’t no wimpy canine either. As dogs go it’s hot, hot, picante hot. But the thing is, the sweet, crispy, tangy nest it’s in, plus the crunchy-crusted “bun” gives it a rich taste like…rico suave! I swear, in this dog-eat-dog world, I’ve never had it so good.
I’m in TJ. Around nine at night, down one of the little alleyways of Plaza Fiesta. The plaza is empty. Two or three bars and cantinas open, but really, this place, Sótano Suizo (the Swiss Cellar), Plaza Fiesta, Island G, Local 1 & 8-12, Paseo de Los Heroes, Zona Rio, Tijuana, 011.52.664.684-88-34), is the only one that’s rockin’. Outside deck, inside bar, and inside the inside, a woody retreat you enter through a heavy arched door that’s straight outa Grimm’s Fairy tales.
First, navigate the alley...
...and come across a Swiss-style bar-cellar eatery...
...under the sign...
...through the heavy door...
...and get the welcome from Alfredo and his bell
The place is crowded, but not shoulder-to-shoulder. The music’s rock, but not thunder-blasting.
The room is full of big brass Swiss cow bells (some you can ring!), heavy rafters with rows of steins on them, deer antlers.
You wouldn’t know you weren’t in Switzerland if it wasn’t that everyone around you is speaking Spanish.
Eduardo Gonzalez (or “Tio” — "Uncle" — as all the customers around me call him) says he’s been working here 18 years. Says the hot dog itself is a hot Hungarian sausage.
Juan Hernández, the supervisor who comes around and checks on the customers, says the recipe for the Sótano hot dog was created by the Swiss owner, René Bösiger.
“He’s here every day,” says Juan, “like he has been for 22 years. We have so many customers who are total regulars, they expect to see him.”
Whatever, I’m, like, totally sold. Haven’t had a dawg like it. That, with a “Café Americano” coffee...
Cafe Americano is Instant, but nicely presented
costs me the grand total of $7.57. And that includes the 11 percent IVA tax Mexicans pay.
I’m coming back with Carla and a couple of buddies to get the full-length version “Mamuth Dog,” “half-a-meter of our grandioso hot dog for 2-3 people." Costs exactly double, even though the ones I saw looked about three times as long.
Two are enough for this table
Also, they do snails (about $7) and cheese fondues (about $7.50, for two). And they’ve started up their own micro brewery in the house. Soon the brewing will be in front of everybody, right here. Gotta try that.
But most of all, they do atmosphere. It’s the warmth of the Swiss cowbell thing and Mexican casual in an olde world atmos that’s totally rocking.
Oh, and check out the giant thumb that’s also a winter fireplace you can sit around.
I'll be back for a Tin Fork, soon's I can.
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