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Arts & Culture

Mexican Hot Dog Rivalry Heats Up

Lupita Escalante takes a customer's order at Asadero Sonora in South Tucson as half a dozen bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dogs cook behind her.
Michel Marizco
Lupita Escalante takes a customer's order at Asadero Sonora in South Tucson as half a dozen bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dogs cook behind her.
Sonoran Hot Dog Wars
Sonoran Hot Dog Wars

Connoisseurs of the Sonoran hot dog slather their buns with everything imaginable. But now the mess is getting harder to clean up: A hot dog entrepreneur faces felony charges for trying to extort a rival.

In Tucson, the dog wars now involve the FBI.

Some people swear by the bun. Others, by the salsa. It all depends on where you go. Sonoran dog vendors corner the late-night crowds – and lunch. “Dogueros”, as they’re called, sell these tasty $3 dogs day and night throughout the city.

Albert Gallegos was waiting to pay for eight heaping Sonoran dogs.

"It’s Sonoran style. It’s really a Sonora, Mexico style,” Gallegos said. “If you’ve ever traveled by bus. If you’ve ever been throughout all the little cities and stuff, you’ll get hit up all the time. Every stop you get, there come the hot dogs."

They’ve been featured on Food Wars, a Travel Channel show. They’ve appeared on the pages of The New York Times and in local food contests.

When Maria Negrete makes them, they’re covered in brilliant reds and white and a dark green salsa. She won’t disclose her salsa secrets.

Ronnie Tollover stops by every day for lunch.

“The spiciness. The way the bacon is crisp; it’s not chewy,” Tollover said. “Oh yes, mine’s is hot. I take everything. I don’t know what’s everything. They tell me.”

Everything really does mean just about everything: Pinto beans, mayonnaise, pickled mushrooms, cheese and guacamole. By the time you put all that on them, you end up with something the size and shape of a small Nerf football. Just heavier.

The competition among dogueros was confined to business and the occasional contest. Until two dogueros became the focus of a federal investigation involving the FBI.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Eduardo Sabori. He owns a hot dog stand in East Tucson.

According to federal investigators, Sabori set up an extortion racket against one of the most popular dogueros in town, the owner of “El Güero Canelo” restaurants. Güero Canelo opened a new restaurant two miles from Sabori’s stand in June.

A month later, prosecutors say Sabori demanded $600,000 or he would kill the owner and his family. A member of an FBI SWAT team placed a duffel bag in a garbage can at Sabori’s instructions. He was arrested when he picked it up. Now he faces six federal charges.

Nobody’s saying whether it was competition or merely greed. In court filings, prosecutors said Sabori had financial issues. The two men are also related through marriage.

Doguero Case
Read more about the federal criminal case against a Tucson Doguero.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Rita Connelly is a Tucson food critic. She was a judge on the last national televised doguero contest on The Travel Channel.

“I think everybody was shocked that somebody would try to do something that silly and foolish," Connelly said. "The competition was created by that person. You can live in peaceful harmony and have two different hot dog stands. I think you can do it. Even if they are a block away. I think that’s very doable.”

Prosecutors said Sabori admitted to writing three letters to his rival. One of the writings read: "You won’t get away from me because we will find you."

A court date for the doguero case is set for October.

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