Full disclosure: I ate the hot dog.

I haven’t eaten meat in years, but a small crowd was forming at the Roque’s Chicano Dog stand in the Big Jo True Value hardware parking lot on Siler Road in Midtown—and as one of the faithful told me while we waited, sometimes you’ve just gotta have that dog.

This marks the third summer that Roque’s Chicano Dog (1311 Siler Road) has offered up a full menu of dogs Monday through Friday from 11 am to 3 pm. The gear and a percentage of the business belong to Plaza icon Roque Garcia of Roque’s Carnitas, but the operation is run by Armando Pacheco, an Albuquerque boy who emigrated to Santa Fe in 2014 to follow a woman. That relationship didn’t last, but Pacheco says the moment he saw Garcia slinging fajitas on the Plaza, he knew he needed to make a connection.

“I thought that he was just a guy I needed to know,” Pacheco says with a laugh. “He just looked so cool, I needed to know him.”

Cut to 2019, and Pacheco was developing dogs, business practices and a fiercely loyal local clientele. This is a Midtown parking lot we’re talking about—either you hear about it through word of mouth, or it’s not for you. But word travels fast in a small town, and on the afternoon I visited Pacheco—only his second day this season—to learn of his ways, he wound up selling out entirely.

“I have what I call bronze, silver and gold medal days,” he explains. “Yesterday was bronze, today is gold.”

Indeed, within moments of arriving, drivers happening by were shouting greetings, Big Jo employees wandered out to grab dogs, and singles, couples and families all trudged up to claim their $6 meals (every menu item comes with chips, and Pacheco was handing out free sodas to celebrate his return to the grill). Every dog is a Hebrew National—100% beef, baby—but Pacheco’s toppings seal the deal. His proprietary dish, the Chicano Dog, is his most popular, and comes with green chile, mustard, a relish blend Pacheco devised himself, plus onions and red chile salt. You can get it on a bun or a tortilla, and on this particular afternoon, the buns ran out fast. Pacheco usually starts the day with 49 buns and dogs; this is going to be a good year, he hypothesizes, adding, “If you’re a foodie, you’re gonna want to try one.”

I’ve been craving a hot dog since the day I gave up meat, and I chose the Queaguite Bro with ketchup and mustard, since going simple seemed the best plan. I have ghost memories from the excellently grilled hot dogs at BBQs and holidays past, but I wanted the full taste if I was meat-cheating, and anyway—Pacheco’s a ringer.

How can a man grilling regular old hot dogs make them taste so good? Pacheco theorizes it’s the taste of summer.

“If the sun’s out, people want hot dogs,” he says. “It’s summer; it’s the Fourth of July; it’s baseball and heat and your kids. I worked in restaurants for years—I’m skilled in parting people with their money and, in Santa Fe, I could sell a hot dog in December. In the summer, though? People just want ‘em.”

Not bad, considering our hero was moments away from taking a parks & rec job with the city last February. Then COVID-19 hit and the offer was withdrawn. Still, he kept his job with the Legislature where, he says, he works “shuffling bills.” That position only exists when the session is in, though, and Pacheco probably wouldn’t give up the Chicano Dog stand for anything. He’s a celebrity—one of those local markers that mysteriously rolls in at the start of summer and then, just as mysteriously, is gone one day. “You just feel it,” he says of the day each year he knows it’s time to hang up the tongs. “You just know.”

One man in the line who did not wish to be identified told me he waits for Pacheco to open all year, and he’s been telling his friends. He grabbed a few Chicano Dogs, on which Pacheco emblazoned the word “Chicano” in mustard. Another customer picked up the John Wayne with mustard, ketchup, relish and onion; another yet, the ATM, or a todo madre—the dog with everything. Numerous customers toward the back of the crowd eagerly shouted their orders for the Orale with sauerkraut from Barrio Brinery, green chile, onion and mustard. And as he scurried back and forth, keeping track of more than any one person should be able to, the feeling crept in so gradually that I barely noticed: This is what summer’s supposed to be about, and Roque’s Chicano Dog loves locals.

“It’s funny coming from Albuquerque, because we usually hate Santa Fe,” he says. “But now that I’ve been here? I love this town. It’s quirky. We’re weirdos, man.”