LA's Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog Wars


Well-reported article from the LA Weekly, with fodder for both pro- and anti-regulation readers, on the city of Los Angeles' wars on street hot dog vendors. It's a story of gentrification and the imposition of outsider standards that aren't necessarily welcome; it's also a story of the resentment of those who at least are trying to obey regulations and stay aboveground against lawbreakers willing to satisfy consumer demand by any means necessary.

The unarguable upshot: you cannot legally grill a hot dog and sell it on the streets of LA, thus casting a shadow of criminality over late-night drinkers' favorite snack, the hazardously delicious grilled bacon-wrapped hot dog, a favorite of the streets outside bars in LA and San Francisco (and doubtless elsewhere).

Some interesting excerpts:

So you can imagine the frustration of vendors like [Elizabeth] Palacios, caught between the demands of the market and the demands of the law.

She would love to sell bacon-wrapped hot dogs — trust her — but a trip last year to the women's county jail, a trip she says officials orchestrated to "make an example" of her, finally pushed her to give up the bacon and illegal grilling device she used for so long. Instead, she prepares dogs the only way the county Environmental Health Department currently allows, by boiling or steaming. Not grilling. And grilling is the only way to make a classic L.A. bacon-wrapped hot dog.

"Honestly, I can tell you, I've been a working person all my life, I've worked since I was 9 years old," Palacios says. "I don't like being bothered, I don't like being arrested. Never in my life had I been to jail, and they threw me in jail for violating the laws of the health department."


As the gentrification of downtown creeps south and east into territory once exclusively working-class, many of the immigrant and gritty, organically evolved elements of the urban landscape — like street vendors and bacon-wrapped hot dogs — are being gradually pushed out.

"They told me, 'The mayor wants to make this area like New York, Times Square,' but I told them, 'Who told him we want that? The people who come here are not like that.' Ninety-nine percent of the people here are mexicanos. Here, you don't really see americanos….."

But Palacios is at least trying to stay above the law. Some vendors don't:

Below the legal vendors are the more ubiquitous operators of homemade carts, which usually consist of propane tanks strapped to modified baby strollers, Target shopping carts or, in most cases, tool carts. They operate completely outside of codes and regulations, their particular rules and organizational methods a mystery to outsiders.

Licensed vendors like Palacios refer to the makeshift bacon-wrapped-hot-dog vendors as "ambulantes" or "piratas," colloquial terms for unlicensed street vendors in Mexico. ……they are almost impossible to track. They usually set up shop on a street for just a short while and then leave. When piratas' shabbily constructed illegal carts are confiscated, vendors rarely show up for hearings or pay impound fees to have their carts returned. That is, if they stick around long enough to be served with a citation. In many instances, illegal hot-dog vendors literally run off at the sight of police…..


Palacios says she sees a double standard.

"[An inspector] came to check me, and the piratas were there, in front of us, and I said, 'Hey, why don't they move them? What happened?'" Palacios recalls. "She said, 'Oh, they get aggressive,' and I said, 'Oh, you want me to get aggressive?' [The inspector] says, 'You know what? I have your ID. If you get aggressive, I put you in jail, and I can't do that to them, because I don't know who they are.'"

Perhaps the most interesting lines to the anarcho-libertarian:

Palacios said she's had health-department inspectors tell her they won't deal with her because her English is not good enough. ("And why wouldn't I have an accent? I wasn't born here," she protested.) Other city workers tell her she should give up her cart and just get a job in local government, because there "you don't do anything."


Authorities also say that in some areas of the city, unlicensed vendors pay "taxes" to local gangs.

Which is of course nothing at all like paying licensing fees to a city to make sure you aren't bothered by their "enforcers." The entire article is well-worth reading, just as an illegally grilled bacon wrapped dog is well worth eating.