The University of Arizona has awarded longtime Tucson Mexican restaurant El Saguarito the exclusive rights to serve and sell Mexican food at Arizona Stadium and McKale Center.

The four-year contract awarded Tuesday starts with the Aug. 29 Wildcat football home opener against the University of Nevada.

It marks the return of El Saguarito to campus after a nine-year absence. The 25-year-old restaurant at 1763 E. Prince Road was the first Tucson Mexican eatery allowed to set up shop at UA sporting events. The restaurant, owned and operated by Albert and Bianca Vasquez and their children Jacqueline, Albert Jr. and Emilio, was on campus from 1993 until 2005, when El Charro took over.

“I am very excited, especially now that my son’s beside me learning the trade and bringing his education to the next level,” Albert Sr. said. His son recently graduated from the UA’s Eller College of Management and will oversee the campus operations, Vasquez said.

El Charro President Ray Flores said his family, which owns El Charro Cafe and Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, decided early this summer not to renew its contract with the UA when it was up in June.

“We love the UA but it became too costly to continue with them,” Flores said, citing the fees attached to doing business at UA sports facilities.

Under El Charro’s contract, the UA required vendors to pay a fee to the UA Student Unions, which oversees the food vendors, and a marketing fee to IMG, which advertises the vendors on signs inside the stadium, over the public address system and on the jumbo video screens.

Brett Brestel, director of student concessions with the UA Student Unions, said the UA went to a flat-fee bid process for the new contract, effectively giving vendors the choice of marketing with IMG.

“Now we’re going into more of a direct bid so that it’s not tied into the marketing,” Brestel said, noting, though, that vendors are still likely to contract with IMG to draw attention to their businesses inside and outside the stadium.

Vasquez said El Saguarito, known for its healthful take on Mexican food including eschewing lard and using canola oil, will serve a menu of green chile, chicken and bean burritos, quesadillas, individual and family-sized nachos and churros from four locations — three on the east side of the stadium and one on the west side. It also will handmake fresh tortillas on a grill and serve them with honey, he said. Prices will run $7 to $9, he said.

At McKale, the family will resurrect its all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet that was popular during its earlier UA run. The menu will include enchilada and vegetarian casseroles, tamales, beans, rice, and handmade corn and flour tortillas. The price will be around $10 or $11, he said.

In addition to a stand inside McKale, El Saguarito will operate a tent outside the arena that will feature TV sets so that fans can watch the men’s and women’s basketball games.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.