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Birria El Rey Opening Brick & Mortar in Golden Hill

The chef and owner of the popular Golden Hill taco truck is setting down roots in the former Krakatoa space this summer
Birria El Rey Mexican food truck in Golden Hill opening a new brick-and-mortar location in 2024 featuring a taco plate
Courtesy of Birria El Rey

Golden Hill’s Birria El Rey is the best kind of taco truck. There are only a few tables on a sidewalk next to a parking lot and laundromat, but what they lack in seating, they more than make up for with outrageously decadent birria tacos, chilaquiles, fries, and even ramen. Birria is what chef and owner Cristian Marin Vazquez specializes in and what he says the people want. 

Luckily, we’ll get plenty more once he moves a block away to the former Krakatoa spot at 1128 25th Street in Golden Hill this summer.

“I think in three months, it should be ready,” he says during our conversation this month, adding they’re just waiting for final permits and the ABC license. He pauses for a moment and reflects on what that means. “I started selling birria only on Sundays with only a small pot of birria. In three years, I have my restaurant almost ready.”

San Diego Mexican food truck Birria el Rey in South Park featuring meat and quesadillas on the grill
Courtesy of Birria El Rey

Vazquez formally trained at Culinary Art School in Tijuana before working around San Diego at places like Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. Once the pandemic hit, however, he found himself unemployed and ready to try something new. He decided to launch a birria pop-up in Golden Hill on Sundays despite hospitality coming to a screeching halt early in 2020.

“I wasn’t getting any income, so I said, ‘This is my time to try to do something,’” he says. He calls that period of uncertainty scary, but a chance to do what he always wanted to do—open his own restaurant and stop working for someone else. “If I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t have done anything,” he says. But his bet paid off—fast.

“People started to like the birria, so I decided to do it on Saturday,” explains Vazquez. “Then people seemed to like it a lot. So I decided to open from Tuesday to Sunday.” He’s been selling his food as fast as he could make it ever since and had been looking for a place to expand his burgeoning birria empire. When Krakatoa ceased operations in 2022, he knew it was the right spot to develop while maintaining close ties with the Golden Hill community. 

The new spot will have the same favorites, plus a few more. Vasquez says he will add menudo and more proteins to the menu, like beef and chicken, as well as beer and lots more seating. “I’m gonna have some more space to create more things with birria,” he promises. Once he can open, daily hours will run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (The original location at 1015 25th Street is still open.)

But Vasquez is looking ahead even further. “I want to go further north to open up more birria places,” he says. But in the future, I want to open a breakfast restaurant. That’s my dream after I open a couple more restaurants with birria.” 

Breakfast? I wonder. Why?

“I love breakfast,” he says with a laugh. If you eat a good breakfast in the morning, the rest of the day will be good.”

Golden Coast Mead a honey wine beverage company from San Diego that will feature their drinks at Cardiff Farmers Market in 2024
Courtesy of Golden Coast Mead

San Diego Restaurant News & Food Events

Golden Coast Mead Joins Cardiff Farmers Market

It wasn’t until 2016 that California beverage alcohol makers with Type 84 permits were allowed to “offer instructional tasting events to consumers” at farmers’ markets under Assembly Bill 774. Golden Coast Mead immediately seized the opportunity, pouring at markets in Otay Ranch, North Park, Vista, Poway, and Hillcrest. Now, they’ve added Cardiff Farmers Market to their rotation every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the MiraCosta San Elijo Campus at 3333 Manchester Avenue.

“We’ll be able to pour customers three one-ounce educational tasters, and sell bottles to-go of our organic honey-based, regenerative, Southern California-style, refreshing, sometimes tart, enlivening, all-natural, no preservatives or artificial ingredient added meads,” says Golden Coast founder Frank Golbeck. Mead is much more complex than its “just honey wine” reputation, he adds. “The bees have to visit over two million flowers to make one pound of honey, [and] our bottles have a half pound of honey in each one. That means there are over one million flower visits in each bottle. If there are one hundred sips in a bottle, that’s 10,000 flower visits in one sip,” he explains. “Pretty inspiring, beautiful stuff if you ask me.”

Schmackary's Cookies, a bakery franchise opening its first location in San Diego, on a tray
Courtesy of Schmackary’s Cookies

Beth’s Bites

Goodbye Starbucks, hello Amoré Caffe! The corner of Robinson and Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest’s busy thoroughfare is keeping coffee on the menu but kicking corporate chains to the curb. Husband-and-wife-owned Amoré is slated to open sometime in late summer or fall 2024.

(Cue Cookie Monster voice) COOKIES ARE COMING! Schmackary’s, the New York City-based cookie franchise with ties to Broadway, will open its first San Diego location sometime this year. We don’t know much, but we know there will be cookies.

On Sunday, April 28, the first Cocktail Championship Block Party kicks off at 1 p.m. with 21 bars in the mix, including Rustic Root, Union Kitchen & Tap, The Deck at Moonshine Flats, Lumi, and more. Plan to rideshare and drink plenty of water—tickets include 21 mini cocktails (Egad!)

Have breaking news, exciting scoops, or great stories about new San Diego restaurants or the city’s food scene? Send your pitches to [email protected].

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