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Drink This: The Vampiro at Senor Mangos

Our search for San Diego’s best drinks for our April issue leads us to North Park’s first family of fruit
Courtesy of Senor Mangos
Senor Mangos

Courtesy of Senor Mangos

Kids washing fruit in a driveway to help their family build a life in a new place. That’s the story of this juice.

When the Leon family moved from Mexico in the ’80s, they landed in a studio in City Heights. There were nine kids. The boys slept in the garage. Dad was able to buy an old school van, which would be the start of the family business that North Parkers have known for decades.

“We’d drive to a farm in Escondido, and they’d sell us as many oranges as we could fit in the van for $100,” explains Armando Leon. “Oranges are dusty. So all us kids would sit in the driveway and clean them, bag them.”

The kids would walk around City Heights, selling those bags for a buck. In 1995, the family opened a small fruit shop on the corner of Madison and 30th, called Leon Produce (still there). The kids worked there. Armando and his brother Jaime earned their degrees from SDSU on some of that orange money. When the space next door became available in 2002, the brothers decided to open a modest to-go smoothie joint called Señor Mangos—using the ripest fruit from their shop that shared the wall.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” says Jaime, now sitting in front of their second location, a similarly small storefront on North Park Way.

They figured it out, and the Leons and their oranges became a cornerstone of the neighborhood. You’ll often see the line down the street from Polite Provisions, a mural of a woman surrounded by boxes of fruit facing the street. Their neighbor Fall Brewing uses the family’s fruit in a sour beer they do every year. Some of North Park’s most beloved and trendy restaurants and bars—Wormwood, Lancer’s, etc.—sometimes use Leon fruit and juices in their cocktails.

Their Vampiro is the one people rave about: beets, carrots, celery, and a bit of orange, juiced together. Nothing extravagant: just delicious blood-red juice from fruit picked at peak ripeness.

“Our parents eventually were able to buy a home in North Park,” says Armando, who’s an administrator at a local school while brother Jaime runs the family business. “Mom will come down and sweep the font of the store, and dad will come talk to the customers. He loves to talk.”

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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