Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! This week we chat with Ernie Becerra, founder of San Diego Taco Company and ¡Salud! Tacos in Barrio Logan. Ernie is a fifth-generation San Diegan, and he worked as a banker before pursuing his passion and eventually opening a restaurant. ¡Salud! is one of 13 essential taco shops listed in this month’s cover story in San Diego Magazine, called “A Love Letter to Tacos!”
Ernie’s family is deeply rooted in San Diego. He says they are “old-school Chicano,” having first settled in Barrio Logan in 1900 (that predates the Mexican Revolution). He began his career following in his father’s footsteps working in banking, but quickly realized that was not what he wanted to do and decided to take a chance. Armed with a recipe book and the knowledge from his grandmas and local taco shop owners, Ernie bought a taco cart. He started catering small events, but as he continued to work, his business grew. The fish and birria tacos were the foundational items of Ernie’s cart, and are still on the ¡Salud! menu to this day.
Ernie talks about the opportunities he jumped on to successfully expand his business. He needed to stand out from other taquerias in the city, so he worked on branding: he discovered the business name San Diego Taco Company wasn’t already claimed, and filed for it right away. While looking for a permanent venue to showcase tacos for people to try before booking his catering company, he learned the old Porkyland space on Logan Avenue—a building he had spent a lot of time in while growing up—was available, so he swooped in and acquired it. After spending time cleaning and fixing up the building, Ernie finally opened ¡Salud! in 2015.
The restaurant has been a huge success, and the colorful space is also known for showcasing graffiti art, murals, and other works by local artists. ¡Salud! has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, and on The Zimmern List. Ernie says he knew something was changing in the neighborhood with ¡Salud! as the anchor. While gentrification is an ongoing concern in Barrio Logan, Ernie felt it was important to not confuse success with gentrification, since many of the businesses that have revitalized the area are actually owned by locals. His hope is that Barrio Logan will grow to a point where the neighborhood can become more organized, and the city’s “Little Mexico.” Ernie also teased an upcoming expansion to the restaurant. Listen to find out!
In Hot Plates, Restaurant Week has been rescheduled from its usual date in January to April 11-18. Pure Project is opening a new brewery next month in Vista, taking over the location vacated by Iron Fist Brewery. Two restaurant owners are in need of help: The owner of Sushi Yaro in Kearny Mesa is recovering from a stroke, and is unable to work and needs assistance with medical expenses. A Go Fund Me page has been created where donations are accepted. The owner of Suzy Q’s Diner in Escondido says she’s used up nearly all of her savings, and is asking for help with back rent and bills, and has created a Go Fund Me page. If you’re able to assist with even a small donation, it can help these restaurants continue to bring life into their neighborhoods.
In Two People for Takeout/Two People for $50, Ernie’s pick was Napoleon’s Pizza House in National City for their torpedo sandwiches and pizza. Troy’s pick was Flavors of East Africa in University Heights for their dengu, Kenyan-style lentils in curry sauce, and the jungle fries covered in braised meats and sauce. Marie’s pick was the beef chow mein noodles with black pepper sauce and grilled pork buns from Tasty Noodle House. In celebration of our recent Road Trips issue, David’s recommendation is outside of San Diego this week: His favorite spot to eat at after hitting the slopes in Big Bear is Himilayan Restaurant, where he says everything is phenomenal, especially the lamb naan with the lamb baked into the bread.
Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at [email protected]. See you next week!