May 30, 2008
By Augie Bareno
In San Diego County, Taco Shops are an integral part of just about every community. It has been historically assumed that the best Mexican fast food places were located in places like Logan Heights, Southeast San Diego and the South Bay area all the way to San Ysidro.
The marketing of Mexican fast foods in a Taco Shop format was first tried by the Delgadillo family in a small Taco shop located at 43rd and National, in a neighborhood commerce center which included a farmers market, a bar and a few other things. Across the Street was the first major Pharmacy in the region, Rexall Drugs, which today is the Victory Outreach Church.
Nellie Delgadillo, the matriarch of the Delgadillo family developed a concept of service that is based on the notion that if you taste my food, you will surely like it, and therefore it is my responsibility to get it to you as fast and affordable as I can.
Her philosophy of service while developed in the mid-1950, still stands today as key of the fast food industry.
Her success at the National Ave. location, gave her the impetus to develop for her son and daughter in-law, Manuel and Lucy Delgadillo, the mothership, the Azteca Taco Shop located at the corner of Imperial and Euclid Ave. across from St. Rita’s church.
Her son and Daughter-in law took the Azteca Taco shop to another level by marketing to a larger segment of the population including the African-American community that was beginning to develop in the area as well as Lincoln High School which was in the immediate area.
The Azteca Shops and the other food enterprises of the Delgadillo family became the training ground for many people whose names would one day come to symbolize the very essence of the word taco shop.
Azteca Taco shop alumni include: Roberto Robledo, who gave us Roberto’s Taco shop, started and developed his tortilla business on serving the Azteca Taco shop as his principal clients. Later he would go on to develop Roberto’s Taco shops and sell them to his cousins Ramberto, Humberto, Filberto, Alberto, Berto-Berto, just so they could all use the same sign.
Francisco Diaz-One of the founders of Los Panchos Taco Shops learned his trade with the Delgadillo family.
David Ruiz-One of the founders of Cotija Taco Shops also learned his trade with the Delgadillo family.
David Pairis-Successful Restaurant operator including the very popular National City’s Taco Salsa. David credits learning the food industry from his first job at 16 working for Nellie Delgadillo.
Helen Meza Galvan-Successful Caterer and former owner of the very popular Taco shop “El Gran Taco” credits her experience working with Nellie Delgadillo as the foundation of what she knows today.
So the next time you see all the sign variation for Taco shops like “Alberto’s, or Alberto’s “El Unico,” or Alberto’s “El Caballo,” just remember that idea was started by somebody working at the Azteca Taco shop.
My favorite taco shop names are Alberto “El Tijuanero,” “Maria La Fea,” “Maria La Bonita,” “Maria-Maria” and the current favorite which is in the spirit of Roberto’s and the border, it is simply “Moberto’s.”