Above: Spinach and flour “Super Burritos” with red, green, and pico de gallo salsas.
For the last 30 years, Owner Pablo Patiño and Manager Esther Zepeda have run a masterful Mexican food operation. Taqueria El Farolito, the restaurant that birthed Taqueria Guadalajara, sits just across the street. If you’re ever on a San Francisco burrito tour, it starts and stops with these two joints.
If you can’t swing a trip to Mexico, the Taquerias are plenty of consolation. Employee and niece of Esther, Samantha Zepeda, reflects on the days when Taqueria Guadalajara was still a concept. She explains that Pablo’s dad owned Taqueria El Farolito, visible from Taqueria Guadalajara’s front window.
When Pablo’s dad passed, his mom took over Taqueria El Farolito and Pablo built Taqueria Guadalajara. Now, his father’s legacy continues as Pablo makes his own for his 3 kids.
Guadalajara Meets San Fran
Samantha maps out how San Francisco became home for everyone. Her auntie Esther emigrated from Mexico in 1999. Samantha came to the states in 2002 after losing her father to cancer. “Esther was the only blood sibling of my father,” she mentions. As a result, Samantha’s life was Taqueria Guadalajara beginning age 7. “I never thought I’d work here…but I try to help them as much as I can,” she states.
Samantha describes Pablo and Esther’s relationship. Esther married Pablo’s cousin, so the Taqueria staff’s full of family. Samantha makes it obvious that alongside customers, it’s important to give back to the family too. “I know where [Esther and Pablo] came from,” she says. “Pablo’s basically like my in-law. I try to be there like he was for me growing up.”
Family values thread through Taqueria Guadalajara’s cuisine and service. When asked how Mexico and Guadalajara show up in the food, Samantha answers, “It’s about the seasoning…Other taquerias don’t have salsa habanero with carrots, onions, mangoes. It’s all homemade…It’s San Francisco and Guadalajara together.”
The 7-salsa bar’s a must, as well as the 24 full-shrimp burritos. That’s 2-4 shrimp. There’s a reason Taqueria Guadalajara was named one of the best San Fran burrito spots last month. Big shrimp, big burritos, big salsa, ‘nuff said.
A Long Journey and Still
The American Dream is ripe and well for the Patiños and Zepedas. Samantha reminisces on how far Esther and Pablo have come. In Taqueria Guadalajara’s first days, she remembers that “they were really struggling…barely had any customers. They put out more food to see what the customers like to bring more people in.” Though they’ve condensed their menu over time, people still ask if they have certain items. When that’s the case, they’ll change things up to honor requests without a second thought.
While history’s on their side, COVID-19’s slowed things for the Taqueria clan. Their 5-7 person staff’s no stranger to loss, however. Samantha mentions that before the pandemic, they lost 2 beloved co-workers. “One was a friend who did merchandise for us…died earlier this year…another suffered a heart attack 4 months ago and passed 2 days later,” she reports solemnly. Though the events weren’t COVID-related, the staff’s working harder than ever to move through these times.
Samantha mentions that staff “works 12 hours sometimes” to keep things afloat. “Whoever makes the food wakes up at 6 am to be there and make everything fresh. Whatever rice and beans we don’t sell, we give away…to keep things fresh the next day,” she continues. Currently, staff’s hours are reduced and divided among the morning and night shifts. Additionally, hours are abbreviated to discourage people from lingering beyond 11 pm.
Still, Taqueria Guadalajara staff’s full of fortitude. They’re working to provide tables for outdoor seating until they can comfortably serve in-house again. “Right now we’re only doing take-out,” Samantha claims.
Noble as Ever
Samantha prides staff on granting leeway for people during these tough times. Through small gestures like free water, or bigger gestures, like pay when you can, Samantha expresses gratitude for their loyal customers. “We’re happy people are supporting us…choosing us…” and as a result, “we try to work with them.”
The reciprocity’s not without recognition. While sales have slowed, Samantha mentions their conscious effort to support other local businesses for things like utensils and food choices. Now more than ever, the goal remains to “get everyone united, sharing their experience, sharing the history as well,” Samantha states.
Come support Taqueria Guadalajara to see for yourself just how good history can taste.