SAN DIEGO — Taquitos are something that everyone has had, whether they were from the frozen section of a grocery store or at a local restaurant.
But did you know, taquitos were brought to the United States by a restaurant right here in San Diego at a joint on the outskirts of Mission Hills: El Indio Mexican.
El Indio was founded in 1940 on the corner of India and Grape Streets by a man named Ralph Pesqueira Sr. A worker at one of the local airplane factories at the time, he started El Indio as a tortilla factory alongside his parents.
“It was like a little tortilla factory where they were making tortillas by hand,” his granddaughter and third-generation owner of El Indio, Jennifer Pesqueira, said to FOX5SanDiego.com. “He worked in the local factory making airplanes during the night and then worked in El Indio during the day with his parents.”
At the height of World War II, Pesqueira Sr. was asked by people who also worked in the local factories – like Consolidated Airplane Company and Convair – to make an easy, ready-to-eat lunch item that they could consume with their hands.
Pesqueira Sr., who was making about 30 dozen tortillas a day by hand at the time, thought of a recipe for Flautas, which is a kind of rolled taco dish with meat like shredded beef, from his grandmother in Sonora, Mexico. He then adapted that recipe to fit the needs of the factory workers, calling them “taquitos” or “little tacos.”
Around the same time, Pesqueira Sr. worked to expand production of El Indio’s tortillas by making San Diego’s first tortilla machine in his basement. With that development, the factory was able to increase their output to as many as 30 dozen tortillas in an hour – enough to turn the factory into a small restaurant.
In 1947, El Indio moved to 3695 India Street where they started selling Pesqueira Sr.’s taquitos to customers along with a small selection of other Sonoran-style Mexican dishes.
“We had taquitos for about 18 cents and we had bean and cheese burritos … tamales, beans and that’s about it,” Pesqueira said. Since then, the menu has become much bigger, offering things like enchiladas and chile relleños.
The taquito, however, remains their most popular dish, in part because of Pesqueira Sr.’s role in the development of the dish in the United States.
His granddaughter said that she’s really not quite sure how the dish gained so much notoriety, before becoming one of the first Mexican dishes to turn into a frozen food in the late 1970s.
“If I knew that question, I’d probably be a millionaire,” Pesqueira laughed. “I think it was just a simple food that everybody was able to make or eat, and it just grabbed the momentum and took off.”
Regardless, at El Indio, they continue to make their taquitos in the same way that her grandfather taught her parents to do before he passed in 1981 – rolled by hand every day, with a little piece of the tortilla left open to pick up salsa, cheese or lettuce.
“I’m honored that I can do this for him and that we’re still here,” she said. “We get customers every day that (say) ‘I’ve been coming here for about fifty years’ or ‘I’ve been coming here since you guys were down on India and Grape. We get multiple generations of the same families that come here.”