San Diego Taco Company and Border X Brewing Join Forces to Help the Barrio Renaissance
By Brent E. Beltrán
Barrio Logan, San Diego’s hub for Chicano art, culture and activism, is now a destination spot for taco connoisseurs and craft beer aficionados. La Logan has always had culinary and beer tradition with places like the ever busy Las Cuatro Milpas and the long closed down Aztec Brewery. So beer and tacos isn’t a new phenomenon to this working class barrio.
What is new is the decision of catering business San Diego Taco Company and Otay Mesa beer makers Border X Brewing to combine efforts and open a joint tasting room and taqueria on the corner of Logan Ave and Sampson St. in the historic section of Barrio Logan.
The combination of beer and tacos has been a part Mexican food culture ever since Germans brought their brewing techniques to Mexico. And Ernie Pio Becerra of San Diego Taco Company and David Favela of Border X Brewing are carrying on that tradition by serving fresh, handmade tacos and unique craft brews tailored to the tastes of mexicanos and those that appreciate our delicious flavors.
“It’s a great combination of not only the food but the beer and the art all in one place,” says artist and frequent patron Max Bojorquez.
San Diego Taco Company
SD Taco Company’s Pio Becerra has always had a passion for food. After he got laid of from his banking industry job he knew he was done with corporate America. He decided to buy himself a little taco cart and go into business for himself. He hustled and hustled and has built his small business into one of the largest taco catering companies in San Diego.
His catering busines offers the basics from carne asada to pollo asado to more exotic meats like lengua, cabeza, and tripa. He also serves sides like rice and beans, Mexican slaw, elotes (grilled corn) and Mexican fruit cups.
“Stuff you’d find on street corners in Mexico we brought that into the catering aspect,” Pio Becerra proudly states. “My number one thing is my catering company. It means a lot to me to bring Mexican street elements into people’s backyards. But I also wanted to have a face where people can try the food, bring the art scene from the barrio and make all those elements into one.”
He goes on to say:
“I always wanted to be in the barrio. This is where my family is originally from. This building (the old Bank of Italy building that used to house Porkyland) has a lot of meaning to me. I wanted to bring it back to life. There was no one in here when I came. It was dead. I also had this vision of doing a taco bar with a brewery. When I ran into Border X they had all the Latin inspirations for beer and it was kind of a good mesh.”
His catering business has a variety of deliciousness to choose from but the storefront is pure tacos featuring carne asada, pollo asado, al pastor and his award winning fish tacos. All of his recipes are handcrafted and done in house. Nothing is out of a can and many of the recipes have been passed down through his family and some he created on his own. Even the corn tortillas are handmade and cooked before your eyes.
As a way of trying to keep things local he buys his carne from Butcher Block Meats and his fruits and vegetables from Baja Produce. Both of which are only blocks from his establishment. “We try to keep it in the barrio,” he says.
As part of keeping it in the barrio he brought La Bodega (formerly The Spot) into the building, which has added a cultural element to this section of Barrio Logan. For the most part the northern section of Logan has seen art spaces like Voz Alta (since closed), The Roots Factory, Glashaus and Stronghold (formerly The Spot) open up.
Now with San Diego Taco Company, Border X Brewing, La Bodega, La Esquina’s artist studios across the street and Chicano Art Gallery opening up a half block away things are picking up in this section of the community. Much thanks needs to be given to Ernie for helping realize this. Sometimes it takes getting laid off by a corporate giant to see your true purpose in life.
“We’re getting a lot of good feedback. We’re just winging it. We’re just starting out. We’re on a trial basis. We don’t know how far it’s going to go, what it’s going to turn into. We’re getting a hell of a response and hopefully we can build from there. I hope I can remain here and be something very positive in the community.”
Border X Brewing
Border X Brewing is a family run business with four partners: the aforementioned David Favela, his brother Marcelino and his two nephews. All of which have corporate day jobs at places like HP and Sony.
“The inception came from two sources,” says Favela. “The nephews are passionate about beer making and have been avid home brewers since they could legally make beer. I’ve been interested in doing a family business. We’re all corporate types. I‘ve been trying to figure out how to work as a family. I’m more along for the journey than the end game, which is making a lot of money. I’m enjoying the ride and they’re enjoying the beer making and together it’s a great little business that we’re starting.”
The Favela family calls their brewery Border X Brewing because they literally manufacture their brews in Otay Mesa right along the US-Mexico border and because “there are a lot of borders that separate us as cultures, as people, but we’re about transcending those borders. And the way we see that in our beer is we’re taking European brewing traditions and mixing them with Latin American ingredients. We’re transcending borders. Nobody is thinking that way. They’re following a certain tradition. We’re not bound by those traditions.”
“There’s this whole demographic in the South County that isn’t being served from a craft beer perspective. There’s nowhere to go. They have to go to North County. Up to now craft brewing hasn’t been a Latino phenomenon. We’re serving a demographic that hasn’t been participating in that.”
Before opening up their tasting room in Barrio Logan, Border X Brewing was introduced to the arts scene here by artist David Reyes who designed their logo. Reyes introduced them to Voz Alta and The Spot. The brewers would bring beer to help facilitate and sponsor the arts within the neighborhood.
“He brought us in and we saw this incredibly vibrant community of artists and musicians. It blew my mind. I wanted to be a small part of it any way I could,” David goes on. “Ernie (of San Diego Taco Company) and Milo (Lorenzana) at La Bodega said they had a corner spot. Are you interested? As soon as I saw it I knew it was going to work. You got the gallery, tacos and craft beer. It all fits. Destino!”
It must have been destiny since they weren’t even looking to open a second tasting room. The first is located at their facility in Otay.
“We were probably six months premature in terms of our second tasting room. We pushed it and made it work. I took a month and a half off work. Destiny hands you an opportunity and you take it.”
What makes Border X Brewing unique is that they are creating niche beers that serve the burgeoning Latino demographic yet also are very approachable to non-Latinos.
Their signature beers are Blood Saison and Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout. Both use flavors that are ubiquitous in any Mexican household. The Blood Saison is brewed with jamaica (hibiscus flowers) and has an amazing fruity flavor whereas the Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout is made with Abuelita’s Chocolate and cinnamon giving the stout a sweet chocolaty flavor.
Other beers in their repertoire include Random Hoppiness, their IPA, Gran Jefe, their hefeweizen, and Abuelo’s Pale Ale, which is made with hops and figs grown locally by their dad/grandfather in Valley Center. Abuelo’s Pale Ale was their first homerun beer. “People loved it. We couldn’t make enough of the stuff.”
“I get so much satisfaction serving someone a jamaica beer. ‘Give this a shot.’ They drink the jamaica beer and their eyes widen and they go, ‘this is beer?’ Yes. This is what beer can be. That and a whole bunch of other flavors that we can create. They plan to “explore the terrain of Latin America and Mexico and see what kind of inspiration” they can get. Which means beer experiments will utilize the flavors that most Latinos have in their cupboards.
Currently Border X uses a three barrel system and they’ve been making investments to address various parts of the business. Including eventually moving up to a fifteen barrel system which will allow them to produce more beer for the Latino masses and their beer loving friends and families.
Their plans include creating “enough beer to service both tasting rooms. We’ll be doing catering and selective restaurants where we fit really well. We’re not everything to everybody. We know what we are and whom we are going to service. And we know what we are going after. There are restaurants that expressed interest that have a theme close to ours. So our craft beers complement their theme.”
“We don’t want to be a bar. We want to be a community hub. We want to take this concept and use craft brewing as a catalyst to drive economic redevelopment in predominantly Latino communities throughout southern California and other border towns. What personally drives me is I really want to redefine the modern Latino experience and have us define it in our own music, our own food, our own tastes, so people can come experience it. And not have corporations define it for us.”
“What we’re trying to do is create a reflection of the unique community that we have here in the barrio but also in the greater border district. We want to showcase it with food, art and beer. Create an experience that is reflective of an extremely unique, synthesized border culture. There are very few places like Barrio Logan. I’ve had old timers come in here and have a beer. They know this place is for them. This is a safe reflection of who we are and the unique contributions of the neighborhood.”
“I’d love to see this whole street recapture some of the magic it had during the 30’s and 40’s. It was a great place to come. I’d love to see that. I don’t want gentrification to push the original community out. The challenge becomes how does everybody who’s got these little businesses take it to the next level? How do they stay? How does this place not become Hillcrest or North Park? This has got to remain Barrio Logan. We’re trying to do that with our place but I want to see that with all the other places too. It’s a Latino business renaissance. Things are going to change here without a doubt but how do we change in a way that this place retains community and it’s history and legacy?”
The barrio renaissance is happening thanks to spaces like Voz Alta and The Roots Factory that helped kick it off and now it continues with Ernie Pio Becerra’s San Diego Taco Company and the Favela family’s Border X Brewing. Positive changes are taking place within San Diego’s most historic barrio. Though gentrification may be slowly rearing its ugly head places like these and others go a long way in helping Barrio Logan maintain is unique cultural character.
San Diego Taco Company and Border X Brewing are located at 2196 Logan Ave. They are open Fridays from 12-8pm, Saturdays from 12-10pm and are now open for Crudo (hangover) Sundays from 10am -3pm. San Diego Taco Company has a special Sunday menu featuring menudo, ceviche and tacos dorados (fried tacos).