Ernie Becerra: San Diego’s King of Tacos
Sometimes you need to get fired from a well-paid management position in order to reach your dream job.
“I was a bank manager at an U.S. Bank for about five years,” Becerra said to La Prensa San Diego. “To me, management was just a job; I didn’t have the chance to go to college because I got married when I was still pretty young, so I had to work two jobs and banking was a fast way to make money without having to go to school.”
While bank management was simply a way of making decent money, and a way of following in his father’s footsteps, it was not where Becerra’s passions lay. Upon being let go from his job at U.S. Bank, he knew exactly what business move he would make next.
“I decided to follow my dream to have my own restaurant,” he said.
Becerra began his road towards opening a restaurant by taking a book with recipes he had been creating over the years and the $1,500 he had to his name to buy a taco cart to run taquizas, or taco bars, out of.
“I just had this goal but I didn’t know where to begin, so I just started by becoming a taquero,” Becerra recalled. “Everybody thought I was crazy for wanting to be a taquero after having a management job, but it was the only way of getting my foot in the door.”
Becerra then started to cook in his home kitchen and running taquizas in people’s backyards and at events he found out about.
“My first gigs were just people’s birthday parties, weddings and anything I could get,” Becerra elaborated on his first days as a business owner. “Sometimes I would work at bars and I was working a lot with some of Barrio Logan’s galleries such as Roots Factory and The Spot.”
His involvement with galleries and other businesses in the heart of Logan Avenue helped Becerra become further involved with other business owners around the block.
After much hard work and effort, Becerra’s taquiza business grew to the point in which setting up a restaurant was, at last, a real possibility.
Becerra’s family history in San Diego and being keen on what was happening in Barrio Logan lead him to open Salud, a taqueria concept which blends great food and drinks with elements of Chicano art and aesthetics.
Becerra explained that when his family arrived in San Diego in the early 1900s, they established themselves in Barrio Logan. When he saw the opportunity to open Salud in the historic Bank of Italy building, on the corner of Logan Avenue and Sampson Street, he knew that was where he wanted to set up shop.
“There have been a lot of businesses that have opened up in that same corner that have failed and I knew that going into it,” Becerra said. “This street and this place meant so much to me that I wanted Salud to be here and I felt that I could be successful on this corner.”
Inside Salud, one is immediately drawn to the artwork that lines the walls of this popular restaurant.
“I have an affinity for artwork; I collect art and a lot of the art at Salud is mine,” Becerra explained. “Since we are in an art Mecca it’s fitting to feature art inside the restaurant.”
Becerra points out that there are many nuances inside. From the framed artwork all the way down to the numerical order tags, which have been drawn by neighborhood artists, art has been a great influence on the establishment’s interior design.
One is also immediately drawn to the aroma of the tasty food being prepared inside.
Using family recipes as a base along with recipes he had been perfecting in his notebook, the menu at Salud has been influenced by Becerra’s hand in its entirety, despite not having a culinary background.
“Some items, such as our classic salsa, took about two years to perfect. It took a lot of time and experimenting and if I liked something I would always ask a lot of questions about key ingredients,” Becerra mentioned.
All of Becerra’s hard work and attention to detail has paid off. Today, his businesses have earned numerous accolades. San Diego Taco Company has been named best catering company in San Diego on five consecutive years and Salud has won multiple awards for best tacos.
“I had no idea this business would grow so much and I feel so blessed,” Becerra stated. “I have never borrowed a cent from anybody, I was just a man with one taco cart and business has grown to 12 taco carts, 50 employees, a restaurant, and a new beer and wine catering company, and a lot of love from the community.”