This is a big year for little tacos-the taquito is celebrating its 65th anniversary, and so is the restaurant that created it: El Indio.
The eatery opened in August of 1940, on the corner of Grape and India streets as a tortilla factory catering to San Diego's Mexican restaurants and Latino residents.
However, owner Ralph Pesqueira Sr., soon decided to make some extra dinero selling ready-to-eat foods for the workers at the nearby factories, including a rolled corn tortilla filled with shredded roast beef that he called a taquito-or "little taco."
Pesqueira's son, Ralph Jr., says his grandmother actually created the dish and modeled it on an existing item called the flauta, which is similar to the taquito, except with a flour tortilla instead of corn.
The taquito was an immediate hit for El Indio. Its immense popularity was one reason the restaurant had to move to its current location on India near Washington Street in Mission Hills.
The taquito has since become a regular item on every Mexican-restaurant menu and a staple in the appetizer section of theme restaurants like T.G.I.Friday's.
Pesqueira Sr. died in 1981, but he lived to see his legacy become standard fare at parties, on appetizer menus and other places where finger foods get the thumbs-up.
In fact, it could be argued that the Pesqueira family's invention is responsible for a large chunk of San Diego's income, just from college students and party animals who scarf down taquitos in great quantities during the "lush rush" between midnight and 3 a.m., when those ubiquitous taco shops like Roberto's, Alberto's, Gilberto's, etc. are practically the only restaurants running with full steam and grease.
Ralph Jr. is proud of the epicurean invention but is very particular about its name.
For instance, the term "rolled taco" sticks in his craw and he admits instructing his cashiers to politely ask customers, "Do you mean taquitos?"
Also, he's a stickler about the preparation. Pesqueira says taquitos need a decent amount of stuffing and derides the frozen versions found at places like Costco that are rolled so tightly there's no room for filling.
Ralph's daughter, Jennifer Pesqueira, said the crunch is also crucial with a good taquito-but only to a point.
"Too many places over-fry them," she said. "They should be a little soft in the middle and shouldn't break your teeth."
Both Pesqueiras say too many eateries try to cut costs by topping the taquitos with green sour cream instead of guacamole.El Indio restaurant isn't rolling out the barrel-or its taquitos-for a celebration, but Pesqueira wouldn't mind seeing a plaque honoring the snack's invention at India and Grape, considering that there's one at Tijuana's Hotel Caesar, the home of the region's other major contribution to world cuisine, the Caesar salad.