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The Founder of Mission Burrito Icon El Farolito Has Died

Don Chava helped take SF-style burritos national

The first location of El Farolito, a taqueria chain that grew to 123 locations across the Bay Area
El Farolito/Facebook

Salvador “Don Chava” Lopez Monroy, the founder of San Francisco’s wildly popular chain of El Farolito taquerias, has died. He was 70 years old.

His passing was announced by the San Francisco Soccer Football League: Don Chava, as he was best known, also founded the El Farolito soccer team, a ranked-amateur club that plays in Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park. The team, founded in 1985, was named after Lopez’s small-but-growing chain of taquerias, the business that allowed him to live his dream of sports-club ownership.

According to SF Gate, Lopez was born on November 9, 1950, in Guanajuato, México. In 1975, as SF Weekly wrote in a 2008 profile, he came to the U.S., first landing at a landscaping company in Half Moon Bay. There, he met two other men — also immigrants from Mexico — who, like Lopez, hoped to one day own a taqueria. A few years later, the trio opened Taqueria San Jose at the corner of Mission and 24th Streets, but by the early 1980s, Lopez decided to strike out on his own.

He sold his shares in the business, and opened the first location of El Farolito (loosely translated, “the light,” hence the lighthouse in the restaurant’s logo) in 1982, Esquire reported in 2013, when it named the restaurant’s burritos “the most life-changing burritos in America.” Since then, the company opened 11 more locations across the Bay Area, all known for their massive and affordable burritos, the textbook definition of the rice-packed Mission-style version of the dish.

El Farolito didn’t invent the Mission burrito, of course: that honor goes to (depending on who you ask) Taqueria La Cumbre or El Faro, from which El Farolito is rumored to have derived its name. Writing for Broke Ass Stuart, Joe Kukara argues that El Farolito brought the food into the national spotlight, with its popularity spurring big chains like Chipotle to launch their own version of the classic.

The restaurants were successful enough that, eventually, Lopez was able to bankroll a rec soccer team, personally paying players — often in cash — to join his highly competitive and trophy-winning club. For a time, he even owned a minor-league team in Mexico, but sold it in 2001, SF Weekly reports.

According to a Facebook post by the SF Glens, another local amateur league, “it would do Don Chava a disservice to simply call him the owner of a soccer club because while he was that, he represented much more. He was a coach, leader, father figure, and friend to so many people.”