Within the constellation of outstanding taquerias in San Francisco’s Mission District, Los Guisados Del Patrón stood apart from the crowd, in part because of its single-minded focus on the saucy Mexican stews known as guisados.
Now, less than five months after its debut, Los Guisados has dished out its last chicken tinga taco. On January 4, the restaurant announced that it had shut down operations — a victim of the COVID-related economic circumstances of these times, according to co-owner Alberto Pineda, who runs the restaurant along with his wife, Mariana Reza. “We don’t know when or where, but we will be back,” Pineda wrote in the Instagram post announcing the decision. For the restaurant’s original location at 601 S. Van Ness Avenue, however, this is a permanent closure.
Los Guisados — a spinoff of wildly popular quesabirria hotspot Tacos El Patrón — wasn’t the first or only Mexican restaurant in the city to put tacos de guisado on the menu. But no one else had dedicated themselves to these stews quite so lavishly and completely, offering a dazzling array of 18 or 20 different options each day, running the gamut from crowdpleasers like chicken tinga and pork chile verde to harder-to-find offerings like higado encebollado (a beef liver and onion stew). No other taqueria in the city had that kind of variety. And at just $3.25 a pop, the tacos seemed like the perfect affordable option for these times.
According to Pineda, the reasons for the decision to close were at least twofold. The first was the provisional nature of the space itself, which Pineda and Reza had originally acquired to use as a prep space for Tacos El Patrón — and will now, in fact, revert back to that function. The restaurant didn’t have its own kitchen, so the staff had to spend a lot of time shuttling the food over from Tacos El Patrón, where the stews were cooked in large batches early each morning. The logistics impacted the quality of the food too: Either they’d make small batches of each stew and wind up selling out early, or else they’d have to reheat bigger batches over the course of the day, eventually causing the guisados to become overly salty.
The bigger problem was more straightforward: The restaurant just never quite caught on. According to Pineda, opening a brand new business during the COVID crisis proved to be too much of a challenge. Diners seemed much more cautious about their spending, and, quite frankly, not many of them ever seemed to know about Los Guisados’ existence in the first place. In the end, Pineda says, “we were spending a lot more money being open than closed.”
The one silver lining? Tacos El Patrón is still doing well, and Pineda says he was able to shift all of his workers from Los Guisados over to there, so no one wound up losing their job.
Pineda says customers’ lack of familiarity with the concept of tacos de guisado may have also played a small part in the restaurant’s inability to gain traction. But ultimately, he says he stands by the basic idea behind the the restaurant. He believes in the power of the guisado — and in the abundance of being able to offer 20-odd different stews on the menu at one time. Taquerias built around that concept are extremely popular down in Los Angeles, Pineda says — “It’s good food. It’s affordable food.” It just hasn’t quite caught on yet in the Bay.
So, once things open up again in the post-COVID times, Pineda says he’s certain that he’s going to give Los Guisados Del Patrón another try. “For sure, we’re going to come back.”
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