Very Important Taco: Pork Birria and Funghi Ranchero Tacos
A mobile caterer brings a taste of 'grandmother's cooking' and Michoacan to venues throughout San Diego
Growing up in a farming community in Watsonville, California, Sergio Garcia Manriquez spent his youth cooking with his grandmother, learning how to braise meats the way it’s done in Michoacán, Mexico (where his family is from). He’s reinvented himself several times in his career, and ultimately gave up the corporate life to cook full time. He enrolled in culinary school, then staged at several restaurants (Bud’s Louisiana Café in San Diego, Acquerello in San Francisco), and worked his way up to executive chef at Del Sur in South Park. An entrepreneur at heart, the San Diego State alum knew he wanted to start his own culinary business, but was looking for the right concept. “It had to be healthy and nourishing food, but also play a role in cultural preservation,” he says.
He found the answer while traveling in Guanajuato, where he saw a mobile food cart. The cart was modular, easy to transport, and allowed food to be prepped the way street vendors traditionally do in Mexico (in clay pots). The idea for Chicano Soul Food was born—he bought a cart, shipped it to San Diego, and went all in with his catering business.
Since 2015, Garcia Manriquez has been cooking a style of Mexican food that he says is not commonly found in San Diego—braised meats and guisados (stews) that are considered “poor people’s food” from the countryside, versus ubiquitous taco shop fare like carne asada. Since his business is mobile, he’s been able to bring what he calls “grandmother’s cooking” to pop-up events, cafés, and neighborhoods throughout the city. The pork “birria” michoacana—pork shoulder confited like carnitas, then caramelized and stewed like a birria with blistered tomatoes and topped with his signature habanero-beet sauce—is a comfort food that even caught the attention of Andrew Zimmern when he filmed The Zimmern List in San Diego. Garcia Manriquez has always been keen to offer vegan options on his menu (the filling funghi ranchero with truffled rice gravy is a hit), and he’s doubling down on these efforts by opening a new vegan Mexican fast-casual eatery in the food court in Grossmont Center this month. He’s a chef to watch.