Monday, March 4, 2024

Praise the rolled taco gods: How the OG, San Diego-based Adalberto’s quietly slipped into Long Beach

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Roberto’s. Rigoberto’s. Alberto’s. Luisberto’s. Filiberto’s. The ‘Berto’s of SoCal are as ubiquitous as they are treasured among college students and cheap-eats seekers alike—and that definitively includes one of the originals, Adalberto’s, which opened at the northwest corner of Market and 25th Streets in 1986.

It is where we know rolled tacos from—the rolled-and-fried stuffed corn tortillas slathered in cheese and guacamole. The San Diego-birthed meat-only burrito. Carne asada fries. Breakfast burritos. These are the contributions of the ‘Bertos—and Adalberto’s is one of the oldest around.

For many who have depended on the yes-but-not-quite San Diego-style of La Taqueria Mexicana on 4th, there is a sense of joy that, very quietly, the Adalberto’s family has decided to expand well beyond San Diego and opened their first shop quietly on 7th Street last year.

Adalberto’s has been a San Diego staple since 1985—and yes, it is connected to a deep history

Adalberto’s is not necessarily the original ‘Berto’s—though it is one of the oldest. And for Adrian Davila, son of the man who founded Adalberto’s, the depth of his father’s contributions to not just the mythos of the ‘Bertos regionally but, simply put, as a man who was both different from the increasing white-ification of California post-U.S. adoption and had the cajones to build his own business in said world.

“All the ‘Berto people—the original who began doing things in San Diego in the 1940s and 1950s—we’re all from San Luis Potosi,” Adrian said, graciously sharing the history of Roberto Robledo, born in San Juan del Salado in San Luis Potosi, the original owner of the shop that opened in 1964. “And Robledo opened a tortilleria, knowing that with his wife [Dolores]’s food and the workers of the field, they’d have solid business—and that really began what some could say was the ‘the birth of the ‘Bertos.’ They fed the people of San Ysidro. You know where the 5 freeway is now from the border, from Tijuana? They steamrolled the real real Roberto’s that kinda started it all, the tortilleria.”

Though it wasn’t Roberto’s as it is known now—Robeldo has many restaurants like El Rancho and Lomo Bonita—the tortilleria really inspires what becomes the Roberto’s. And this is when the potential as a franchise began to become more solidified, incentivizing Robledo to invite some family members—some of whom who happen to be the bosses of Adrian’s father, Job Davila of Santo Domingo in San Luis Potosi.

“This is Alvaro Rodriguez and Juan Diego Rodriguez—Don Roberto’s cousins from Santa Matilde [in San Luis Potosi],” Adrian said. “And they decided to cut corners from Don Roberto’s original vision at their restaurant: Roberto cooked everything daily, made everything fresh; turns out the cousins weren’t.”

And it turns out that no one cuts corners with Don Roberto Robeldo: Showing up to the space—which Adrian notes the structure, a 400-square-foot space, is still up on Convoy Street in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood—Robeldo boldly claims, “This is not a Roberto’s. You have to change the name.”

And change the name Alvaro does: With a spray paint can, turns the R into an A, and draws an L over the O of “Roberto’s.” And hence, the ubiquitous Alberto’s—a brand probably more well known among the ‘Bertos in the Los Angeles region—is born.

“There is this shared love and drama among of us from San Luis Potosi,” Adrian said. “And that really exploded when things started expanding in the 1980s.”

The personal story behind Adalberto’s is one worth uplifting—connected to the ‘Bertos mythos or not

“My dad is the seventh of 10 kids,” Adrian said. “He was working a rancho with his dad and grandpa and at 15, he’s presented with the opportunity to come to the United States in 1980. He gets here with zero paperwork—we’ll leave it at that—and starts working for the Rodriguez family. And he’s working, he’s working, and he’s working.”

With Job’s work, Adrian comes into the fold of the families of all the ‘Bertos: At baptisms, it would be with the family behind Filiberto’s. At a quince, the family who owns Rigoberto’s. It was part of what Adrian’s family called “fiebre de taquero”—the fever of everyone in San Diego wanting to open a taco shop.

And it was the time of the ’80s, when taxes were low, Reagan welcomed in a massive influx of immigrants, and people were “driving back to home to Mexico with loads of money in the truck,” as Adrian described it. And with his father’s perpetual work ethic, he is offered a corner of 25th and Market Streets in Grant Hill, just below Golden Hill and east of Sherman Heights.

There was no drive-through, the space was extremely small, and kiddy corner to a Taco Bell (which the famed fast food brand eventually offered their lease to Job because they couldn’t compete; it is a space they still occupy in Sherman Heights)—but Job has the ’80s-taquero-of-San Diego stars in his eyes and he takes it. And while it “wasn’t the best neighborhood at the time,” Adrian admitted, Adalberto’s soared.

Long Beach was always part of the equation—as was expansion beyond San Diego

Adalberto’s success scored so high that it reached the point where he was offered the possibility of just leasing out the name, cashing in monthly—an easy escape that few would have judged given the lucrative nature of the offer—but he refused to allow his name to be sold to people he didn’t know.

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“We’re gonna be family run—period,” Adrian said of his father’s words. “Our Sacramento locations? Family-owned and -operated—it’s my uncle up there operating the locations. And that’s every location of Adalberto’s. Every. Single. One.”

There is a deep pride when Adrian says this. It isn’t a memorized script—even if he’s told these stories hundreds of times—and it certainly isn’t out of obligation. Adrian lived what can very much be called an American life: Born and raised in San Diego, parents owners of what has become a staple food spot in the region, goes to University of Arizona, plays rugby…

And like many children of immigrants—especially Latin American parents where you are divided between being “too Latino” for Americans and “too American for Latinos”—the true weight of the accomplishments of Adrian’s parents didn’t hit him until he was able to process.

“I had one of two goals as far as a career goes: I wanted to be a professional baseball player—naturally—or, I wanted to be my dad,” Adrian said. “After college, it kinda hit me that my dad gave me that gift. I stopped playing baseball when I was 13—just wasn’t good enough. And I just realized my dad built a legacy. That I have been invited into. I don’t think many comprehend how that feels.”

But many comprehend how beautiful that is, Adrian. Welcome to Long Beach—can I get some rolled tacos, carne asada fries, and a California burrito with fries well done, extra sour cream and salsa?

Adalberto’s is located at 1601 E 7th St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

5 COMMENTS

  1. BA- killer commentary as usual. Historical insights are greatly appreciated. Articles are frequently tied to a real food person. Love the photos! Better yet-no getty attribution!
    Keep eating alive in the LBC.

  2. You are the man Brian thank you so much for this article and giving people a chance to know about our little slice of history.

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