City Tacos Founder Can't Stop Dreaming Up New Menu Options

Gerry Torres' unique San Diego taqueria chain expands to downtown and beyond

Gerry Torres estimates he’s created more than 200 different tacos.

I’m always looking to turn whatever people are eating into a taco,” says the founder of City Tacos, an ever-expanding chain that most recently opened in East Village, right next to Petco Park.

Surf and turf. Scallops. Octopus. Torres’ menu almost always contains a new “Taco of the Month.”

Torres, 47, opened the first City Tacos in North Park in 2014. Along with the new-ish downtown location, he also has taquerias in Pacific Beach, La Mesa, Encinitas, Sorrento Valley and on the Los Angeles campus of USC.

His brand regularly wins accolades in local restaurant surveys by San Diego Magazine and Ranch & Coast Magazine. He’s currently looking to expand north into Newport Beach and San Pedro.

Torres recently sat down with the San Diego Sun to talk about doing business in downtown, how San Diego’s fare stacks up against Mexican tacos, and what it was like to recently become a United States citizen.

The East Village City Tacos location, adjacent to Petco Park.

SDSun: Tell me about getting your citizenship.

Gerry Torres: It was a small ceremony at the downtown U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. This past June. There were eight future Americans there. People from all over the world. It was a great day. Thirty years in the making. I’ve been a permanent resident since moving here from Mexico.

SDSun: What was it like to have your first Fourth of July as an American citizen?

GT: I saw the fireworks with different eyes. I was very thrilled to be an American. I’m proud of all the opportunities this country has given me.

SDSun: Talk about coming to the United States.

GT: I was born in Mexico City and lived in Tijuana as a kid. I helped build my family’s house and was proud to get paid for it. It helped build my work ethic. I’ve been supporting myself since I was 16. When I moved to the United States my first job was at a sub shop in Oceanside. At 17, I became the youngest manager in the company. I had a side gig setting up stands for vendors at Kobey’s Swap Meet.

New U.S. citizen Gerry Torres. (Courtesy photo)

SDSun: What happened that put you in the hospital just before you started your restaurant career?

GT: I was in a car accident in Tijuana. We went under a semi truck. I had 27 fractures. I was the only survivor in the crash. It was a very saddening thing. They airlifted me to Scripps Mercy, where I flatlined. I was out for a couple days. They revived me and then I went into a coma for two days.

SDSun: And your old boss came to visit you in the hospital?

GT: I worked [in downtown San Diego] at La Strada for David Chiodo. He visited me when I was in the coma and said, “Hey, Table 43 needs bread,” or something like that. David said that I moved. (laughs) We kept in touch, and after that we went into business together.”

July Taco of the Month: SDCA (San Diego Carne Asada).

SDSun: How did City Tacos get started?

GT: After 10 years in business in La Mesa with David, I sold my shares and opened City Tacos in North Park in 2014.

SDSun: And now you have seven locations.

GT: About a year and a half after starting up North Park, I opened two different restaurants. Then I started focusing on City Tacos.

SDSun: And your son is in the food business, too?

GT: My son, Hector Aguirre, is the CEO of Quiero Tacos and services locations for Mike Hess Brewery.

Torres’ menu at City Tacos is “flavor-forward.”

SDSun: How do you describe the tacos you make?

GT: I would say they are very flavor-forward. We think more about flavor than tradition. We choose being great over being traditional. When my original chef, Tony Mcgann, and I started off, we took a risk. It was a risk that paid off. We sold out the first 14 days in business and never stopped.

SDSun: Is being willing to take risks what sets City Tacos apart?

GT: It’s a couple things. I came from a fine-dining background. And I always preach service. We don’t have a traditional taco shop approach to taking care of guests. It’s more about pampering and welcoming people.

SDSun: Are you serving “street tacos?”

GT: Well, yes. But they’re a little bit more refined than the street.

SDSun: How do San Diego tacos compare to Mexican tacos?

GT: Tijuana has great tacos. The original, legitimate tacos are from Mexico City, Guadalajara, mainland Mexico. In Mexico City there are tacos on every corner. You don’t say “Hey, let’s go for a bite.” You say. “Hey, let’s go for a taco.”

City Tacos’ surf & turf taco.

SDSun: Did you hear about boxer “Canelo” Alvarez saying negative things about San Diego tacos?

GT: I know he’s affiliated with a taqueria in Guadalajara, through his brother, and they plan to open up here [in Chula Vista]. I imagine they’re looking to do traditional. That’s a completely different market than what I’m going after.

SDSun: How do you think San Diego’s tacos rate overall?

GT: San Diego’s tacos are probably the best in the United States. As far as traditional goes, they are not the best in the region if you count Tijuana…But I think if Canelo Alvarez wants to do taquerias, bring him on. I’ll go 10 rounds with him. (laughs)

SDSun: Not in the boxing ring…

GT: With tacos, of course! (laughs)

SDSun: How is your downtown City Tacos location working out?

GT: Year One [2021] was incredibly difficult because all of East Village was a basically a ghost town. No conventions. No Padres games. We were actually ready to go in 2020, but we couldn’t open because of COVID. But since the Padres started playing to crowds, and conventions came back, it’s helped a lot.

SDSun: Business here in this location, right next to Petco Park, is super reliant on the Padres, right?

GT: Absolutely. The Padres are a huge draw. Two to three hours prior to games, and after games, I have peaks. We’re increasing sales every month right now.

SDSun: Have any Padres players been in for tacos?

GT: I don’t know, but everybody is welcome.

SDSun: Even Dodgers fans?

GT: (pauses) Yes. (laughs)

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