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How bananas was Chaquito’s Taqueria? (Local Lore: The Best La Jolla Stories Ever Told)

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This condo complex at 1244 Cave St. sits on a lot once occupied by La Jolla’s most popular, and infamously disobedient, Mexican restaurant.
(COREY LEVITAN)

LOCAL LORE: La Jolla’s most bizarre stories

In 1981, the most happening Mexican restaurant in La Jolla was questionably legal.

Chaquito’s Taqueria, 1244 Cave St., was an unconverted duplex where owner Keith “Quito” Karpinski lived in one unit and served food out of the other. The La Jolla native was an experienced restaurateur who had opened the first three Victoria’s Station restaurants in the Bay Area, but Chaquito’s was his blatant attempt at anti-establishmentarianism.

“What we were doing was definitely contrarian,” said Karpinski, who now lives in Sausalito, opens nightclubs and describes himself as “73 and pretty.”

The fare at Chaquito’s was of the highest quality, Karpinski insisted — with fresh fish, lobster and abalone for tacos trucked in every day. But saying that corners were cut around permitting procedures is an understatement. There were probably more infractions than those listed below, Karpinski admitted, but he can’t recall them anymore ...

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1) It served liquor without a liquor license. Karpinski threw beers and ice into an old Coca-Cola cooler and placed a donation can on his counter. “So, theoretically, I wasn’t selling liquor,” he said.

2) It used three household refrigerators instead of the required commercial model. “We could never have gotten a commercial refrigerator through the doorway,” Karpinski explained.

3) It sat people out front, where seating was not allowed. Karpinski provided the redwood picnic tables, the customers brought their own beach chairs.

4) For its entire first month, Chaquito’s operated without a business license. “The Health Department and Coastal Commission permits were the most critical ones to get, and I had those,” Karpinski explained.

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As you can imagine, it wasn’t tough finding takers for the role of establishment foe. Chaquito’s biggest was none other than William Scripps Kellogg, grandnephew of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. At the time, he ran the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and presided over La Jolla Town Council.

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In this old T-shirt screen for Chaquito's, the slogan translates to "no dog in my taco."
(COURTESY BRANDING IRON CUSTOM T-SHIRTS)

“Everything (Kellogg) complained about — that we were rowdy, that we were raging — was unsubstantiated,” Karpinski claimed. “Fun is what we were, and we represented what La Jolla used to be — a place for locals to open up small businesses and just go to work without any red tape.”

The David vs. Goliath publicity brought even more customers to Chaquito’s, people who reveled in the rebelliousness of it all.

Bizarrely, it wasn’t Kellogg, or any other version of The Man, who closed Chaquito’s in January 1982, but simple dumb luck.

“Our landlord got foreclosed on,” Karpinski said.

— If you live or work in La Jolla and have a truly bizarre story you would like considered for “Local Lore,” e-mail clevitan@lajollalight.com


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