10 things to know about restaurant chain Puesto as it celebrates 10th anniversary
A decade after opening its first location in La Jolla, the family-owned company is closing in on 20 million tacos sold.
In February 2012, a group of local Mexican American cousins opened their first Puesto restaurant in La Jolla with the goal of serving upscale, Mexico City-style tacos and other dishes made with all-natural proteins and house-prepared blue corn tortillas, salsas and other gourmet condiments and toppings.
The idea was a hit, and today Puesto — a Spanish word meaning “stand,” as in taco stand — is a fast-growing company with locations in cities and ballparks statewide.
Co-founder Eric Adler said the company’s success has vastly exceeded his family’s expectations.
“It’s really been a blessing to feed so many people in San Diego. It’s our community, and it’s extra special we’re here and we get to be a part of it,” he said.
In light of the company’s 10th anniversary, Adler and Lidiya Harvey, Puesto’s director of brand strategy, were asked for 10 things every San Diego taco lover should know about Puesto.
Brothers Eric, Alan and Alexander Adler grew up in Chula Vista and La Jolla eating Mexican food every day with their parents, whose families moved to California from the Mexican cities of Guadalajara and Monterrey. After graduating from business college on the East Coast, Eric came home with a deep craving for delicious Mexican food, which he and his brothers discovered at upscale taco parties catered by chef Luisteen Gonzalez. With their cousins, Isi and Moy Lombrozo, the Adler brothers pitched the idea of a restaurant to Gonzalez, who agreed to come on board only if he could focus on cooking and leave the business details to them.
18 million tacos and counting
The hallmark of Puesto’s Mexico City-inspired tacos — the company has sold 18.3 million since 2012 — is their authentic and gourmet ingredients, such as lamb barbacoa, short rib quesabirria, braised seasonal mushrooms, four varieties of guacamole and blue corn tortillas made fresh all day at each location. The signature ingredient in many tacos is the “costra,” a crepe-thin round of warm, pan-crisped melted cheese that the vegetables and proteins are wrapped in before being rolled onto the tortilla. Harvey said Puesto has sold so many tacos in the past decade that if they were placed end to end in a line, they would stretch from here to Mexico City.
Growing and growing
Today, Puesto has nine restaurants in San Diego and Orange counties and the Bay Area, including the La Jolla location at 1026 Wall St. It also has multiple booths at San Diego’s Petco Park and at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of the San Francisco 49ers. Eric said he and his brothers and cousins are all sports nuts, so they’d like to explore more stadium locations, which have exposed a whole new dining public to their brand. They’re also on the lookout for other restaurant locations, particularly in North San Diego County which is, as yet, Puesto-free.
Puesto’s owners are all beer aficionados, so when Gordon Biersch decided to close its Mission Valley restaurant-brewery in 2019, they leapt at the opportunity to lease the property and produce their own Mexican lager beers. Much-respected Gordon Biersch head brewer Doug Hasker agreed to stay on at the new Puesto + Cerveceria (brewery) location and worked with the Adler brothers’ uncle to develop three authentic signature Mexican lagers: the Clara, Negra and Amber. After entering the beers in the 2021 Great American Beer Festival competition, Hasker warned the Puesto team not to expect any medals. It can take years for a new brewer to break through. But in September, Puesto’s Negra won a silver medal. Besides serving its own beers — including a new 10th-anniversary specialty brew — at all its restaurants, Puesto is canning them for Petco Park customers.
Additive-free tequila cocktail menu
As part of the company’s commitment to all-natural ingredients, Puesto is moving toward a policy of only serving tequilas with no artificial ingredients. Mexican regulators require that 99 percent of bottled tequila be pure agave spirits, which leaves 1 percent for distillers to add artificial flavors and other enhancers. Beau du Bois, Puesto’s bar and spirits creative director, is working to build a tequila program with only 100 percent pure agave spirits by 2023 or 2024. Currently, Puesto’s bar menu includes 117 varieties of tequila.
Since the first All-California Michelin Guide was issued in 2019, Puesto has been recognized with a Michelin Plate honor. A Michelin inspector wrote of Puesto: “The cuisine here has a restrained heat that emphasizes the fresh, bright flavors of Mexico, beginning with the pure pleasure from thin, crisp chips and fire-roasted salsa. Arrive during happy hour to fully understand their mastery of the margarita.” Also, several Puesto staff members have experience working at Michelin-starred restaurants, including du Bois (Meadowood Napa Valley), culinary director Erik Aronow (Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Beverly Hills) and operations director Dylan Shipsey (Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality in New York City).
No. 1 seller
Since 2013, Puesto’s filet mignon taco has been the top-selling item on its menu. Marinated filet is served in a costra (crispy melted cheese wrap) with avocado and the secret ingredient of spicy pistachio serrano salsa on a blue corn tortilla. The No. 2 seller, the Maine lobster taco, was temporarily taken off the menu since Harvey said the price of the hard-to-get New England shellfish has skyrocketed 300 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Eric’s favorite menu item is the Chicken Al Pastor taco, which he calls a good “combination of spicy and sweet.” That’s the taco that sold him on the idea of opening a restaurant with chef Gonzalez a decade ago.
Drawing the line on limes
Because du Bois doesn’t like buying bottled fruit juices for Puesto’s cocktails, only fresh hand-squeezed limes are used at all locations. How many limes? More than 4,500 per day, or 137,600 each month, Harvey said. The company has been installing industrial-grade juicing machines at all locations to give bartenders’ hands a bit of rest.
The company’s menu offers transparency on its protein sourcing, such as humanely raised Jidori chicken, Salmon Creek Farms all-natural pork, line-caught fish and wild-caught shrimp. The company also has a zero-waste commitment at its restaurants to compost food waste and reduce the use of unnecessary packaging.
$1 million in giving
Over the years, Puesto has donated more than $1 million to local and national charities, as well as provided meals to hospitality and frontline workers during the pandemic. Charities served have included the Surfrider Foundation, Toys for Tots and Autism Speaks. “Restaurants are nothing without a community. That’s why we’ve always been involved in hyper-local events here,” Eric said. ◆
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