A happy donkey holding a burrito greets motorists as they enter Hollister along Fourth Street.
The large sign adorns the top of El Burrito, a taqueria that serves dishes inspired by the Baja California region.
“Baja California has cuisine that is a lot different than the rest of the Mexico. It is a blend of all the people that live and go there,” said Ruben Rivera, proprietor and chef at El Burrito.
Located at 696 Fourth Street, the former site of two breakfast nooks, the Ding-a-ling café and Country Rose, the restaurant is breezy and welcoming.
“We mostly kept everything the way it was, and just made some upgrades,” said Rivera. “The layout is the same. We wanted to keep it nice, cool and fresh.”
Rivera has worked at various restaurants before, but this is his first business.
“My dad has businesses in Tijuana, which is the inspiration for my cooking,” he said.
The restaurant features a variety of seafood dishes, from cocktails to a combination plate of shrimp, scallops and octopus.
“We have a pretty full menu of seafood – plates, appetizers, ceviche – a little bit of everything,” he said. “Puerto Nuevo is very popular for lobster, which is where I got my inspiration for our lobster burrito and shrimp burrito. The fish, shrimp and marlin tacos are inspired from Ensenada. We also import from Tijuana a lot of the seafood we serve, including fresh oysters, clams and stingray.”
Popular dishes include the carne asada fries, chile relleno burrito and California burrito, which has fries inside the wrapped tortilla.
“The California burrito was invented in San Diego and customers here were asking for it, so we added it to the menu,” he said.
For Rivera, cooking is a passion that has developed over time.
“I love being in the kitchen. I’m always making stuff up and trying different things. My boys are my guinea pigs,” he said.
In addition to getting feedback at home in the kitchen, the father of five gets a little help from his fifteen-year-old, Alberto, who during the summer occupied the front counter.
“We have a good crew here,” said Rivera.