Birria Taco Shop's Opening in San Diego's Old Town a Pandemic Positive

With her business suffering amid the pandemic, Chef Priscilla Curiel made the decision to move her popular, Michelin-recognized birria taco shop from the border-adjacent town of San Ysidro to the more bustling Old Town in the heart of San Diego

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This story is part of NBC’s Rebound, a 12-episode series airing on NBC 7’s streaming devices and NBC's Peacock. New episodes of Priscilla'’ four-part story air on Wednesdays.

"De algo negativo, siempre viene algo positivo."

It means from the negative comes the positive in Spanish and it's the saying San Diego chef Priscilla Curiel uses to explain the coronavirus pandemic.

Curiel shut down her San Ysidro taco shop in early November after an 18-month U.S.-Mexico border shutdown severely stunted her flow of customers, many of whom were daily border crossers prior to the pandemic.

With her business suffering, Curiel made the decision to move her popular, Michelin-recognized birria taco shop from the border-adjacent town to the more bustling Old Town in the heart of San Diego.

I wish the pandemic never happened. But I mean, you want to look and take something positive out of something negative

Chef Priscilla Curiel

Tuétano Taqueria officially opened on Dec. 1 to steady crowds and satisfied customers. Her new endeavor, a Baja-inspired seafood small plates restaurant called Mar Rustico, is opening this week.

"I wouldn't be here if the pandemic wouldn't have happened. I mean, I wish the pandemic never happened. But I mean, you want to look and take something positive out of something negative," Curiel said. "Like [from] the storm comes the rainbow afterwards."

When Mar Rustico opens, Curiel will be the operator of three San Diego businesses; her third is a grab-and-go burrito and coffee shop in National City called Mujer Divina -- an idea concocted amid the takeout era of the pandemic.

But if you think the 34-year-old business owner is stopping there, you'd be wrong.

She's "looking for a bigger space, a more sit-down space, because [Mujer Divina] grew out of the pandemic so it was only takeout," Curiel said. "So I'm looking for something that people can bring their laptop and enjoy their coffee sitting down.

"And, probably learn latte art! That's something I want."

San Diego Chef Priscilla Curiel has everything she needs to open her new restaurants, Tuétano Taqueria and Mar Rustico: she has the perfect locations, she has her carefully crafted recipes, she has the vision. The only thing she’s missing is a steady supply of ingredients, as the pandemic supply chain problems hit her Michelin-recommended birria tacos.

For Curiel, there's always a "next thing" because, for her, it's a way to improve.

"It's always about progressing and learning," she said. "Not moving on [from] projects but making projects, like, solid and move on to something else and keeping everything you touch solid."

For now, she'll be focusing on making her current places "solid," which includes prepping her recognized bone marrow birria tacos two or three days in advance every day of the week.

As for the customers who showed up to Tuétano's opening, some were familiar faces who would eat at her San Ysidro location; others were admirers from afar who got the chance to check out the more central location.

"We used to drive down to San Ysidro to go to Tuétano because their tacos are very special," Mike Vella said. "Their birria tacos are extremely authentic and just delicious so we used to drive down there to get them and when we heard they were opening up a restaurant here we were very excited."

First-timers Dave and Laurie Courtney were so impressed by the food, they came back days later for seconds.

"It's as good as the pictures look and better and the bone marrow is an awesome extra," Dave Courtney said.

To her customers, Curiel is grateful.

"Grateful for their support for liking the food and for always cheering, Curiel said. Even though we were in San Ysidro and many couldn't make it, even by liking a picture on Instagram, I'm grateful for that. For a follow, for a tag, that's awesome."

Curiel shared her journey -- from closing her San Ysidro location to opening her new taco shop in Old Town -- with NBC's Rebound. She said the experience allowed her to give customers a fuller picture of her work.

"It was nice telling people my story because many people just look at the success but don't look at the struggles to get to that success," Curiel said. "I mean, I can't think of any successful person in what they do, not having struggles before getting there.

"And I think I'm not there yet. I still have more to prove to myself. I think your persona is, like, your only competition. You have to prove to yourself, work harder on yourself to improve."

About NBC’s Rebound

NBC’s Rebound series started during the coronavirus pandemic as ever-shifting orders and shutdowns threatened small businesses across the United States. Despite the challenges, small businesses stepped up.

Now on Season 5, Rebound follows three small businesses as they do what it takes to keep business going amid the pandemic.

Watch Rebound here, on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock or on the devices below:

More From NBC's Rebound

NBC's Rebound gives three business owners cameras to document their own journey through the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some previous episodes:

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