San Diego Chef Behind Old Town Birria Restaurant Doing Things Differently Post-Pandemic

Curiel ran her San Ysidro Tuétano Taqueria nearly singlehandedly. This time, When the birria taco shop and new Baja-inspired seafood restaurant Mar Rutico open in Old Town on Dec. 1, she’ll have a staff of five and a new mindset that will help her “let go”

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

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.

San Diego chef Priscilla Curiel has opened a restaurant before. She’s also opened a coffee shop and she's worked in the food industry most of her life. But this time, she's doing it differently.

“I haven’t worked for like three weeks now,” Curiel said. “I took like a little break and so I can start fresh because, trust me, I was burned out from the past three years and you don't want that to pass on to your new project. So we have to start fresh without stress.”

Curiel ran her San Ysidro Tuétano Taqueria nearly singlehandedly; she had a small kitchen staff who traveled from Tijuana, Mexico, to work in her shop. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she lost her employees and was back at it alone.

This time, when birria taco shop Tuétano Taqueria and Baja-inspired seafood restaurant Mar Rutico open in Old Town on Dec. 1, she’ll have a staff of five and a new mindset that will help her “let go.”

“I wanted to do everything myself [in San Ysidro] and, sometimes, the operation would fail because I was too apprehensive and just, like, holding on to everything. And right now, I’m like, ‘Yes, you do it,’ ” Curiel said.

“At the end of the day, it’s just cooking, even though it’s a job. So I have to take it not that serious and enjoy and have fun and trust in the process.”

Watch Episode 1 of Priscilla’s story below and all episodes of NBC's Rebound here:

Priscilla Curiel has made a name for herself as the chef who put bone marrow birria tacos on the map in San Diego County. Although she closed down one restaurant due to the pandemic, she's ready for a new start in Old Town -- with not one restaurant, but two.

During Curiel’s “downtime," she took a trip to New York but even her vacation was filled with thoughts about her restaurants.

“It was a week full of exploring and getting ideas and tasting and to see what’s like in the Big Apple, which culinary scene has, how do you say, like its reputation for always being ahead in trends,” Curiel said.

While the menu for Tuétano Taqueria will be the same as the now-closed San Ysidro location, Mar Rustico has an entirely different menu of small plates -- tostadas and ceviches -- that require inspiration.

“You know, like songwriters, the ideas pop into your mind but if you don’t write them right away, you probably forget them,” Curiel said. “So it’s something you have to write like if you’re writing a book, a song.”

“You have an idea, you'll try it and then you have to start over if you don’t like it,” she added. “For me to offer something to the customer, I have to be amazed by it. Like, ‘Whoa, I think this is gonna be a hit. Let’s offer it.’ ”

That was another lesson of the pandemic, Curiel said. As staffing shortages and supply shortages affected her business, it was pivot or fail.

“You can’t have a big menu like with all those shortages," Curiel said. “So we just kept it simple. We left the bestseller -- what we’re known for -- and it worked out pretty well.”

Curiel hopes her menus highlight the authentic Mexican food she knows and loves -- with her own artistic spin.

“We just want people to try what are what Mexican cuisine really is about because many people have the wrong idea of what it’s supposed to be. Everything you see like in a taco shop, I would consider more San Diegan cuisine than Mexican. It’s inspired.”

And while not everyone loves her product, (one customer was upset by Tuétano’s lack of fries for their burrito) she is grateful that most customers give her a chance.

“I love it that people try and they'll be like, ‘OK, I'll just order whatever you think is good,’ ” Curiel said. Customers "have to taste it first to understand it, like the hard work behind it.

“It always starts with the food. Always make people feel like they’re stepping into your own home.”

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:

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:

Know Your Rights: New NYC Virtual Tour Examines Past Injustice & Aims to Educate

Recipe for Success: Acclaimed Chef Brings Birria Tacos to Old Town After Pandemic Pause

Contact Us