El Farolito Owner Salvador ‘Don Chava’ Lopez Has Died
Bay Area burrito enthusiasts and late-night drunken hooligans are eating our grief with today’s news in SFGate that ‘Don Chava’ Salvador Lopez, the owner of the El Farolito taqueria chain has passed away. Lopez emigrated from Mexico in 1975 and eventually opened the original El Farolito at 24th and Mission 38 years ago. He built it into a delicious oversized burrito empire with 12 Bay Area locations and a national cult following. Lopez was 70.
It saddens us to report that Don Chava, owner and director of the legendary power-house club – El Farolito passed away. Their National US Cup to regional/state/local championships is legendary. We send our condolences to the family and community. ? pic.twitter.com/3xaRcfzJIa
— SFSFL (@SFSFL) January 6, 2021
SFGate’s obituary focuses primarily on Salvador Lopez’ (popularly nicknamed “Don Chava”) ownership of a prominent amateur soccer club, covered in detail in this 2007 SF Weekly cover story. But we would like to acknowledge Lopez’ legendary culinary role in popularizing the Mission burrito, the steamed-tortilla variety known for its giant volume and foil wrapping, which would eventually be mimicked by large chains like Chipotle and Taco del Mar.
El Farolito did not invent the Mission burrito. Both La Cumbre and El Faro (which has separate ownership, and well predates El Farolito) make that claim, according to Bon Appetit. But the Mission burrito clearly dates back to the 1960s.
Upon arriving in the US in 1975, Lopez worked at a Half Moon Bay nursery and saved money to buy a restaurant. That was Taqueria San Jose, which is still at its same original 24th and Mission Street corner. But Lopez split from the ownership group with whom he ran Taqueria San Jose to open El Farolito on the same corner. (Their third partner also splintered off to open El Taco Loco. Also at the same corner.)
El Farolito would prove the most popular, particularly when a 2013 Esquire article that named theirs “The Most Life-Changing Burrito in America.” That set off countless “Best Burrito lists” on every clickbait blog across the country (though we went in a different direction). This culminated in FiveThirtyEight’s national Best Burrito Bracket which rather controversially gave the award to La Taquieria.
El Farolito still routinely makes the Chronicle’s Top 100 restaurants in San Francisco list, and Salvador Lopez will be remembered as one of the greatest examples of the American dream.