Location: San Bernardino
Mitlas restaurant is the oldest (1937) restaurant visited for tacos on this 52 Taco Challenge; yet they are still in business today! Covid (2020) has nothing on the Great Depression, WWII or what Mitlas’ clientele experienced in our America of the 1930/40’s.
Segregation and racism was a real thing to Mexicans living in California back then. In San Bernardino Mexicans were only allowed to live on the west side of town. Brown v Board of Education was the landmark Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in schools in 1954. But it wasn’t the first to take on the issue. Eight years earlier, in 1946, a group of Mexican American families in California won the very first federal court case ruling that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.
Mitla Cafe first opened its doors on Mount Vernon Avenue in 1937. Cesar Chavez was a known regular customer who would frequent Mitla when he could. Salvador Rodriguez, husband to Lucia, brought in the businessmen and the local politicians to a hot meal. Together they formed their own Mexican Chamber of Commerce.
When Mexican-American baseball teams finished their games they came to Mitlas. Church leaders and their congregations also came. Mitlas Taco Restaurant is huge, only we saw it from the outside, on account of Covid, no inside dining allowed.
Were it not for Mitlas there may never have been a Taco Bell. Glen Bell would go on to found Taco Bell from a small standalone building in Downey in 1962. He earlier started out by selling hamburgers and hot dogs across the street from Mitla Cafe. Bell, as the story is known today, watched lines form for the signature ten cent tacos dorados. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing he worked his way into the kitchen; leaving with the secret formula to what today is the Taco bell taco.
This area was known back then as the San Bernardino’s barrio district. The original cafe still stands, in its same location, with a historic designation sign outside and framed photographs on the walls inside, showing generations of important Mexican American history, some lost to time. Mitla still stands as the voice of a quiet revolution that helped expand Mexican food throughout the world.
The same tacos served for over 80 years were consumed today along with a cheese enchiladas plate, an albondiga soup and a chunky beef broth.
It was all made to order as we drove up and ordered; served up with a side of community, respect and a whole lot of history.
602 N. Mount Vernon Ave.
San Bernardino, CA 92411
Taco Reviewed: Mitla Cafe
One star is considered poor; two stars is good, three stars is very good, four stars is great, five stars is excellent!
1. Scenic Historic Location – Just right off Route 66. – 5 stars
Fairly subjective and a wild card rating
2. Value – My wife originally thought the price of a Taco was expensive however, when she took that first bite she suddenly realized, it was a bargain.
Value for your money.
3. Food Flavor and Texture – 5 stars; this is more than just a taco shop, this is authentic Mexican food history, cooking to perfection.
4. Food Presentation – 5 stars
5. Service, Setting and Cleanliness – 5 stars.
Cleanliness is also considered a strong factor as we are in a Covid year.
Wow! What a ride. Ten taco reviews down and another forty to go before the challenge is over.
I’m now humbled by the history witnessed. Never in my wildest dreams, would I have thought that such great food would also become a history lesson.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart”.
– Caesar Chavez