Tasty Burritos Come With a Warm Welcome at Victor's
When you walk into Graciela Mendoza Moreno's restaurant, she will surprise you with a compliment. "Guapo!" or "Guapa!" she shouts ("Handsome!" or "Beautiful!") to every customer who enters Victor's Mexican restaurant in SOMA. She stands at the helm of the burrito assembly line, beside the mild and spicy salsas and the creamy guacamole.
Moreno explained the history of her greeting style: "Before, I said, 'Hi! Hi!'" But then, "all the guys say, 'I want to come here because you say, 'Handsome!'" Her customers may come for the warm welcome, but they stay for the burritos.
Originally from a small town in the state of Michoacán in Mexico, Moreno, 63, has been running the restaurant as the owner-manager since 1984. Since then, she has evolved her juicy burrito with tips from co-workers.
The chile verde pork burrito ($6.40) features salsa, moist yellow rice, beans, and supple shredded pork with a spicy pop that will burn the corners of your mouth. It hurts so good. If you order super ($6.85), pockets of melting Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, and guacamole will soothe the sting. The pork itself is so soft it falls apart on your tongue, practically melting in the chile verde sauce with bursts of tomatillo, habañero chili, cilantro, and jalapeño. The flour tortilla is thin, offering structure without interfering with the juiciness. Overall, the burrito is wet but not too sloppy.
With these burritos and chimichangas, Moreno and her husband David have supported four children that have gone on to become a dental worker, a plumber, a store manager, and a San Jose State student. When the restaurant opened, she said, "this started like a chiste," a joke. The store consisted of one half of the restaurant, where the indoor tables currently are, and slowly expanded. "I didn't know we would make it this far."
Her advice to beginning food entrepreneurs: Spend money on your ingredients, not your decorations. "My restaurant isn't elegant," she said. In fact, the wall is adorned with such eclectic items as a plastic dove facing skyward, a customer's colorful painting of Victor's in 1998, and a Guadalajara souvenir miniature model of a kitchen, giving the place a cluttered coziness. "As long as it's clean, it doesn't matter...You have to have fresh food and cook with love. Be nice, not mean."
With that, Moreno said goodbye to a customer she had watched grow up at Victor's. She asked her how the food was and told her to enjoy the Saturday baseball game. "I hope the Giants win!" Moreno said.