El Carrito is back.
The historic restaurant housed in an old trolley car on Logan Avenue has been closed for nearly a year. But on Friday, it will reopen with a revamped look and menu.
In the 1930s, the colorful streetcar carried passengers up and down Logan Avenue as part of the San Diego Electric Railway system. It was was retired in 1940, then relocated to its current home in Barrio Logan on Feb. 1, 1947, according to the “San Diego Trolleys” book by Douglas W. Mengers. It’s been the El Carrito restaurant ever since, although different people have owned it.
The Chicano Park Museum website details the history of El Carrito, describing it “not just a restaurant” but as an important community meeting space for neighborhood politicians, business owners and artists.
“Hearing the backstory of this place really motivated us,” said Carolina Santana.
Santana and Milo Lorenzana are the new owners behind the historic restaurant. Santana’s parents, Sandra and Luis, are also partners on the project.
Santana and Lorenzana are the same team behind the Por Vida coffee shop next door to El Carrito. Both have been major players in the grassroots renaissance happening along Logan Avenue in Barrio Logan. Por Vida, for example, has become a community hub that hosts events and showcases local art and crafts.
Santana and Lorenzana are reviving many of the traditional Mexican dishes that have long been served at El Carrito. They said neighbors who walk by and see them working on the streetcar always share their memories of the place and ask about specific dishes, like the chilaquiles, a plate filled with fried tortillas smothered in green or red sauce and cheese.
They said they’ll be serving five different types of chilaquiles, including an avocado-based version with homemade chile verde sauce and a creamy chile poblano option.
For now, El Carrito will just be opening for breakfast and lunch. In the future, though, they want to expand to dinner and open a to-go window, since the restaurant itself has room for just a handful of people at a time (they will be opening outdoor sidewalk seating to help serve more customers).
Lorenzana said nearby residents told them they have high hopes for El Carrito’s revival. He said they hope to deliver.
“We think we’ll be able to keep up and live up to the community’s expectations,” he said. “I think we’re ready for it.”
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Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized El Carrito. It’s an old trolley car.
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts.