Priscilla Curiel: Cooking Her Way
By Mario A. Cortez
Through a window at San Ysidro’s newly opened Tuétano Taqueria, one can see chef and proprietor Priscilla Curiel putting her special touch on every taco coming out of the kitchen.
“I always say that every taco I make is custom made,” Curiel said smiling. “The tacos have to be perfect because they have to be; doing this is my passion.”
As an artistic, high-energy individual, Curiel has always had a penchant for self expression; and as the daughter of a Tijuana restaurateur, was exposed to upscale Mexican dining throughout her upbringing. Today, she has merged these influences into her restaurant along with her take on cooking.
“Art is the expression coming from a human being and food can also be that, just like you can make a traditional taco or a modern taco, you can make a typical taco that is also elegant or artsy,” she pointed out.
Curiel’s first incursion in the culinary world was at age 16, when she began to help out at her family’s restaurants. Around the time she was 18, she began to save up to open up her own restaurant, but was also very interested in travel.
“I have always been very hard working and have always wanted to do more, something outside of school,” Curiel recalled. “I’ve always had something to work towards but, around the time I was 21, I decided to go into restaurants.”
Her decision to devote herself to the world of cooking in 2008 coincided with a notoriously violent time in Tijuana’s history, which lead many families of means and cross-border workers to take up residence in San Diego. Once north of the border, Curiel began to work at a bakery that was two doors down from Talavera Azul, a Mexican restaurant opened up by her family once they settled in San Diego.
“It was the perfect age for me to start working in the industry full time,” she said. “I was baking, decorating cakes, working the cash register, and being a barista too.”
Looking to formalize her skills as a baker, she enrolled in culinary school. However, being influenced by her artistic drive and the menus at her family’s restaurants, Curiel found herself gravitating towards Mexican food.
“I enrolled at culinary school for baked goods and sweets, but ended up making savory stuff,” she said, smile still on her lips.
Not being given the freedom to exercise her creativity and make menu changes at her workplace, Curiel began catering events on her own and networking within the local restaurant industry.
Many ups and downs later, mixed in with a large spoonful of perseverance, Curiel opened up Tuétano Taqueria, where she serves up her take on a select handful of Mexican classics.
“My idea here at Tuétano was to serve up traditional guisados (stews) and tacos but giving them a modern twist,” Curiel shared.
Balance and minimalism done right is the philosophy at her eatery: decor is simple but tasteful; the menu boasts a few items made with great attention; there is no salsa bar, but rather a single roasted chili oil salsa which is a near universal compliment to anything on the menu.
“For me, less is more,” Curiel detailed. “You have to get the most out of everything.”
Tuétano Taqueria’s namesake dish, the tuétano or roasted bone marrow, is a perfect incarnation of Curiel’s philosophy and desire to express herself through Mexican food. During our conversation, she prepared the roasted bone marrow inside a birria taco. The buttery, rich chunks of marrow and the the spicy, juicy beef birria don’t compete or clash, they harmonize.
Despite feeling all the growing pains a new business goes through, Curiel hopes to continue doing what she loves to do, her own way, for anyone who comes into her restaurant.
“For me there is no greater satisfaction that having people look through the window and tell me their food was delicious, like, damn, that’s the best,” she closed.
Tuétano Taqueria is located at 143 West San Ysidro Boulevard.