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Owner of San Francisco Mission District's La Vaca Birria explains price of his $22 burritos

La Vaca Birria owner in SF's Mission defends burrito raising price to $22
La Vaca Birria owner in SF's Mission defends burrito raising price to $22 02:52

A restaurant owner in San Francisco's Mission District recently responded to concerns from a customer about the rising cost of one of the burritos on his menu.

The customer wrote a review online about how the price of the burrito doubled to $22 in two years. The owner explained that the $22 burrito factors in the rising expenses of ingredients and labor as well as his efforts to improve the quality at the same time. 

"I struggled — as a cook — to really find who our customer base was," said Ricardo Lopez, the restaurateur behind La Vaca Birria. "This is the food I want to make. If I want to continue to make the food that I want to make, if I want to continue to keep, you know, testing new items, new menus, that all costs time and money."

La Vaca Birria burrito
La Vaca Birria burrito KPIX

The cuisine that created the grilled cheese beef burrito on his menu comes from a family recipe. His grandfather's technique for making birria, a Mexican meat stew, was the inspiration for his own recipe that built the menu of his food truck. A few years ago he expanded the concept to his restaurant, which is now known as La Vaca Birria in the Mission.

Last fall, the San Francisco Chronicle named their burrito the best in the neighborhood, highlighting the restaurant as one of five delivering a top take on the popular Mission District classic. But earlier this week, one customer said they didn't feel the product was worth the price. 

"I loved the grilled cheese birria burrito. Two years ago it was $11. One year ago, it was $12. Today it is $22," the customer wrote on Google Reviews. "Don't get me wrong, it's still a damn good burrito. But for $24 after taxes, there are so many better food options in this city." 

La Vaca Birria owner Ricardo Lopez
La Vaca Birria owner Ricardo Lopez KPIX

So Lopez decided to respond with a lengthy explanation of his expenses and how they have increased in just the last two years. He mentioned that the price of beef went up more than two dollars a pound in that time, which he calculates as another $6,000 he has to pay each month. A rise in the cost of labor is another factor; he said that adds another $3,000 a month. 

"I thought, 'Well, this is a great time to respond on that.' And, you know, it's in the middle of just starting our service, and I sat down and everything just came out. Like, this is what it kind of costs and looks like to us," Lopez told KPIX. 

Every ingredient he can think of from oil to onions, even limes, are more expensive now. Lopez also says that the burrito isn't the same as some customers may remember, because he is constantly trying to make his food better by finding ingredients that elevate the cuisine. This also includes a technique that requires extra hours of labor and in some cases, more than a day of preparation to make the burrito and other items on the menu up to his standard. 

"Literally everything has gone up in price. There's not one thing I can think of that hasn't gone up since COVID that's come right back down," Lopez said. 

The customer did ask if the price increase was related to the Chronicle declaring the burrito the best in the Mission. Lopez said it did impact his decision because he felt validated to ask for more money and ask customers to think of this burrito as a "treat yourself" experience. But he explained the extra money is just to make ends meet, not to collect some extra cash at a time when many restaurants are struggling in the current economy. 

"If we literally want to stay in business -- it's not I'm trying to pay for my Ferrari or anything. It's I'm trying to keep, you know, keep the rent paid," Lopez said. 

He also hopes this conversation challenges people on how they view Mexican food. While customers have generally accepted the rising price of burgers and pasta across the nation, or accept that different versions can be sold at different price points, he notes that Mexican food is often expected to be affordable in all situations. 

Lopez points out that the tradition and methods of making food from his family and others rivals that of a fine dining experience and hopes customers start to see Mexican restaurants from a different perspective. 

"Unfortunately, Mexican food is largely associated with being a cheaper option, [which] can be achieved by choosing lower cost items or keeping low preparation-time items." Lopez wrote in his response on Google Reviews. "I see too many and know too many [Mexican] restaurateurs who rely on family working for free to barely pay their bills. Having to decide if they can afford to fix equipment that has broken or pay their bills on time, a position we have been in ourselves and this something we will never go back to and I hope every damn Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area raises their prices!" 

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