Tato’s Taco Love for the Community

Tato is named in honor of Houks’ son. Photo by Jordan Maralit// SF Foghorn

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I left the Hilltop in search of local Mexican food. In an attempt to immerse myself in different neighborhoods, I visited Tato in the Bayview district. 

When I walked in, I was greeted with a sign reading “Hecho En Bayview” which means, “Made in Bayview.” The interior of the restaurant looked like a mixture of a modern aesthetic but with decorations of what you would see in a traditional Mexican restaurant.  The restaurant had a hexagon-shaped floor, seat booths attached to the wall, and lighting on top of the ceiling. It also has a bar where customers can sip their margaritas. The restaurant also has an outdoor patio for customers. To settle in, I ordered a carne asada burrito. 

Tato is perhaps best known for its Friday “Taco Love” special, which includes two tacos with sides and pay-what-you-can pricing. Customers can choose among beef, chicken, and mushroom tacos for the deal. The full meal comes with two tacos and sides like rice, beans, or salad.

Tato’s carne asada burrito. Photo by Jordan Maralit / SF Foghorn

With many people in the city still recovering from the hardships faced by the COVID-19 pandemic, every Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., customers can order off the Taco Love menu and pay anywhere from zero to $10. When a customer pays the full price of $10, Tato will “feed someone in [their] honor,” according to the restaurant’s Instagram.  Tato is partnered with the non-profit organization SF New Deal. SF New Deal launched in March 2020 as a rapid response to COVID-19. They utilize private donations and government-funded service contracts to help pay local restaurants to provide meals for their neighbors in need. 

SF New Deal partners with local restaurants to create meals for neighbors in need and providing income for workers and bringing food to the community. Within 6 months of its launch, the SF New Deal delivered over 800,000 meals, and local restaurants have received over $8,000,000 in direct financial relief. 

Tato’s owner and Bayview resident, Kristin Houk is a beneficiary of the SF New Deal program. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Houk’s nonprofit background led to her interest in both feeding people and recovering food waste. Houk gave away more than 25,000 free meals last year as part of the SF New Deal community program that pays restaurants to feed low-income residents, according to CBS News. She also owns All Good Pizza and Cafe Almá, and officially observed that the Bayview is under “There are a lot of people out there at this moment who can benefit from getting a meal, whether you pay $10 or 10 cents” she said to the Chronicle in 2020. 

She continued, “Food is such a tremendous cost to families so if we can use some of that extra food that’s out there and get it to people in dignified ways, it’s an important thing to work toward.” 

Houk named the restaurant after her son, signifying that Tato is about family, community, and the tradition of bringing people together through good food, times, and conversation.The restaurant was established in 2017 to pay homage to Houk’s family from Michoacan and Mexico City, Mexico.

I visited the restaurant on a Saturday, and employees were busy packaging meals to be donated, based on Friday’s pay-what-you-can profit. The workers packaged the meals using reusable meal prep, tupperware, containers to further aid the person receiving the meal.  

Amer Diaz, Tato’s head chef, said,“The idea of Taco Love started around the pandemic time. We saw that people were struggling and we wanted to make a difference.” Diaz has worked for Tato since 2018.

After enjoying my burrito, I bought two steak tacos to-go for dinner later that night in my dorm. 

Diaz encouraged all forms of the community through college students to the local residents, “Come out and Support! It’s nice to help people.” 

Tato plans to offer Taco Love “indefinitely every Friday.”

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