San Francisco

$22 burrito helps San Francisco restaurant break even from inflation, owner says

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A restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District is catching attention online after recently bumping the price of its signature burrito from $11 to $22.

The owner of La Vaca Birria says it’s not an attempt to make more money, but an attempt to continue to break even as prices for everything rise.

When you walk into the restaurant, it smells, "either like birria, or charcoal,” said Ricardo Lopez, owner of La Vaca Birria. 

A restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District is catching attention online after bumping the price of its signature burrito from $11 to $22 recently. So, what’s so special about this burrito? The owner of La Vaca Birria shows us how it’s made.

For the last two years, he has operated the spot -- built out of a former record store in the Mission.

His vision has been to make the kind of food his aunts, uncles and mother used to make - but kicked up a notch.    

The only problem is, the price of nearly everything he uses to make his food has gone up. Like onions for example.

"Before COVID, they were like $9 a sack at Restaurant Depot, I used to pick them up. During COVID, and after, it was $40 dollars. Right now, it's $80,” said Lopez.

Their signature burrito is the most popular and nearly every ingredient that goes into it has doubled in cost. That’s the reason the owner said its price has, too.

In fact, the latest Consumer Price Index shows prices for food, gas and housing all rose last month nationwide. 

To be fair, Lopez has also made a conscious decision to buy premium beef to make his birria - which is Mexican marinated beef.

And has chosen not to buy any prepared foods from suppliers. Meaning everything is made from scratch - with the exception of the tortillas - which he gets from a local shop.

And all that effort is also reflected in the prices.

Is it price gouging or a sign of the times? A spot in San Francisco’s Mission District is getting a lot of attention after doubling the price of its signature item. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to the owner of La Vaca Birria, Ricardo Lopez, about his decision to price a burrito from $11 to $22.

"The food that you make in your pueblo back in Mexico, it's very labor intensive,” said Lopez. “And the only way you get that here is at those fine dining restaurants, doing everything from scratch."

Judging from the lunch rush on Tuesday, his decision not to skimp on ingredients, or cut staff, seems to be paying off.

"If it just takes us as consumers to pay a little bit more to support people's dreams, and get really good food back, then that's fine with me,” said customer Rain Damon Espinas. 

And Lopez said he knows people can choose to go to the burrito shop a few doors down for a $9 dollar option, which he says is good too.

And for regulars who have decided to cut back, Lopez said, "It's either that or keep the price the same, don't make any money and we close our doors at one point."

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