DEL MAR — The village is observing its 50th year of cityhood but compared with En Fuego Cantina & Grill, it’s only middle aged. En Fuego dates back to 1930 for continuous operation — first as a tea room and trinket shoppe.
Resident Bill Mushet built the Spanish-style building to share as an office with plumber Ed Dunham and electrician Al Zuerner. It also served as his family residence and that’s when his enterprising spouse, Adelaide, latched on to a room facing Highway 101 and opened a tea room with dainty sandwiches. It was known as La Tiendita (little store but without groceries) and was actually where El Pescador was located.
When Mushet, Dunham and Zuerner went their separate ways, Moe Locke who owned and operated a highly successful restaurant in La Jolla took over the operation and called it La Tienda, specializing in Mexican dishes considered unique at that time. Tacos, tortillas, frijoles and tequila were something you had to learn to like.
When La Tienda became more time consuming because of its growing popularity, Locke decided to concentrate on his La Jolla restaurant and Anne and Phil Hofman took over ownership of La Tienda. In due time they sold it to O.L. McKinney and his wife, Sigrid, who owned the Fire Pit in Solana Beach. He had been the general manager of the race track and was well-versed in restaurant operations.
By then Bea Polloreno from a pioneer Carmel Valley family had become chief chef and her reputation for preparing Mexican style food was without peer.
McKinney acquired a restaurant on the beach (now the Poseidon) that closed after an unsuccessful run first as the Knight’s Lounge and then as the Stuft Shirt. He built a circular fireplace at the entrance which quickly became popular and a signature landmark.
He sold La Tienda to Ron Harmon who also owned the Robin Hood on the east side of 101.
During World War II, La Tienda was the meeting place for military personnel stationed at the Del Mar Hotel and Camp Callan on Torrey Pines mesa. It was always jam packed with men in uniform and their ladies.
When John Wingate purchased La Tienda he changed the name to En Fuego Cantina & Grill and it continues to feature Mexican dishes. He is pushing his longtime friend, Tom Pearson, the city’s only five-term mayor, to complete his memoirs in time for the city’s July celebration.
En Fuego has survived a lot of competition — Frank Troli’s Spaghetti & Beer, Golden Rollin Belly, Hitching Post, Pancho’s, Robin Hood, Knight’s Lounge and Stuft Shirt among them.
Filed Under: EyeWitness