From the vintage neon sign to the carne asada, little has changed at Tia Margarita since it opened in the Richmond District in 1963, and that’s kind of the point. This mainstay of northern Mexican cuisine will mark its 60th anniversary with a three-day-long fiesta on April 21, 22 and 23, featuring live music from Hayward-based 10-piece band Mariachi Mexicanisimo, games and other surprises.
Jennifer Corwin, the third-generation owner of Tia Margarita, said she grew up in the restaurant. Her grandparents, Alex and Virginia Hobbs, opened Tia’s—as she calls it—in 1963 with their best friends, John and Myrtle Holbrook. A bartender living in the Richmond District at the time, Alex purchased the Bostonian at 19th Avenue and Clement Street, a storied watering hole with a horseshoe-shaped bar that was conveniently next door to a bakery. The two families converted the entire corner building into a full-service restaurant.
As Corwin told The Standard, the restaurant was a blank slate for the Hobbses and Holbrooks, who considered opening a steakhouse or serving straightforward American fare but fell in love with the Mexican cuisine that was becoming popular in the Bay Area in the 1960s with early taquerias like nearby Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant.
Corwin’s grandparents hired a chef named Alejandro Espinosa, who spearheaded the northern Mexican cuisine that their customers would come to love. She said virtually nothing about the menu has changed over the past 60 years, partly because the kitchen staff still sources Tia’s signature carne asada and chile relleno from the restaurant’s original cookbook, even though it’s now deteriorating from decades of page turns and sauce spills.
Another recipe at Tia’s that has stood the test of time was named in honor of Corwin when she was a college student at the University of San Francisco. The “Jenny’s Special” is a pollo asada served atop a salad with jalapeños and black beans.
Part of Tia Margarita’s staying power can also be attributed to its front and back of house employees, several of whom have been working at the eatery for over 20 years. Corwin said she learned how to run a restaurant from her grandparents and these longtime employees from the time she worked as a busser in high school, and later, a server, bartender and manager.
Apart from the family’s secret recipe for carne asada, the restaurant has a few other treasures hidden in plain sight. Corwin told The Standard that her grandmother acquired two Aztec masks from the World’s Fair when it was held on Treasure Island between 1939 and 1940. Her family has had their fair share of famous regulars over the years, including Joe DiMaggio, who, according to Corwin, struck up a friendship with her grandmother.
Corwin said that while there’s not yet a fourth generation to take over the restaurant, she’s far from retirement.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It’s an honor to be able to serve regulars who have been with us for so long.”
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]