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Culture Report: Barrio Logan's Trolley Car Restaurant Ready to Roll Again

El Carrito Barrio Logan

El Carrito, a historic restaurant inside a former trolley car, is reopening in Barrio Logan. / Photo by Milo Lorenzana

El Carrito is back.

The historic restaurant housed in an old trolley car on Logan Avenue has been closed for nearly a year. But on Friday, it will reopen with a revamped look and menu.

In the 1930s, the colorful streetcar carried passengers up and down Logan Avenue as part of the San Diego Electric Railway system. It was was retired in 1940, then relocated to its current home in Barrio Logan on Feb. 1, 1947, according to the “San Diego Trolleys” book by Douglas W. Mengers. It’s been the El Carrito restaurant ever since, although different people have owned it.

The Chicano Park Museum website details the history of El Carrito, describing it “not just a restaurant” but as an important community meeting space for neighborhood politicians, business owners and artists.

“Hearing the backstory of this place really motivated us,” said Carolina Santana.

Santana and Milo Lorenzana are the new owners behind the historic restaurant. Santana’s parents, Sandra and Luis, are also partners on the project.

Santana and Lorenzana are the same team behind the Por Vida coffee shop next door to El Carrito. Both have been major players in the grassroots renaissance happening along Logan Avenue in Barrio Logan. Por Vida, for example, has become a community hub that hosts events and showcases local art and crafts.

Carolina Santana and Milo Lorenzana are two of the partners behind the El Carrito revival. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Santana and Lorenzana are reviving many of the traditional Mexican dishes that have long been served at El Carrito. They said neighbors who walk by and see them working on the streetcar always share their memories of the place and ask about specific dishes, like the chilaquiles, a plate filled with fried tortillas smothered in green or red sauce and cheese.

They said they’ll be serving five different types of chilaquiles, including an avocado-based version with homemade chile verde sauce and a creamy chile poblano option.

For now, El Carrito will just be opening for breakfast and lunch. In the future, though, they want to expand to dinner and open a to-go window, since the restaurant itself has room for just a handful of people at a time (they will be opening outdoor sidewalk seating to help serve more customers).

Lorenzana said nearby residents told them they have high hopes for El Carrito’s revival. He said they hope to deliver.

“We think we’ll be able to keep up and live up to the community’s expectations,” he said.  “I think we’re ready for it.”

You’re reading the Culture ReportVoice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Touring Tijuana’s Renaissance, Mainly Mozart Turns 30 and More Arts and Culture News

Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum will open a touring exhibition featuring works by William L. Hawkins on June 9. The show will be up through Aug. 26, and it marks the last exhibition in its space before the museum closes for a yearlong major renovation. A museum spokeswoman said the museum will continue to host exhibitions and events “offsite at several locations throughout the county (and even across the border) with exhibitions, events and programs during the museum closure.” For more on the renovation, read this or listen to this podcast with the architect who’s working on the project.

Mingei International Museum

The Mingei International Museum is being redesigned to be more open and inviting to the public. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

• The Union-Tribune did a Q-and-A with Oceanside artist Carrie Minikel. Minikel’s solo show, “Curious Objects,” is on view at Art Produce Gallery in North Park through July 14.

• La Jolla Playhouse’s “The Squirrels” comedy is indeed a play about squirrels, but it’s also about much more than just the fluffy animals. (NBC7)

• There’s momentum to rebuild a new Craft Center at UC San Diego after the last one was torn down in 2012. (CityBeat)

• San Diego’s LGBTQ film festival FilmOut San Diego is celebrating its 20th anniversary in June. KPBS’s Beth Accomando used the occasion to check in with FilmOut’s founder and programmer about the state of LGBTQ cinema.

• The San Diego County Fair returns to the Del Mar Fairgrounds June 1 with a sweet theme and a huge lineup of concerts, performances, special events and, of course, lots of deep-fried food. (NBC7)

• If you’re still trying to figure out what to do with your kids this summer, local arts museums and organizations have dozens of camps from which to choose. The Oceanside Museum of Art, Lux Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego are just a few of the arts orgs offering summer camps for kids.

• Over the last decade, much has been written about Tijuana’s renaissance, especially when it comes to its food, craft beer and wine. On Friday, the San Diego Architectural Foundation is offering a tour of the cool new things happening in the border city.

• The annual Mainly Mozart Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary. This year’s festival, which is happening June 1-24, includes a mix of full-orchestra concerts, chamber-music performances and intimate music-filled dinners in private homes. (Union-Tribune)

• On Tuesday, six local museums announced their participation in the “Museums for All” program that provides free or deeply discounted admission for low-income families. Participating organizations are the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Museum of Making Music, The New Children’s Museum, the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum and the San Diego History Center.

• Here’s more on the North Park gallery I told you about last week that’s searching for a new, more affordable home after its landlords raised the rent significantly. (10News)

• The epic “Les Misérables” musical opens in San Diego Tuesday for a short run. (Union-Tribune)

• Tuesday, June 9, VOSD Podcast Network show Cura Caos is hosting a live event and podcast interview with Victor Clark-Alfaro, the founder of Tijuana’s Binational Center for Human Rights who’s long studied human trafficking across the border.

• The judges of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s annual “25 and Under Contest” have selected the top 25 artists. Y’all can vote for your favorite piece by liking the image of the work you want to win. Winners will be announced Sunday.

The Kinsee Report: Here’s Where I Want to Be This Week

• On Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., Balboa Park’s Food Truck Fridays event kicks off and will continue weekly through the end of September. The earlier you show up, the shorter the lines. The event has become a summertime tradition for my fam. Many of the museums stay open late and, this Friday, there will be free musical performances, too.

food truck fridays balboa park

Food trucks line Balboa Park on Friday nights throughout the summer. / Photo courtesy of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership

• On Saturday, Adams Avenue from Normal Heights to Kensington will be filled with visual art and musical performances for the annual Art Around Adams festival.

• Watching movies on the roof of a hotel in downtown San Diego sounds fun.

Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News

• Here’s a new roundup of dog-friendly restaurants in San Diego. (San Diego Entertainer)

san diego dog friendly restaurants

Image via Shutterstock

• The owner of the popular Aero Club whiskey bar in Mission Hills opened a new bar in City Heights. (KPBS)

• Here’s the beer and water-related story behind a chalk art piece that popped up recently in Little Italy.

• The annual Beer & Sake Festival is happening Friday.

• A waffle with smoked salmon on it? Yes, please. (Reader)

• The Union-Tribune rounded up the best burgers, region-by-region, and listed them alphabetically by neighborhood.

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum is hosting Mike Chen of the “Strictly Dumpling” YouTube channel this week for a lunchtime noodle competition.

• Coronado Brewing just released the second beer in its Coronado Art Series, which features custom beer label art by local artists.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized El Carrito. It’s an old trolley car. 

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts

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