La Victoria Taqueria’s “orange sauce” is so popular among Bay Area food lovers that if you Instagram-search #lavicorangesauce, you’ll see it drizzled over endless meatballs, tater tots, and sandwiches. You’ll also see it poised to be squirted into the mouth of one fan with the caption: “Only the best stuff created on this planet.” Indeed the proprietary condiment offered at all five of La Victoria’s San Jose locations and its solo Hayward outpost is justly coveted. But with 25 years of success behind this family-owned Mexican boutique chain, La Vic’s secret sauce is much more than its famous sauce.
From the beginning, Marcelino’s goal was to bring the flavors of his upbringing to his community. He took the task seriously, leveraging and sometimes evolving heritage recipes, importing all of his spices from Oaxaca.
Everything at the fast-casual restaurant has distinctive character thanks to founder and proprietor Marcelino Barrita and his family. In 1977, Marcelino moved to San Jose, California, from Oaxaca, Mexico, with his wife, Antonia, their three children. But he established himself in the area for 11 years before opening La Victoria Taqueria in a converted Victorian townhouse on downtown San Jose’s East San Carlos Street.
The humble counter-service restaurant, which still features pretty much the same concise menu as it did when it opened, became an instant classic. Over the years, Marcelino opened additional San Jose locations: Santa Clara Street near San Pedro Square, Fourth and Julian streets, Fourth and Gish streets, and Almaden Expressway — as well as the Hayward destination.
From the beginning, Marcelino’s goal was to bring the flavors of his upbringing to his community. He took the task seriously, leveraging and sometimes evolving heritage recipes, importing all of his spices from Oaxaca — which he still does today — and making almost everything from scratch.
Headed toward the three-decade mark, La Victoria Taqueria remains a victory.
One taste of the carne asada — the restaurant’s most popular meat at 7,000 pounds sold per week — and it’s clear the food here is transportive. Its 10-ingredient marinade, crafted from a 50-year-old heirloom recipe, includes garlic, tomatoes, vegetables, onion, bay leaves, oregano, and a little beer. Grilled and tucked into a fully loaded burrito or two-hander taco, its rich, savory flavor is notable and deeply satisfying.
But to forgo the chorizo, perhaps with eggs folded into a breakfast burrito or crowning a hefty bed of “nacho fries,” would be a grave error. Like all of La Vic’s specialty ingredients, the ground sausage is made in-house in the family’s designated commissary kitchen to ensure consistency throughout all locations. Seasoned to perfection with the aforementioned imported Mexican spices, it’s outstanding.
Al pastor gets similar love in the kitchen, which translates to nubby, well-spiced shavings of lusty, rotating-spit-roasted pork goodness on the plate or in the burrito or taco.
Marcelino and Nick, Marcos, and Byanka — three of his six children, all of whom grew up with the business and now help run it — even give beans the respect they deserve. No basic simmering for their whole cooked pintos! The La Vic team goes an extra step, frying their boiled legumes in corn oil seasoned with onion and garlic, lending a savory hit to the menu staple.
And of course there’s the famed orange sauce. Created by Marcelino shortly after opening his original, now-flagship location, it’s an updated take on a thick, spoonable Oaxacan sauce. Named for its color and featuring a top-secret combo of dried red chiles, white onions, tomatoes, garlic, oil, tomatoes, and more, La Vic’s version took years to perfect into the creamy, easily pourable, totally celebrated version it is today. Diners can add small sides of the proprietary sauce to their delivery orders, but word’s long been out that you can also buy it by the bottle. And people do.
Every month the team makes about 3,000 gallons of orange sauce and sells an average of 15,000 bottles — more during the holiday season. Nick Barrita explains: “People buy it for gifts, for dinners, for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and just to keep in the fridge. For weddings and quinceañeras, they repackage it with a custom label to give as a party favor.” Preservative-free and vegan, La Victoria Taqueria’s orange sauce keeps in the fridge for a month or more, making it easy to elevate eggs, salads, sandwiches, and fish, chicken, and meat dishes with a squeeze of a squirt bottle.
As successful as it is, orange sauce is not La Victoria's greatest contribution to the South Bay. As the multigenerational mini-empire crosses the threshold of their silver anniversary — keep an eye out on Instagram for their block party toward the end of 2023 — it continues to employ more than 100 people locally. It donates food to local initiatives such as the Latino Role Model program and Sequoia High School’s Dream Club fundraiser to support educational opportunities for undocumented students. And of course it remains the place to turn to for generous helpings of freshly made, distinctly La Vic favorites.
Everything at the fast-casual restaurant has distinctive character thanks to founder and proprietor Marcelino Barrita and his family.
Marcelino couldn’t have known the impact he would make when he opened his first restaurant decades ago. But he clearly named his business right: Headed toward the three-decade mark, La Victoria Taqueria remains a victory.
PHOTO CREDIT: Stan Lee