May 07, 2022

Photo Essay: Tracking Down Del Taco's High Desert History in the Mojave

Driving east down Main Street in Barstow, California—taking a short detour on my way to Vegas last week—I spotted a sign advertising "The Original Del Taco Barstow," since 1964. 

I turned left and proceeded two blocks as instructed, arriving at the corner of First Street and Hutchinson. 
But there, I came across a Del Taco that looked pretty modern and not historic—at least from the outside (and I didn't check out the inside). Turns out this used to be just a walk-up stand—but a dining room and drive-thru have been added (and sometime between 2012 and 2018, it was massively expanded). Fortunately, I knew there were a couple of older Del Tacos in Barstow, so I moved onto the next one. 

About 5 miles southwest of Main Street, off what's now known as the Mojave Freeway (a.k.a. I-15) on Lenwood Road, there's a location that Del Taco co-founder Ed Hackbarth and partner Luther Friend opened in 1986 (and remodeled in 1992). This one seemed interesting enough to go into. 

Hackbarth and his family still privately own and operate the "First" Del Taco (the Barstow "original" I mention above), this Lenwood location, and another on East Mountain View Street (circa 1978, remodeled in 1984)—all in Barstow. They retained the rights to do so—and to develop new stores— when they sold off the rest of the chain in 1976. 

So while Jack in the Box Inc. recently made a big splash purchasing Del Taco Restaurants Inc., that transaction doesn't touch Hackbarth's three Barstow locations. Now pushing 90 years old, the co-founder can still be found working in any one of them. 

Inside the Lenwood Del Taco feels quite a bit like a time capsule. Although we didn't have Del Taco where I grew up back East, its interior still reminded me of the fast food chains of my youth. 

I loved seeing the vintage logos incorporated into its modern operations. 

And I was particularly excited because I'd heard there were certain menu items you could only get at Barstow Del Taco locations and not elsewhere. 
That included the del-icious "Barstow taco," both a soft version and a crunchy version...

...which were huge compared to "the Del taco" and included a tomato slice and the most freshly grated cheddar you'll ever find at a fast food restaurant. 

On the walls inside the Lenwood Del Taco hang framed architectural renderings of its predecessors—including the "First" location (which was only the first in Barstow) and the actual first Del Taco, the real original one, established in Yermo, California, 17 miles east of Barstow (conveniently, on my way to Vegas, where I was headed while passing through Barstow). 

Hackbarth opened the first first Del Taco (which he considered calling "Casa Del Taco") in 1961 after having worked for future Taco Bell entrepreneur Glen Bell at Bell's Hot Dog in San Bernardino in 1954. He got into the Mexican fast food biz by working for—and eventually buying out—Bell's pre-Taco Bell chain, Taco Tia. 
Hackbarth partnered up with David Jameson to expand beyond Yermo by rebranding Taco Tia locations as Del Taco—beginning a franchise business in 1966 with a store opening in Victorville. 
This historic original Del Taco location is no longer a Del Taco. Instead, it's been operating as Tita's Burger Den since at least 2008.

In addition to burgers, you can get tacos and other Mexican food there...

...though, still pretty full from my Barstow tacos, I opted for an order of onion rings (which were amazing). 

It's nice to see this history valued and preserved—especially when so much other, similar history gets erased every day. 

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