Some Leucadia residents have been wondering for years, what’s up with the Fulano’s Restaurant. The restaurant appears never to be open. But a look through the windows shows a clean, well kept, and comfortable establishment.
Most recently, on Facebook, numerous postings on an Encinitas page questioned the operation of the 30-seat restaurant at 114 Leucadia Boulevard. Critics say it has to be a front for money laundering, a tax dodge.
“I’ve just never seen a business stay in business so long not doing any business,” posted Dan Prinling. “Cartel hours,” added Chris Kelly-Cochran.
With the recent negative posts, the matriarch of the restaurant, 79-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Portilla, reached out to me. “I’m getting older and want to lay these things to rest,” she said.
When she and her husband first bought the property in the early 70s, they gave a 10-year lease to the El Rancho Taco Shop. “Yes,” said Portilla, “We heard that unscrupulous things were going on there.” When the lease came up, the Portillas decide not to renew. “They left it in shambles,” said Portilla of the leaseholders.
The Portilla family then operated their own restaurant at the site, Speedy Taco. “We wanted a fast-food place with a homemade taste,” said Portilla.
Portilla, upon retirement, gave the restaurant to her son John. He eventually converted it to Fulano’s, a “gourmet Mexican” restaurant. “He wanted a nice sit-down place,” said Portilla. The restaurant carries a coveted Type 47 ABC license, allowing them to have full alcohol service, not just beer and wine.
Can the rumors from 35 years ago last that long? Of the Facebook posts, “The older residents were very positive in their comments. The newer people were negative,” said Portilla.
Portilla admits part of the problem may be that the restaurant isn’t open until the evening hours, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. There are no posted hours, other than a “Closed on Monday” sign, and a sign that reads, “CASH ONLY.” She said lot of negativity and speculation occurred when they had to limit their hours when the 2008 recession hit. The restaurant keeps it simple with only two long-time employees.
Portilla laughs at the rumors and speculation. The Portillas have a long history in the community. Betty graduated from the local high school. Her husband was closely related to Tony, of Solana Beach’s Tony’s Jacal restaurant. “What some don’t know is our family is also law enforcement,” she said. He other son, James, is a CHP commander in Sacramento.
“I’ve had a successful life. I really haven’t paid any attention [to the rumors]. But, as I get older, it's started to bother me,” said Portilla. Toward the end of string of Facebook postings, she posted a thank you to everyone for their comments, positive or negative, and wished them peace.