A Kensington neighborhood fixture for five decades, Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant has been owned and operated by the Meza family since 1969. As famed for its casual Mexican comfort food and award-winning margaritas as its sense of community, now one of San Diego’s longest-running and family-owned businesses is gearing up to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary on September 15.
Originally opened by Ponce Meza Sr., today his namesake dining room is a well-loved social hub where regulars have shared everything from holidays and marriage proposals to a wedding. After Ponce Sr. retired in 2000, his son, Ponce Jr., and his daughter, Rocio, took over the reins. Ponce Jr. shares that one of his father’s first jobs after moving to the United States from Mexico was at Nati’s in Ocean Beach, working as a busboy.
“It inspired him to open a restaurant of his own with a similar concept. People in the neighborhood didn’t think it would survive more than a year, but little by little, clientele grew. And year after year, business continued to grow with loyal regulars visiting frequently, and new customers coming in every day.”
Injecting some “young blood” into the then 30-year-old business, Ponce Jr. and Rocio redesigned the restaurant’s interior and added a full bar. Despite learning the fundamentals from their father, Ponce Jr. says the refresh required them to think outside the original business model, giving them the confidence to build Ponce’s into what it is today.
Most recently this has seen an expansion north with a second location in Del Sur Town Center. Opened last December it serves the same menu of traditional Mexican fare, plus brunch (Ponce’s Kensington is closed on Sundays) complemented by a well-rounded list of agave spirits, cocktails, beer, wine. It’s proved a successful addition to the 4S Ranch community drawing visitors from neighboring Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe, and Del Mar.
Ponce Jr. credits the hardworking staff who genuinely care about the customers as being a vital component of the restaurant’s continued success. “We pride ourselves on Ponce’s being an extension of home - when you come in, you are “Familia!”
Director of operations Mikey Knab, who has been with Ponce’s since 2006, says the Mezas treated him like part of the ‘familia’ since day one. “Anyone can serve you food,” he says, “but we’re dedicated to making sure that everyone who walks through our doors feels welcomed in that same way. Our success is incomplete unless every single team member is happy, and all of our guests feel like they are enjoying a meal in our family’s home.”
“It wasn’t until recently that I took a step back are realized how incredible it is to be celebrating our 50-year anniversary! We are blessed and grateful to have stayed relevant in today’s ever-changing restaurant landscape, ultimately though, we’re thankful to our community in San Diego, as they are the heart and soul of our business.” – Ponce Jr.
Ponce’s 50th-anniversary party is taking place on Sunday, September 15 from noon to 6 p.m. next to the original Kensington restaurant on Adams Avenue. The parillada, or Mexican cookout, will feature live music, including a mariachi band, Ponce’s best-selling street tacos, and a 21+ beer garden serving signature margaritas and a special-edition beer from Fall Brewing Company. Unlimited parillada and two drinks (agua fresca for under 21s) are included in the $50 ticket price, plus a limited-edition t-shirt, and a raffle ticket.