Guadalupe Guerrero has been working with the non-profit La Cocina since 2012. The organization helped her start a catering company.
With the money Guerrero saved from that, she was able to open up a kiosk in The Hall, a group of restaurants that operate out of the same building on Market Street near 6th.
Monday was the first day Guerrero's restaurant, El Pipila, served paying customers.
"We are so happy to be here, for all the support. Here we are in our own place!" she said, wiping a tear of joy off her cheek.
The restaurant opening is a dream nearly two decades in the making. When Guerrero first came to the U.S., she started working in the kitchen of a restaurant, and after 14 years, her friend suggested she start her own business. She said it was a goal that seemed impossible at the time.
"I told [my friend] there was no way I could do it. I don't speak English well," she said.
Guerrero applied twice to work through La Cocina. Her application was rejected the first time, but she applied again and was accepted.
La Cocina helps people start their own business in the food industry by providing affordable space to rent in their commercial kitchen and classes on everything from marketing and finance, to navigating the city permitting process.
"What La Cocina provides people who have an incredible passion or an incredible product, is the business resources that can be really tricky to access," said Programs Director, Leticia Landa.
In the past 10 years since it's been around, La Cocina's helped 19 different Bay Area food businesses get their start. El Pipila is their latest success story.
Guerrero starting her catering company out of La Cocina first, and with the money she saved from that, she opened her kiosk at The Hall. By noon on the restaurant's first day, the line of customers stretched out into the dining room.
"It's quite good," said Remi Pieron, as he ate some of El Pipila's Pozole Verde.
Guerrero said what makes her food different from other Mexican restaurants or taquerias, is its regional focus. Guerrero is from Guanajuato in central Mexico.
Her restaurant is named after a monument to a local hero from the town, who helped fight for Mexican Independence from Spain. Nopales, or Cacti, are a staple item on the menu.
"I'm very impressed. We've tried all the food around here, it's nice that we've got something a little bit different," said Ali Dorri of San Francisco.
"I'm going to be back," said Raul Gomez of Pacifica.
Guerrero said she's happy to share a taste of her culture along with her culinary creations, and she's grateful for the support she got to make her dream happen.
"Yesterday I was telling people to pinch me," she said laughing and smiling. "Because I still can't believe this is real."
El Pipila is open Monday through Friday at The Hall on Market Streets, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Guerrero also operates a temporary food stand at the Off-The-Grid events at Fort Mason on Fridays.