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Henry "Hank" Silva, longtime owner of Bill's Taco House, 1920-2009

August 26, 2009 |  6:00 am

Tacohouse Henry M. Silva, who owned South L.A. institution Bill's Taco House on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, died Friday of natural causes at his home in San Pedro.

He was 88. 

Silva bought the Taco House from its original owner in the '50s, and though friends knew him as Hank, customers assumed his name was Bill.

Silva grew up in the Central Valley, picking fruit and cotton. In 1939, he moved to Los Angeles, served in the Navy in World War II, then returned to L.A., working at various jobs. An insurance check after an injury helped him buy the Taco House, about a mile east of USC.

The Taco House taco is a seasoned hamburger patty, grilled and cut into three pieces, with a slice of "yellow" cheese, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and a spicy chili gravy in a fried taco shell. Like the tacos, the enchiladas are made with hamburger patties. Noted customers have included Barry White and Wilt Chamberlain.

A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times revealed the three secrets to Taco House's longevity: "1. Being down with your peeps. 2. Keeping your prices low. 3. Gravy."

Silva sold the Taco House in 1985 but remained an active member of the community. A neighborhood Head Start school on East Martin Luther King Boulevard, the Silva Center, is named in his honor. 

-- Betty Hallock

Photo credit: Kevin P. Casey / Los Angeles Times