After 70 years in business, Ernie Jr.’s Taco House will close for the last time on Saturday and many lifelong fans are flocking to the eatery this week for their last chance to munch on its Mexican fare.
The restaurant has been a family business since opening in Lincoln Heights in 1944, during World War II, a period when tacos, burritos and enchiladas weren’t sold on as many street corners as today, said owner Ernie Cruz, whose mother started the business.
“We have an old menu that’s posted on the walls,” he said. “It tells people how to pick up a taco because they were unfamiliar with eating tacos in those days.”
In 1955, Ernie Jr.’s moved to Colorado Boulevard just outside of Glendale, and then had to relocate to its present location on Broadway in 1973 because of the construction of the Glendale (2) Freeway.
Cruz, 69, grew up with the taco house his mother started, but said he decided it’s time to close up shop because of rising wages and the climbing costs of necessary repairs and upkeep. Waiters and kitchen staff will be laid off when Ernie Jr.’s closes its doors, he added.
Saying goodbye to his employees and patrons who dined at Ernie Jr.’s for decades made the decision even more difficult, Cruz said.
“I’m going to miss my employees, they’re family to me. I’m going to miss the clientele,” he said. “I know it’s going to get me later. After Saturday, reality is going to hit and I’m going to miss it even more.”
Ernie Jr.’s was where some people had their first taste of Mexican food and Cruz often got to witness the first bite.
David and Cathy Thomas grew up in the area and had their first date at Ernie Jr.’s in the 1960s and eventually made trips there a regular family outing.
“This was the first place we brought our newborn babies to when they were old enough to actually go out,” Cathy Thomas said.
The couple now lives in Orange County, but like many regulars near and far, they made an effort to make the trek to have one last taco or burrito at Ernie Jr.’s this week.
Melody Peterson is another regular that’s stopped by for the past 40 years and says the neighborhood will lose a place that over the years became a popular spot for hangouts and meet-ups.
“It’s a familiar place, everyone knew Ernie Jr.’s and if you wanted to meet someone, you came here,” she said. “It’s one of the last familiar places left.”
Cruz owns the property where Ernie Jr.’s is located as well as the adjoining parking lot, but he said he’s not sure yet what he’ll eventually do with the site.
Ernie Jr.’s will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday or until food runs out, according to a sign posted on the restaurant’s front door. Also, $1 tacos are no longer available.
Although his menu items have been a part of his daily life, Cruz joked about how he’ll also miss being able to quickly grab something from the kitchen to enjoy at home.
“Sometimes my wife would say, ‘bring back a couple of tacos’ or ‘get me an enchilada.’ Now, I’m telling my wife she’s got to learn how to cook,” he said.
Follow Arin Mikailian on Twitter: @ArinMikailian.