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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Echo Park Mexican restaurant owners prepare to pack up and move on but where?

Word and worry spread quickly among the customers of La Esquinta as soon as handwritten signs in English and Spanish went up announcing the upcoming closure of the Echo Park Mexican restaurant.  “People have been calling–they can’t believe it,” said Maria Barajas.  This coming Sunday, October 28,  Barajas and her husband, Alberto, will ladle their last bowl of menudo and  wrap up their final carne asade burrito after the landlord of the Sunset Boulevard building decided not to renew their lease.  The Barajas family,  who have operated La Esquinita for more than 20 years in two Echo Park locations, plan to take all their restaurant equipment, dining room tables and the statue of Jesus overlooking the parking lot with them once the close. But at this point they don’t know when and where La Esquinita will reopen.

“We lost the lease and don’t have anywhere else to go,” said daughter Vanessa Barajas.  “We are going to keep going until the last day.”

La Esquinita, which originally operated at the corner of Sunset and Douglas Street,  is a family affair, with 58-year-old Alberto, a familiar sight to passerby as he works the grill behind a large window facing the sidewalk, serving as the cook and wife Maria at the ready as his chief assistant.  Their daughters, Vanessa and Irene, work the cash register and waited table.  Restaurant work has been hard but “we are united” as a family, said Maria Barajas.

The family has focused on making food fresh daily while keeping their prices low, a strategy that has won over residents living nearby on the eastern edge of Echo Park along with firefighters, school and Department of Water & Power workers as well as tow truck drivers.  Some of the customers have been coming since the restaurant opened 22 years ago, said Maria, who is proud of the restaurant’s 4-1/2  star rating on Yelp.

The Barajas said their landlord did not explain why they had to move out when he gave them notice on Oct. 12.   Alberto Barajas said previous owners had tried and failed to develop the property, which rises up a steep hill on the north side of Sunset amid a strip of hillside bungalow courts and small commercial buildings.

Recently, this stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Echo Park and downtown has attracted new shops and art spaces. One nearby auto shop owner said he was recently asked if he would sell his building to a pizzeria.   Guisados, a Boyle Heights restaurant that has won rave reviews,  had also been looking at Sunset Boulevard near Dodger Stadium for a new Echo Park location, according to Grub Street.

Alberto Barjas, who plans to visit his father in Mexico for the first time in 30 years after his restaurant closes, said he is not angry at the landlord or any new tenant.  “Other doors will open” for us, he said.



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34 comments

  1. Best carnitas anywhere! We’ll miss them and hope they reopen soon in the area.

  2. agreed! dodger neighbor. love the carnitas sope, and their beautiful family!
    hope they find a happy new home, and not too far away.

  3. love these guys! hope they are able to stay in the neighborhood!

  4. maybe they could open a truck

  5. My family had a restaurant growing up–it’s never easy. Best of luck to them. I loved their homemade chips and carne asada.

  6. Another amazing local business bites the dust!!! Lets open…. a vegan gellato coffee and cheese shope thats sells kicks and is a bar at night!

    • There’s one gelato shop in Echo Park, and 0 cheese shoppes. How many Mexican restaurants/trucks are there in Echo Park? Too many to count. Not all businesses succeed forever.

      That being said, Mr. Barjas has the right attitude. He’s not blaming anybody, and neither should you. Hopefully they will be able to find a new/better location.

      • Don’t get it twisted. Nobody’s opposed to progress. The natives simply resent the increase of businesses who are NOT as inclusive as “La Esquinita” by intentionally catering to a local but elite minority of transplants to the exclusion of the natives. I’m pretty adaptable but there are plenty who don’t feel as welcome in these “hip” (lame) vegan cafes and gelatto whatevers. Btw, only a clueless transplant would claim that Echo Park has “too many” taco trucks or Mexican restaurants to count. I can count them both on two hands with fingers to spare. Get over yourself JEREMY.

        • gentrification stinks

          La Esquinita did NOT bite the dust. They suffered consequences of gentrification that similarly affect long time residents and businesses of Echo Park. Gentrification is NOT progress. It’s an economic strategy of displacement, eradication, and disenfranchisement. “Elite minority transplants” don’t understand that, resort simplistic, superficial, ignorant comments. Grow up Gelatto-Vegan trust fund fools. When you can buy your own boots and find your own bootstraps, maybe then you can talk about why some businesses last and others don’t.

  7. What’s their current rent?

  8. Sad to see this restaurant close and wish the family the best of luck in their new endeavors. Excellent food and atmosphere.

    I hope the owner of Far East Auto can maintain his shop there, if indeed that is the shop referenced in the article. He does great work–highly recommended. And really, I don’t see why people get angry at small businesses–whatever they are selling–for it is the property consortiums that actually sell out the neighborhood to the holy market.

  9. Aw, I’d drop by for a great steak picado burrito, freshly-made, savory, last you through the day. Hope they land well, and nearby.

  10. This is so sad!

    I would always buy to-go burritos from this place when I was biking back from downtown… then I saw their back patio (which is awesome).

    I loved it so much, I asked them to film an episode for our webseries back there. Maria and Alberto let me do it for next to nothing. I gave them a huge tip because of it.

    Really nice folks.

  11. Nobody likes hipsters

    Sounds like a great family. Sad to see them go but hopeful that they will land somewhere even better! The father has a great attitude about this. I wonder if their customers are loyal enough to follow them to wherever their new restaurant ends up.

  12. Greedy landlords. Thee greedy landlords should be run out of Echo Park, not good folks like these.

    Money, money, money — that’s all Echo Park is about any more.

    • Owning property is a business, not a charity. How dare you accuse the landlord of being greedy for merely raising the rent to MARKET VALUE! How do you know what the extra money will be going to go to? It could be going to pay for an education or medical bills for a sick child! I guarantee you would do the same thing if you were in that position and had the opportunity. But no, you’ll sit back and assume to know the situation… pathetic!

      • There is no mention of the rent being raised – having two restaurants I am sure the family could afford a rent increase. The lease was just not renewed. Perhaps because a strip club or liquor establishment will is more to the owners taste. The owner of a property, more than any other business – needs to be cognizant of the community’s wants and needs. You might have apoint Clueless, but take a look around Echo Park and all the gentrification. More than likely, these owners are just greedy bastards.

        • My point still stands. While yours is still mere assumption.

          It’s so easy to stand on the sidelines and call people “greedy”. Maybe, just maybe, you will be in a position for someone to call you greedy one day…

      • your name fits you perfectly… you are what has changed the area for the worse…

        • Wow billy! All it takes is a little display of logic to get blamed for your Metathesiophobia.

          You don’t get irony either, evidently.

          And if Echo Park is changing for the worse, I’ll happily take the worsened Echo Park. Fewer tags and toilets in front yards, rising property values, new shops and restaurants… that’s the worse I’ll take.

          I doubt you’ll leave because secretly you like it too. But be warned, if you truly don’t like this, you should leave now as the trend is not going in your favor.

          • (ugh) Gentrification has only been going on in Echo Park for about the last 10 years and you’re already romanticizing it? Another hipster-dufus that needs to get over themselves, i.e, NO. There are long and lifetime residents who doN’T think that more places to eat, drink, spend, and flaunt their money represents change for the better. How many Spring Streets, Silverlakes, and West Hollywood’s are necessary before traditional neighborhoods are finally allowed to exist in peace and quiet?

          • I Brake for LA Natives

            Clueless, Go back home.

          • Clearly a CUI (commenting under the influence) submitted by procopoo…

            …and Mr. “Native” I am home. I’ve been here since ’73. So suck it.

  13. something smells bad here this people they work hard and bring business to the place they rent and when they bring customers the owner of the building don’t renew the lease. and what happen, they rent the place to others to open a restaurant with customers and all.. not fair!!!

  14. just look at their last 3 places

  15. I AM DEVASTATED! This is really one of my all time favorite places. The food, the decor, the patio, and especially the family that runs the place! I am really heartbroken to see such a wonderful establishment leave the neighborhood due to an issue of lease renewal.

  16. Alexis, a LOT of businesses have been forced out of the area like this — to make way for much higher rents, or even for big development, that can never be supported by a business of this type.

    So, we end up with nothing but high priced, bulls— trendy crap, national chains, endless alcohol and nightclubs — all at high prices. And hard working people like these end up out of a business and out of work — and maybe at some point will be condemned as lazy if they should end up on food stamps. How many times are they supposed to start from scratch — just because money is taking over and kicking all the businesses like this out of the area?

    Money, money, money. Greedy Echo Parkers want more and more money, and people like this are the victims.

  17. best breakfast for under 5 bucks, will miss this spot.

  18. Maybe if the knew how to FABRICATE TACOS in a more URBAN way, and charge 10 bucks a piece for ONE TACO, they’d still be in business.

  19. I remember La Esquinita as the Chinese take out. We’d order vege dishes and watch the woks jumping and spinning after a long day rehabbing the house.

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