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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eagle Rock says goodbye to Ernie Jr’s Taco House

Story & Photos by Brenda Rees

EAGLE ROCK — The mystery continues at Ernie Jr’s Taco House, which quietly announced that it would serve up its last Grande Burrito and platters of Mexican-American food this coming Saturday, April 19.

Did a developer entice the owner Ernie Cruz with big dollar signs? Why are they shutting down so quickly? What’s going to happen to this large restaurant location with ample parking near the 134 freeway on Broadway?

The only thing we do know is that lines are long and parking lots are full for lunch and dinner at the mid-century inspired architectural taco house. Signs that say “We will close earlier if we run out of food” have probably inspired diners to arrive earlier to get one last taste of the burritos (including the giant “Grande Burrito” that would feed a small basketball team), guacamole and margaritas.

The Cruz family introduced the first Ernie’s Taco House in Lincoln Heights in 1944 – another branch of the restaurant opened in 1955 on Colorado Boulevard but was relocated to its presented location on Broadway with a new moniker: Ernie Jrs Taco House.

Owner Ernie is hard to find these days and don’t bother calling for reservations. They aren’t taking them and the phone is ringing off the hook.

Eagle Rock

Long line for the last days at Ernie Jr’s

Eagle Rock, restaurants

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

29 comments

  1. That’s a bummer!

  2. So sorry to see your go. I have been coming here since high school, for 60 years!!

    May I have the recipes for you hot sauce and pico de gallo, as well as your guacamole? That would help ease the pain!

    • One of the waiters asked the cooks at my request one day. Here is the ingredient:s: oregano, white pepper, red chili, cumin, tomato sauce, veg, or corn oil, and salt, The chili might be juiced, I’m not sure about the process, but mine
      tasted pretty dam close.

    • Aside from the hot sauce. The enchiladas are made up of cheddar, and monterey jack cheeses. Just mix cheddar with monterey cheese, and mix the two with finely diced onions for the filling, and only cheddar on the outside. I made the filling, and it’s right on, Only use fresh corn tortillas, and not the store bought one’s. I’m working on the enchilada sauce right now.

  3. I heard a rumor that a gastropub is taking over the space.

  4. Well this just sucks! Was there just last week. The awful thing is more jobs lost. We are doomed. Also, there is an Ernie’s in North Hollywood on Lankershim by St. Charles. I went to that one as well for many years before I moved to the city if anyone cares to know. :(

  5. It is sad, especially when you have watched many of the bus boys grow up before your eyes to become bus men.

  6. Aw shucks—I grew up on Ernie Jr.’s food. Nowhere have I found tacos tasting better than Ernie’s. Loved the rice and beans, too. Sorry to hear this!

  7. So why doesn’t someone buy the business and continue to run it, either there or at a new location? Obviously there’s enough interest in their food. Somebody should be capable of taking over.

    At the very least, buy their recipes.

  8. Dang! Been going there for 40 years! Nobody makes a burrito like they do. Not even close! Wow! Their prices were super low. They certainly could have raised prices. Ernie is getting older, though. Maybe he got a good real estate deal. But their business had faltered a LOT compared to the good ole days. They were way less busy over the last few years. This place was perhaps the best kept secret for those who didn’t know. All the waiters had been there for like 20 years or whatever. Some were there 30 years. They served the food SUPER fast and it was hot, fresh and VERY GOOD. Wow! This is really rough news! For real. OMG!

  9. I don’t think they’re closing for lack of business. I drive past here all the time and it’s busy. But Ernie is old…and I can imagine him selling the property. Sometimes when you run a business your whole life, you get to a point and you’re done…and the best offer may just sound the best!

  10. And I really doubt a “gastropub” would come in. If he sold the property, as it is a large lot – an apartment bldg could go in there, or an office building….and then the traffic will increase ten fold.

  11. Ronald Crosthwaite

    I’ve been going to Ernies for over 56 years. It all started at the Colorado location when I was a teenager still in high school.
    The food and especially the service has been consistently great over these many years. My first memory is the little indoor fountain that greeted me as I entered the dining room. As I grew into adulthood the margarita accompanied my meals.
    I moved away from the area and after a while and when I returned, I found Ernies had moved to Eagle Rock at it’s present location. Ironically I moved to Glendale not more than five minutes from the famed Mexican restaurant. My son and I would always go there when there was a special occasion to celebrate. It was tradition. Classmates from my high school would have a yearly luncheon there. It was tradition. I will miss the near-by convenience of this long time family owned icon; the gracious greeting, the good food, the great margaritas, the full dish of mints waiting for me as I checked out, but most of all I think I’ll miss that little fountain that will no longer invite me into the dining room.

  12. I don’t think that’s correct to say the Pasadena Ernie’s “relocated” to Eagle Rock. The Pasadena restaurant closed outright in 1997 or ’98 while I’m pretty dang sure this Ernie Jr’s was in operation concurrently. I’m also remembering that there was once another Ernie’s on Lankershim in North Hollywood,

    • At one point, a long time ago, there were 4 Ernie’s Taco Houses. The story we were told, many years ago, was that when Ernie and Mrs. Ernie split, each got 2in the settlement, but Mrs. Ernie had to change the name of her restaurants, and so added the “Jr.”. Hers were better run and survived longest, with the Eagle Rock location finally outlasting the Pasadena one.

      BTW, the original Eagle Rock location is now buried under tons of dirt and concrete and is known as the 2 freeway. At that location there were several tiny apartments on the back of the parking lot. Mrs. Ernie would sponsor men from Mexico to immigrate and gave them a place to live and a job at the restaurant so they could learn a trade. That’s why the menu items were numbered, to make it easier for someone with limited English to take orders.

      I loved all the food there, but what I will miss most is the tamales, specifically the beef tamal. Enchiladas similar (although not identical) to theirs are not too hard to find, but I have never seen a tamal made the way they made theirs, with big chunks of tender, mildly spicy beef in both the tamal itself and the lovely sauce. If there was one recipe I would want, that would be it: Ernie Jr.s Beef Tamale.

      Hey, Ernie, how about putting out a recipe book!

  13. I have know the Cruz family since l940 in Lincoln Hts, My parents rented a home from them on Workman Ave. Ernie Juniors nickname was Pudgy, His mothers name was Albina, he also had a relative in the business named Marian. Fond memories.

  14. Karen Bartl Grammer

    I, too, am so sorry to see Ernie Jr’s close their doors – it has been one of my favorite restaurants since the early 60’s on Colorado Blvd. I definitely will miss my #17 chicken tostada with the special mayonnaise dressing!!! I would drive all the way from Glendora for this special and delicious item on the menu – no other restaurant could you get the #17 chicken tostada like Ernie Jr’s!!!! Ernie Jr’s will definitely be missed by me and my family.

  15. Man, the 1970s and Ernie’s on Friday night. What a great place! By the mid 80s they started to fool with the guacamole and ran off a lot of dedicated customers. Pasadena closed and they brought over some uncivilized management & waiters. Not too friendly to say the least. Well let’s say it; JERKS! They didn’t care for Gringo’s too much. The same Pasadena crew ran off a cook who had 25 years with them. They also ran off Gilbert (greatest waiter in Ernie’s history). Gilbert is currently making his costume jewelry Christmas trees for God. The last 20 years or so of Ernie’s has been sad. We had many uneven experiences. They would have closed sooner if the Pasadena location didn’t close before them. Ernie’s was once great; but it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

  16. I started eating at Ernie’s on Colorado around 1970. The first time I went to the Eagle Rock location 30+ years later, I was pleasantly surprised that one of my favorite waiters from Pasadena worked there. I would pay money for the recipe for the sauce that went on the cheese enchiladas.

  17. It was very sad to here Ernie Jr close his doors. I truly believe Ernest U. Cruz and Ernie revolutionized the Mexican – American food Industry on what it is today. The inventions and creations in recipes made by them are the staple and foundation of what Mexican “American” food is in the US. I remember when no one knew what a tamale or burrito was when I was a kid and now its rare to here any one not have a burrito for lunch know and then. I’ll tell you one thing all those Mexican restaurants that are still operating you owe part of your success to the Ernie’s. May you live Long and Prosper. Good Luck Bro.

  18. I loved Ernie Jr’s. I remember going there since I was very young. I would get the Child’s Plate rice and beans. When I moved away, every time I went back to visit my parents, we would eat there. Whoever of our family was in town would meet us there, or we would go after a Dodger game. I’d usually go twice in a weekend because it really was my favorite. I even convinced my parents to mail me rice, beans and enchiladas when I lived in New Jersey! Expensive endeavor. My mom took in thermoses and had them fill them and then they overnight mailed them and I was SO HAPPY to get that! When my mom died a few years ago, my dad would go there three or four times a week. It beat cornflakes, he said. We always got the guacamole. One half order for every two people. I loved #7 most lately, the ranchera enchilada, rice and beans. If you know of recipes, I would love to get some. Ernie’s was a part of my family and I’m so sorry to know they are gone.

  19. One of my all time favorite places to eat is gone…painful…hard to believe. I swept the parking lot for $2 three times a week for Ernie’s mom at the old location on Colorado Blvd. I lived next to the Cruz family on Hill Drive and would walk to St. Dominic’s with Tina Cruz. The closing week Ernie gave me a full kitchen behind the scenes tour to see the magic in progress that gave me so much pleasure for over 50 years. There is no other Mexican food like many of Ernie’s trademark specialties. Love them or leave them they were uniquely Ernie’s recipes and for my taste the best taco recipe I have personally ever tasted. I will truly miss, and quite frankly mourn the demise of a very special and unique restaurant that holds countless fond memories for me, my family and countless friends for over 5 decades.

  20. that place sucked, the food was plain and boring -no real flavor

  21. I also grew up with earnies. It was great food and a good price. I very seldom got a chance to taste it as I’ve moved away and did not know that it was closed until today when I went by after working on a fireworks crew. I will miss it very much although it was never quite the same after the move from the colorado location. I think they lost the head cook. But it was better then any other Mexican food place that I have found. GOODBYE EARNIES, WE WILL MISS YOU.

  22. I never visited the Eagle Rock locations, but I remember the Pasadena location very well. We considered it to have the best Mexican food in the area, and the service was exceptional. Today, I would recommend Paco’s in Arcadia (on Foothill Blvd. at Second Street). The food is excellent (they also have an immense Burrito Grande), the drinks are superb and so is the service. Many of the waiters have been there for years. Paco’s has a strong repeat clientele, and has been a favorite of the Santa Anita crowd for many years. A bit of a distance from Glendale/Eagle Rock, but worth it.

  23. I spoke with Ernie about his desire to keep the busy going not only because of the loyal patrons but also because of the family legacy. It was really sad but although Ernie thought his children would want to take over the business, no one truly wanted to keep it going. I can’t say that I blame him. Life is short and why should he and his sister continue to worry about keeping the business going? The business would probably not thrive as it had in its early beginnings (i.e.., on Colorado Blvd & Pasadena Avenue).

    I remember the fountain in the rear of the restaurant with the pretty blue and green lights and the water flowing within the fountain. I enjoyed their food since I was 4 years of age (that was a long ……time ago). I will miss Ernie Jr’s. I understand that the family still owns the land in Pasadena and were/are leasing the property to the retail businesses there. I hope so and if it’s true, good for them.

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