Highland Park -- The customers lined out the door. Waiters struggled to keep up with order after order for goblets of margaritas and platters of nachos. The salsa was running low by 7 pm.
This was the scene on Friday at Villa Sombrero hours before it closed for good after more than 40 years (except for a brief hiatus) in business on the east end of York Boulevard.
Villa Sombrero was one the ubiquitous family-run restaurants across L.A. that served up classic Mexican-American comfort food and frosty margaritas and beers in dark dining rooms decorated with paintings of Aztec warriors and Mayan temples.
Now, places like Villa Sombrero are a dying breed in gentrifying neighborhoods: El Arco Iris in Highland Park; Barragan's in Echo Park; El Conquistador in Silver Lake -- all gone.
Manuel and Martha Salazar have operated Villa Sombrero since the late 1970s. The corner restaurant closed once before about a decade ago following a dispute with the landlord, who brought in a new tenant. That didn't last long, and the Salazars and Villa Sombrero returned, with the same, booths and even paintings they had put in storage.
Customers also returned to enjoy the drinks in two small dining rooms and order guacamole made tableside from a small cart.
But faced with a rent hike as well the increasing challenges of running a restaurant and family health issues, the Salazars decided it was time to close, said daughter Hilda during a brief interview at the bar where her mother poured margaritas and other drinks.
"It's my second home," said Hilda, who has worked at the restaurant for 30 years. Even her children have worked at Villa Sombrero.
With the lease about to expire, the family decided this week to close but did not make any public announcements. But customers spread the word on social media, triggering last-minute plans to gather for one last meal and drink.
Where could her customers now go nearby for similar food and ambiance? Hilda struggled to come up with an alternative before suggesting La Fuente in Eagle Rock.
Where will you go now that Villa Sombrero is closed?
Which of these nearby alternatives would you favor. Feel free suggests others in the comments section
That may not go over well with Villa Sombrero fans, some of whom wondered if the restaurant would return like it did a decade ago.
Well, said Hilda, maybe, possibly. But the chances don't look good.
"Right now we are going to be resting," said Hilda. "Let's see what happens."