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RESTAURANT REVISITED: SINCE THE '30S, SIERRA'S HAS FED THE VALLEY.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

When Arsenia and Edward Sierra opened their San Fernando restaurant in the mid-'30s, Mexican restaurants were billed as Spanish, proof in this case still on display in the form of a wooden menu in the original Sierra's lobby with the inscription ``Sierra's Spanish Restaurant.''

Because two generations hence, it is still being run by his grandchildren, Sierra's claims to be the oldest restaurant in the San Fernando Valley continuously operated by one family.

Name: Sierra's

Address: 500 San Fernando Mission Blvd., San Fernando. (Also at 6819 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park.)

Phone: (818) 365-9196. (Canoga Park: 818-884-0776.)

When we last reviewed: July 23, 1992.

How long in business: Although the present Sierra's in San Fernando opened in 1937 as Ed Sierra's at its current address, and that is the date chronicled as its debut, it actually was in business two years before that down the street, and the 500 San Fernando Mission building is actually a relocation, according to current owner Reagen Jaramillo, grandson of founder Ed Sierra.

Gil Jaramillo, son-in-law of founder Sierra, who took over the restaurant in the early '60s, opened the second Sierra's in Canoga Park in 1969 in a building previously known as Old Vic's. The Canoga Park Sierra's has since been expanded three times.

In 1973, Jaramillo began the lower-priced Mission Burrito restaurant mini-chain. Currently there are four of them, with locations in Canoga Park (21425 Vanowen St.) next to Sierra's, West Hills (22744 Roscoe Blvd.), Van Nuys (14867 Vanowen St.) and Simi Valley (2161 Tapo St.).

Menu/cuisine changes: The original menu probably didn't have crab enchiladas or Mexican pizza on it, and for its first three decades the Sierra's menu remained pretty much the same, featuring combination dinners and popular Mexican items. Although the names of most of the dishes didn't change, when Gil Jaramillo took it over in the early '60s, he brought in some of his own sauces and his own Mission tortillas made by the tortilla factory he founded (and since sold).

Decor/physical changes: The restaurant remained pretty much as it started until Gil Jaramillo's ownership began. At that point, the Ed was dropped from the name, and it became simply Sierra's. Also, the combination liquor store and restaurant was remodeled into solely a restaurant, with a dining room added and the bar relocated.

Jaramillo's son, current owner Reagen Jaramillo, says that he remembers vividly ``a fake grape tree'' that sat in the center of the main dining room. He's not sure exactly when, but it was removed ``sometime in the '70s.''

Personnel changes: The staff at Sierra's averages 10 to 15 years of employment longevity, according to Reagen Jaramillo. One of the current chefs, Eusebio Abund, has been there 15 years. Chef David Ruiz, a Sierra's employee since 1975, now trains incoming cooks. Manager Lori Rosenthal started out as a waitress in 1974.

Recommendable dishes: The crab enchilada ($9.45) is always a good dish here. The kitchen makes a respectable albondigas soup ($1.95) and a nicely textured guacamole ($3.45). Chicken mole ($9.45) has improved over the years and is now quite enjoyable.

Service quality: The attentive, friendly wait-staff appears to be quite knowledgeable and efficient. Food usually arrives hot and without prolonged waits.

Pricing: Obviously, there has been plenty of upward movement from the '30s. Prices in the early '60s were astoundingly inexpensive, with guacamole at 70 cents, taquitos at 95 cents, a two-taco dinner at $2.10, and combination dinners running from $2.10 to $2.50. The same dinners today range from $7.25 to $8.25. Tostadas back then were only 70 cents, now they're around $7. The steak picado, a high-priced dish then at $3.50, is $11 today.

Wine list/service: With an emphasis on margaritas and beers, Sierra's serves wine but keeps only a limited selection. It has a full bar at both locations.

Policies worth mentioning: Dinner meals include soup or salad, which cuts down the price somewhat. According to Reagen Jaramillo, most of Sierra's menu items are $1 less than the competition. Holidays like Cinco de Mayo are recognized, and children's menus are available.

At the Canoga Park Sierra's, Magic Bob, a magician, performs every Wednesday and he has enlisted some 2,000 local children into his magic club.

Our latest ratings: Food: Two and one half stars - Wine: One star - Service: Three stars.

Larry Lipson, (818) 713-3668

larry.lipson(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Lori Rosenthal, manager of Sierra's in San Fernando, and waiter Carlos Roca offer selections from the restaurant's menu of Mexican fare.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 27, 2004
Words:771
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