Oakland's Mexicali Rose closing its doors after 91 years

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- After 91 years, beloved Oakland restaurant Mexicali Rose is closing its doors. Its last day in business is Friday.

From Clay Street, you would never know anything was happening with Mexicali Rose, Oakland's oldest Mexican restaurant. Round the corner on to 7th and you'll see a line several hundred deep -- queuing up since 9 a.m. to get one last taste before the 91-year old institution closes it's doors for good Friday night.

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Young and old find themselves together, united over their love of the restaurant's famous burritos, tacos and menudo soup.

Helen Jean Willis is 94 years old and has been a patron for 40 years. Clutching an orthopedic cane, and stands in front of her fold-up chair. "We're going to miss this bad, because I sure like the food,"she said.

Jerry Hadfield has been frequenting Mexicali Rose since 1978. An old pro at ordering, he know's what he wants and explains while showing off a small shaker of ghost pepper chili that never leaves his side. "I always order a ground beef burrito smothered in sauce. The way they cook it, they make it all bubbly, bubbly, bubbly!"

Mexicali Rose really is a place where everyone knows your name. As the staff and owner make their way outside to greet the line before the lunch service rush, they're bombarded with hugs, selfies and tears.

Alex Collins says his father introduced him and his family to the restaurant in the 40's and it was his daughter's first restaurant experience as a baby. Regulars are like family.

"You don't order. They show up with your plate because they already know what you're either drinking or eating. They are friends, he said."

As the clock hit noon and the first wave was welcomed inside, it was organized chaos in the kitchen. The owner and staff, buzzing around delivering old favorites like ice cold margaritas and massive bean and rice plates, were too focused to stop and talk to us.

But perhaps no words are needed at all, given the murmurs of approval from diners and the occasional "oh yeah" sounds of satisfaction. Many ordered extra plates to savor the familiar flavors at home another day.

Sharon Broussard has been a patron for 40 years and says she's not sure what's going to happen come Friday when doors close for good at 8 p.m.

"I don't know! Because there's no other place like this in San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area. I'm going to be very, sad to have it leave. I really miss this place," Broussard said.

Many of the restaurant's 21 employees have worked 20, 30, even 40 years and say come Friday, they're ready to retire along with the restaurant's owner, who wants to spend time with her family and take care of her sick mother.

Customers interested in visiting should take note: the line ends at 5 p.m. or earlier, so allow for plenty of time. Only parties of five or less will be allowed to sit inside.

Dion Lim will have more on the closing of this Oakland institution on ABC7 News starting at 4:55 p.m. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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