The framed, handwritten note on the restaurant's front door was both a thank you and a fond farewell.

"Thank you Bakersfield for allowing us to serve you for 70 years. We are now CLOSED forever."

Sinaloa Mexican Food, one of Bakersfield's pioneering restaurants with a history that goes back to 1948, has closed its doors for good — or as the sign says ... forever.

"This place, it was a family original," said Sally Muñoz Santa Cruz, one of the six children who grew up working at the restaurant at 20th and P streets in downtown Bakersfield. 

"We pride ourselves on keeping the tradition," she said. "We kept the same recipes for 70 years."

That included starting with fresh, local Pyrenees sourdough French bread in your basket to go with the salsa, rather than tortilla chips served just about everywhere else.

Even when certain dishes became trendy, Sinaloa didn't fold.

"People sometimes wanted us to add menu items that weren't original," Santa Cruz said. 

Like chili-cheese fries.

It wasn't happening, she said.

Santa Cruz pointed to an old photo of Menita Salas, a cook who began working at Sinaloa when the restaurant was still in Old Town Kern — where Wool Growers Basque Restaurant is now. Like many employees, Salas eventually became part of the family, and stayed until she retired.

"She prayed over the food," Sally remembered of Señora Salas. "She prayed that everybody would love it — and come back again."

And they did. Year after year.

As the difficult decision to close eventually became final, the family decided to not talk to news organizations — or on social media — about the closure. 

"We decided to just fade away like (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur, like a good soldier," she said.

But when a reporter knocked on their front door in downtown Bakersfield on Monday afternoon, they were too polite to turn him away.

Inside he was greeted with 70 years of restaurant supplies, fixtures, bowls and baskets, furniture and paintings (some on velvet) — and much of it for sale.

Audrey and Martin Chavez also stopped in Monday. When something lasts this long, people want to visit, to bear witness and say goodbye.

"Your family has meant so much to this city," Audrey Chavez told the Muñoz siblings. "The breaking of bread at these tables ... this is your legacy."

It may be hard to believe today in Bakersfield, where Mexican restaurants are seemingly everywhere, that decades ago, the taste of Mexican food was new, and something of a revelation, for tens of thousands of area residents.

The first time Jeanie Blankenship had Mexican food was at Sinaloa on East 21st Street. In fact, many locals were introduced to Mexican cuisine at pioneering eateries like Mexicali and Sinaloa.

Later Blankenship went to work for the Muñoz family in 1963.

Mike Munoz, the brother who ran the restaurant for decades, "would get so mad if the green onions were not done right," she recalled. "And he always made the salsa in the basement ... so no one would get the recipe."

There wasn't a Muñoz kid in this town who didn't bus tables or work in the kitchen at one time or another in their lives, Pep Muñoz said in a Facebook comment.

"All of the brothers also helped out there," he remembered. "My uncle Mike, who started it, my dad, Joe, my uncles Manuel, Pete, Frank, I could go on and on about every relative who at one time or another worked there. And we had a blast!"

Julia Grider said her family ate there frequently.

"We will miss the family and the food," she said.

Outside the restaurant, Cecilia Tope, 68, pulled into the parking lot. She had heard Sinaloa might be closing, and she may have hoped for one more lunch, or at least one more visit to the historic location.

"My parents used to come here to dance," she said. "This was a hot place at the time."

Indeed, the second-floor lounge once featured dancing, live music and signature cocktails.

Lisa Kimble Edmonston recalled that the "majestic palm trees" at Sinaloa once stood in the front yard of her childhood home in the La Cresta neighborhood, before her parents sold them to the restaurant.

"It always made dining there extra-special," Edmonston said in a comment.

"Thank you, Sinaloa, for the warm hospitality and hearty meals."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(4) comments

ReefRanger

So sad that, along with Mexicali, now Sinaloa and La Colonia close their doors, all within weeks of each other. My family had many wonderful meals at Sinaloa. Loved the fact that they served French bread instead of chip and salsa. All good things must come to an end. Thank you Sinaloa, for 70 great years!

glenda libby

My parents ate lunch there for years and they would walk there plus I would eat there for lunch

GaryJohns

And, now La Colonia, too....??

BakoMark

Here one couldnt get into Mexicali on Ca the last few weeks and this place goes bust. Sad.

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