As anyone who's followed L.A.'s food scene this year can attest, 2012 was marked by the demise of some near-and-dear classic restaurants. Of course, restaurants shutters are a fact of life — some face an inevitable decline, while some seem to disappear overnight.
Nothing quite compares to the continuing saga of Henry's Tacos though, a half-century old taco stand in Studio City that has faced the threat of closure for the past year, locked in a landlord dispute over rising rent prices and fighting for a historic monument designation that has not yet come.
Owner Janis Hood's original plan was to close Henry's at the beginning of the new year, but after a huge public outcry on Facebook and Twitter, as well as celebrity pleas from the likes of Elijah Wood, George Lopez and Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul (all of whom bought hundreds of tacos for hungry patrons), the stand has become the focus of an online petition to save the restaurant. The petition currently has over 5,800 supporters.
The public effort seems to have worked — at least in the short run. Henry's will remain open to at least Jan. 10, Hood recently announced. Beyond that plans aren't finalized, though Hood hopes to line up a potential buyer to take over the business. In the meantime, the crowds at Henry's Tacos are as large as they've likely ever been — on one Friday afternoon visit, the wait totaled just under an hour.
Much like Tito's Tacos is to Culver City, Henry's represents a type of Mexican-American cuisine whose roots run deep in Southern California. Both Tito's and Henry's predate Taco Bell by several years, but share many characteristics that have defined how much of American enjoys their tacos and burritos.
A taco at Henry's is about as close to a cultural relic as a food item can come, though it's hardly high cuisine: a shatteringly crunchy yellow corn shell layered with crumbled taco meat, shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and a handful of bright orange cheese. You've had something like this countless times before, but Henry's tastes like a more pure ancestor of cheaper fast food versions.
Is all this hubbub rooted in nostalgia? A look at the Henry's lines might lead you to think so: parents and grandparents who made visits to Henry's for decades retelling stories to their children or grandchildren, and introducing them to a world of combo burritos, tostadas and taco burgers. Even if you didn't grow up eating Henry's, after Little League games and dance retails, making the trip down to Tujunga and Moorpark is worth the experience.
If Henry's does gain historic status (L.A.'s Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously approved Henry's as a historic landmark last year, but the city's Planning and Land Use Management Committee postponed the vote), it will serve as a reminder of the Valley's culinary heritage — a museum with an admission cost of $2.75, the price of the famous hard-shell taco.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @G_Sny.