Sierra’s: More than a Mexican restaurant in Arab

Alabama Living Magazine

By Lenore Vickery

Visitors to Sierra’s Mexicanisimo Restaurant in Arab always feel welcome when they come through the front door. That’s because they are greeted by a colorful chalkboard featuring a festive fellow in a Mexican sombrero brandishing a taco atop the sign that says, “Welcome Home.” It immediately sets the tone for the family-owned and operated restaurant that’s been a popular mainstay in this northeast Alabama town since 1999.

Sierra’s Mexicanisimo in Arab serves up specialties including Mexican Mash, fresh green beans, sizzling ribeye steak and Lola’s Chicken, as shown by owner Alex Sierra, his son and manager Kaden, and wife, Crystal. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

“This coming July it will be 25 years!” proudly proclaims owner and founder Alex Sierra.  

Sierra always had a dream to open his own steakhouse. A native of Mexico, he emigrated to the United States with his family in the 1970s as a 7-year-old and grew up around the restaurant business in the Atlanta area, learning from his cousins who ran the El Toro chain there for more than 30 years. 

“When I was a child I would visit my grandmother and we visited my cousin’s restaurant and my uncles worked there,” he recalls. He worked in those restaurants as a teenager, then later worked for Frontera, now part of the powerhouse Norsan group, learning all aspects of the business.  In 1998, some of his co-workers invited him to join them in opening four Buena Vista restaurants in some smaller north Alabama cities, including Arab. 

“Arab was the last one that opened,” he says. After the partnership split, Alex Sierra, tired of driving from location to location, decided to put down roots in Arab and kept the local restaurant for himself. “I changed the name to Sierra’s,” he says. “It was the best decision ever. Same location, different name.”

Sierra’s, located on N. Brindlee Parkway in Arab, celebrates 25 years in business this year. Photo by Lenore Vickrey.

Since that day in July 1999, Sierra’s has grown beyond just being a Mexican restaurant. “There was no steakhouse around here,” he says, so he started offering “American steaks with a Mexican flair. That’s with peppers and onions and on a sizzling plate.” He’s also added pork chops and “colossal” shrimp to diversify the menu. 

“We’re the only Mexican restaurant in the area, as far as I know, selling prime cut meat,” Sierra says. “We’ve been doing that for nine years. I want to serve the best money can buy. It’s all about the quality of the meat.”

Sierra’s ribeye (the menu also includes a bone-in option) comes out hot and  juicy on a heated platter, and ranks at the top of the current four favorite entrees, along with the pork chops, hamburger steak (made with fresh ground “never frozen” chuck, and ends of the ribeye) and his original creation, Lola’s Chicken, a chicken breast topped with fire-roasted pimento, bacon and Sierra’s creamy cheese sauce, served with rice. “It’s a hit!” he exclaims. 

The latter dish is named for Sierra’s daughter, Lola, 15. When not playing soccer, she helps out as hostess/cashier and runner, and his son, Kaden, 20, is the manager. Their mother, Crystal, is an integral part of the operation as well, responsible for human resources, bookkeeping, scheduling caterings and overseeing daily operations.

Coming on fast in the popularity department is the beef tenderloin, Sierra says, accompanied by fresh-cut fries. The Mexican Mash, a side dish of Yukon potatoes, boiled, mashed and combined with “a lot of butter,” Land o’ Lakes sour cream, thick-cut bacon bits and topped with green onions, is another original creation. “That truly is my recipe,” he says. “It’s better than the monster mash!”

A Welcome Home sign greets patrons as they enter the restaurant. Photo by Lenore Vickrey
Lola’s Chicken, chicken breast topped with fire-roasted pimento, bacon and cheese sauce, is named for Sierra’s daughter.

Of course, Sierra’s has no shortage of traditional Mexican fare from fajitas and burritos to quesadillas, tacos and nachos, enchiladas and salads, and any combination of the above. Salads are served on an ice-cold plate, freshly made with homemade ranch dressing. Most vegetables are fresh, organic and when in season, locally sourced, such as tomatoes from the nearby Chandler Mountain area.

The restaurant offers desserts, but often guests are too full of their chips, salsa and entrée to eat any, he says. But in case they do, there are sweet sopapillas topped with condensed milk and milk chocolate. 

Colossal Shrimp is a popular dish. Photo by Sierra’s

Why the “Welcome Home” greeting at the store’s entrance?  Sierra says it hearkens back to his early days trying to get the restaurant off the ground and he was working long hours by himself. “Between 1 and 5 p.m., I would be all by myself. In the front of the house, I was a one-man show. When customers would come in, I’d take their order, bring chips and salsa to their table, and cook their meal. If I’m in the back and another customer comes in, I’d ask them, ‘Will you welcome them home? Tell them Alex is in the back.’” That way he became friends with his guests and it paid off. Customers still feel like they are coming home when they visit. 

During the 2020 pandemic, like many restaurants, Sierra’s came close to shutting down for good. “We were within days of saying ‘adios,’” he recalls. They closed for the first two months but continued to pay their employees. They offered curbside meals for pickup and “We are so grateful for the people who came and bought food,” he says. Some would leave a $100 tip to be divided among the staff. “Oh, my God, the kindness of a wonderful community…”  

Many of his employees have been with him for several years, including the chef for 23 years and his brother, 22 years. “When you treat your people right, they stay,” Sierra says.

Sierra’s values its role in the community, offering scholarships to high school seniors who need help. And student employees who make straight As on their report cards can earn $1 more per hour. “We keep track and try to help kids who need it,” he says. “A lot of the kids who used to work here come back and work at Christmas or in the summer. We want these kids to succeed.”

Alex Sierra has worked in bigger cities but says Arab is now his home and he loves it there. “In my entire life, I’ve had four jobs. This is my last job” he says. “There’s no place like Alabama, and nothing like a small town to raise a family.”  

Like the sign says, it’s a true welcome home.

Arab Electric Cooperative Manager Stacey White chats with Alex Sierra about some of the restaurant’s specialties. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

Sierra’s Mexicanisimo

1092 N. Brindlee Mountain Parkway
Arab, AL 35016
Hours: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., daily
Look for their page on Facebook and follow on Instagram


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