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Long Before Taco Truck Hipsters, there was Martin Angino at Ercolé's

Whenever Martin Angino spies a regular customer across the street, he slides back the mesh screen beside his grill and shoves his body halfway through the window, arms flailing as he fires off an enthusiastic hello.

Angino is a fixture on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. He's passed paper-wrapped cheeseburgers, Dodger dogs and chicken and beef tacos out the window of his tiny kitchen for 15 years.

Only the short-order cook has never heard of Tweeting for customers or kimchi-seaweed topped hot dogs. Nor has he ever taken his tacos on the road -- he doesn't even own a truck.

"Best burger you'll ever have," he says, grinning as he flips a beef patty on the grill directly behind the bar at Ecrolé's in Manhattan Beach. He slides the patty onto a soft egg bun and slips it into inside a square of yellow paper.

Ecrolé's is the type of place some might - affectionately or otherwise - refer to as a dive bar. Locals like to think of it as their beachfront version of Cheers (Ecrolé's has been a local hangout since it opened in 1927). Angino simply refers to it as his kitchen.

"On Tuesdays and Thursday nights I make my tacos - have you tried them? You must come over and try them," he says, wiping his hands on the white apron neatly tied around his waist. "But only those nights, and I don't cook past 4:00, 4:30 some days - just depends."

Angino has a knack for making noteworthy inconveniences - say, that the grill is only open when he feels like it - seem perfectly normal. It's as if you're having dinner at a friend's house. He tells you when to show up and you happily oblige.

The grill is closed weekend evenings but is typically open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights for specials like the chicken and beef tacos.

"I'm the only one on the grill, and on Saturday and Sunday nights I have to shift to barback to help the guys," he explains, nodding to a couple of 50-something bartenders. Like Angino, these are career bartenders, good old boys you'd expect to find at a tiny pub in England serving up frank commentary with cold beer and satisfying food.

Here, it's those old school griddle-cooked cheeseburgers that brings customers back for seconds. The beef chuck is freshly ground at Manhattan Meats next door, American cheddar and a soft egg bun finish it off. A sign hanging over the bar pretty much sums up the experience: "Hamburger $5.75. Large and Juicy."

If you want one, you'll have to get here early. Angino makes no exceptions for tardy lunch dates. By 4:30 on a recent Saturday, he's already scrubbed the grill clean. He tells a few stragglers they'll have to come back tomorrow as he folds sheets of yellow paper to make burger pockets for the next day's lunch rush.

He unties his apron, dusts off his khaki slacks and heads to the opposite end of the bar. "What can I get you to drink?"

Ecrolé's: 1101 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 372-1997. Cash only. The grill is typically open 10:30 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m. daily, Tuesday and Thursday evenings for taco night, and Wednesday nights for burgers.


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