Dear Mr. Gold:
I have a friend in town from Berkeley who loves burritos. What do you suggest? I'm thinking of ignoring her habit and forcing her to go to for mole at La Tia instead, but she seems set in her ways.
–Erica, Los Angeles
Bay Area residents tend to have peculiar ideas about burritos, which they regard as monstrous things wrapped in tinfoil, and filled with what would seem to be the contents of an entire margarita-mill dinner, including grilled meat, rice, beans, guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, orange cheese, and probably a lot of other things that neither God nor man ever intended to see the inside of a tortilla, much less the soggy steamed pup-tents that are but mandatory up north.
If you want to show your friend that San Francisco has no patent on the oversize burrito, you could always drag her to El Tepeyac over on Evergreen, where the Manuel's Special or Hollenbeck, which is to the Mexican-American table what a giant plate of spaghetti and meatballs is to the Italian one, is massive enough to feed a family of four for a weekend. If you want to show her the burritos that generations of Angelenos have snarfed after Dodger games, there's always the original Burrito King on Sunset at Alvarado, although the chile verde isn't quite the elixir I remember from the misty days of Fernandomania.
But if you would like to prove that Angelenos had been eating burritos for decades, when the Mission was still an unreconstructed Irish neighborhood, take her to Al & Bea's, a block down from the new Hollenbeck police station in Boyle Heights. Al & Bea's isn't fancy, and your choice of burrito is basically limited to red and green, but what it churns out by the hundreds is the lean, classic Los Angeles burrito: refried beans, a bit of cheese, and a ladleful of stew if you want it, a reminder of the burrito's origins as a way to turn a bit of the previous night's dinner into a delicious, transportable taste of home.
Al & Bea's
2025 East First St., Boyle Heights, (323) 267-8810.