Dear Mr. Gold:
I know this probably disqualifies me from the human race, but I am beyond tired of the kind of burritos you get at taco stands. I’m not quite looking for the burritos I enjoyed as a boy in rural Pennsylvania, but there has to be something else.
—Joe, Silver Lake
The burrito has a proud history in Los Angeles and other regions of northern Mexico as a way for a worker to put together a portable lunch from a flour tortilla, a spoonful of stew, and the beans from last night’s dinner. Like many foods born from necessity, it was delicious, convenient and enormously mutable. But as the Republican Party is so quick to remind us, most of the taco-stand-owning population in the Los Angeles area is not quite from the neighborhood — they tend to be from older areas of Mexico where the flour tortilla is an abomination and a burrito is what your great-uncle Chuy used to keep down on his ranch.
L.A. taquerias and trucks all serve burritos, of course, but basically as a public service to their dumb cousins who don’t know that you’re supposed to eat your al pastor in tacos or tortas, as God herself intended. Taqueria burritos tend to be filled with stewed beans instead of refritos, with grilled meats instead of stew, and often with unholy supplements of rice. Stick to the tacos, I say.
But at the best of the old-line Los Angeles burrito stands, you will find burritos as they should be eaten: slender instead of overstuffed; ballasted with a smooth, well-oiled paste of refried beans; the griddled tortilla adding a toasty flavor; and featuring a bit of cheese or a spoonful of sauce for flavor, perhaps, or stewed chiles, or sometimes a little meat. Al & Bea’s in Boyle Heights (2025 E. First St., 323-267-8810) has burritos like this. Tonia’s down in Pico Rivera (4233 Rosemead Blvd., 562-695-4322) has them. (Burrito King used to have them, although I have lately become disenchanted with their chile verde.) But my first choice is Lupe’s #2 (4642 E. Third St., 323-266-6881). There are 12 kinds of burritos at Lupe’s, and not a speck of carne asada on any of them.