Mexican in East Los- El Tepeyac
Thanks to everyone who made suggestions regarding Mexican food in L.A. I tried El Tepeyac and was very impressed. Definitely a 8/10. I can't put into words what was missing that would make it that elusive 10 but something was missing.
Getting there was easy- I had my GPS. They have their own parking lot and I got a spot right away but it was late afternoon on Sunday. Other people had to wait to park. I can't imagine what it is like at lunchtime or dinner time.
I was excited by the fact that there was a line outside. That is usually a good sign. Across the street next door to the church- there was a little community fair with Spanish-language music and salsa dancing and children's games. Very nice. It helped to pass the approximately 20 minutes that I stood outside in the not so warm weather.
I elected to eat at the bar (counter). There are approximately 6 stools. I started off with horchata. I loved it! Simple, moderately sweet, flavorful. Really just perfect. Mild without being boring. Then I choose the Hollenbeck Machaca. (I did not ask because the server was busy but "Hollenbeck" seems to be some American type of wet burrito). I cannot find any concrete information online but I get the idea from what I have read that this is NOT actual an authentic Mexican concoction. The name is a clue, I guess.
The dish was covered in an onion-based sauce that was very flavorful. The filling was standard rice, cheese, shredded beef and beans. The table condiments were a red salsa and a green salsa. The red had a strong flavor that I couldn't place but did not like. The green was somewhat too mild for my taste. Neither compared to the sauce that adorned the burrito.
I was disappointed when I discovered that there were no desserts but when I saw the burrito, I realized why. That was the largest portion of food I have seen in a long time. I am an expert eater and I only got through about 80% of it. Polishing off the machaca didn't really help, either.
Other beverages were standard sodas (both American and non-American). Mixed drinks included Horchata and Jamaica. I wanted to try the "Jamaica" because I am from Jamaica and would love to see what they do with our sorrel but it didn't make sense to have that when I had the opportunity to have something new.
The restaurant is small with about six counter stools, two large "dinner tables" and about four small tables that seat about four people each. Mirrored walls cleverly give the appearance of a larger space. I was shocked to see out the back of the kitchen a brisk take-out business complete with a window and marker-board menu. There was never really a lull in either operation despite the odd hour (about 4 p.m.). Many people left with huge foil trays- ostensibly for a party.
There hours were from 6A- 9P or 11P depending on the day of the week.
There were photos of young people in graduation gowns, a zagat plaque, trophies and a Vietnam war plaque on the wall. Most of the customers were Spanish-speaking and seemed to be eating with family or friends. There were many children. I sat next to a couple that appeared to be tourists or at least non-locals. Everyone else seemed "at home." Friendly service with a bilingual staff. Price was reasonable.
I would return even if just for the horchata.
El Tepeyac is what they consider "LA Mexican" food.
The Hollenbeck is their most popular burrito....what was it about $10 now? I prefer eating outside, inside seems so claustrophobic. If you go with 3 or 4 people check out the Manuel's Special Burrito.
Just down the block across the street is Ciro's which is pretty darn good too, but more classic Mexican fare.
Unless the menu at Ciro's has changed since I was a kid... it is still definitely LA Mexican with combinations, rice & beans... the lack of Nopales, Squash, Soups, decent Desserts, regional specialties... the stuff that distinguishes Mexico Mexican from authentically seasoned LA Mexican.
Mexico Mexican in L.A.
1823 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262
Birrieria La Barca
10817 Valley Mall, El Monte, CA 91731
4532 S Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90066
Moles La Tia
4619 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90022
It's what you like that matters.
Funny thing is I see many Mexican's celebrating and eating at gringo places like Acapulco and El Torito, places a CH wouldn't be caught dead in. Asking this Hispanic bus driver what he thought about La Parilla and didn't say anything about it except he was taking his family to Acapulco Restaurant for Sunday dinner.
El Tepeyac is trashier / urbaner / gluttoner food than Ciro's... but Ciro's menu, ingredients & plating style is much more representative of East L.A. restaurants than what you find in Mexico - restaurants or homes.
Let me get specific... the reason everyone goes to Ciro's is for the Flautas... which are admittedly well prepared. The Ciro's version served Guacamole, Crema, Salsa, Rice & Refried Beans and is intended to be a meal, someone's concept of a proper meal.
In Mexico, you would be hard pressed to find anybody having that as a meal... what you will find in the cities are street vendors who sell the flautas - primarily to teeny boppers & construction workers as a snack... in the countryside around Leon's lettuce growing region you might find road side shacks on lettuce farms who will serve a couple of Flautas as a SIDE to a big, just picked Orejona lettuce salad with onions, avocados, tomatoes, salt & a big squeeze of lime... or in Hidalgo you will find people using their Lamb barbacoa leftovers to make a few Flautas that will accompany a big bowl of lamb broth with chickpeas, vegetables & rice.
See the pattern here? I am not saying Ciro's flautas don't taste like they would in Mexico... its just the whole tradition is different.