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Al & Bea's Report: My quest for a NorCal style burrito...

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brian j Nov 5, 2010 10:09 AM

to my surprise LA is not really a burrito town despite the fact that there are tacquerias on nearly every corner. i guess it's really a taco town. that hasn't stopped me in my quest for a half-decent burrito. i could find these easily in the bay area, but now i'm struggling. i've had some pretty good ones, but they're always lacking something to push them over the top from good to great.

yesterday i decided to go for a post-work food adventure to check out Al & Bea's. it's highly regarded as one of the best in the city. it's east of downtown, and it was a bit hellish to get there, driving thru some parts of town i probably shouldn't have been in. finally got there. ordered the special with shredded beef, beans, guac, cheese, and rice, and a 2nd one with just bean, cheese & green chili. i quickly made my way back to my car, checking over my shoulder numerous times. i took both burritos home and dug in to the special. i opened it's yellow paper wrapper up (no foil?!) and it seemed like the tortilla hadn't been toasted on the grill at all so i decided to grill it for a few minutes in the cast iron pan. i haven't seen any place down here that does grilled burritos btw (anyone know of any?)... i ate it with a side of the "salsa" they provided, which i noticed they ladled out of a hot pot. it was more like a gravy than a salsa, not quite a red sauce, not quite a salsa. it kinda resembled my favorite habanero-carrot salsa from green chili kitchen (in SF), light orange/brown in color, but the flavor was rather mild, and unfortunately the resemblance ended there.

the burrito was good, don't get me wrong. i enjoyed it. but it definitely wasn't worth the trek. i didn't eat the green chili, bean & cheese burrito, which is supposed to be their specialty. it's in the fridge and will likely be consumed late night sometime this weekend...

  1. monku Nov 5, 2010 10:29 AM

    Sometimes burritos can be a matter of personal preference. I like A&B's every now and then, but not all the time.
    Extensive discussion on LA burritos
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6681...

    16 Replies
    1. re: monku
      b
      brian j Nov 5, 2010 10:42 AM

      Thanks. I've been reading thru that discussion and trying to pick out spots to peep...

      Burritos are definitely a matter of personal preference. It seems that the kinda burrito I like is just not as popular down here. I might just have to make my own.

      1. re: brian j
        monku Nov 5, 2010 12:50 PM

        I'm not a fan of rice and/or lettuce in any burrito, but the other burrito you haven't eaten is what A&B famous for.
        Don't know of any places that "grill" brurrito's, but if want your burrito's grilled I'm sure they'll accomodate your request.
        Within a short distance of A&B were some other great burrito places like El Tepeyac, Carnitas Michoacan and King Taco.

        -----
        El Tepeyac Restaurant
        385 E Mill St Ste 4, San Bernardino, CA 92408

        1. re: monku
          b
          brian j Nov 5, 2010 01:02 PM

          Thankfully after reading some other posts I made sure to ask for no lettuce. And they only put a small amount of rice in it (which I can deal with), but I can also go for no rice.

          I had a feeling the green chili, bean & cheese one would be better which is why I got one, but was hoping the meaty one would fulfill my burrito dreams...

          Thanks for the tips. I guess I'll have to venture over there again...

          If Carnitas is in the name of the place it's gotta be pretty awesome I would hope.

          1. re: brian j
            monku Nov 5, 2010 01:29 PM

            Concerned about safety?
            Go to J&S in Montebello.
            Opened 24 hours and most of the time there are cops or Highway Patrol eating there.
            My favorite is the machaca burrito $2.65.
            You want your burrito "grilled" just tell them, all burrito's are prepared on the grill.

            http://losangeles.menupages.com/resta...

            J&S
            887 N Garfield Ave
            Montebello

            Exit 60 freeway east at Garfield Ave. make a right (be sure to make a full stop at the camera light or it's a $400 burrito) and it's right there.

            1. re: monku
              c
              condiment Nov 5, 2010 11:00 PM

              Safety's not so much an issue at Al and Bea's - it is literally 100 feet from the police station!

              I like it better than J&S, unless it happens to be 3 a.m. Although none of the OG spots is likely to please the OP, who seems to be looking for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink SF-type burritos, which tend to be on the Westside.

            2. re: brian j
              monku Nov 5, 2010 01:37 PM

              Carnitas MIchoacan is a CH favorite.
              Get the al pastor burrito and make sure you smother it with their salsa roja. Ask and they'll probably "grill" it for you.

              Carnitas Michoacan
              1901 N Broadway (2 blocks west of the 5 freeway)
              Los Angeles, CA 90031
              Neighborhood: Lincoln Heights
              (323) 224-9044

              1. re: monku
                b
                brian j Nov 5, 2010 02:11 PM

                Awesome. How about the Carnitas?

                1. re: brian j
                  monku Nov 5, 2010 06:08 PM

                  Their carnitas are good.

                  But, if I want the best carnitas I'll go to Los Cincos Puntos (more like a deli, not a restaurant) buy a pound of carnitas and a dozen fresh hand made flour tortillas. some salsa and take them to a nearby park or home to consume. No tables or chairs, but you can buy tacos and tamales to go.
                  More like a market that sells different kinds of roasted meats by the pound.

                  Los Cincos Puntos
                  3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
                  Los Angeles, CA 90063

                  1. re: monku
                    m
                    mdpilam Nov 5, 2010 06:50 PM

                    Better carnitas than Metro Balderas? Every time I've tried to go to Los Cincos Puntos, it's been closed.

                    1. re: mdpilam
                      monku Nov 5, 2010 06:55 PM

                      Better than Metro Balderas and I live much closer to MB.
                      Surprised....LCP is open 7 days a week, when do you try and go?

                      1. re: monku
                        m
                        mdpilam Nov 5, 2010 06:56 PM

                        Sunday nights. :(

                        1. re: mdpilam
                          monku Nov 5, 2010 06:58 PM

                          It's a market not a restaurant...that's the problem.

                          1. re: monku
                            Dommy Nov 5, 2010 08:33 PM

                            Yeah... make a day of it... Go to El Mercadito, pick up some blue corn tortillas and mole by the lb (Buy only 1/2 a lb) for home and then walk down to Cinco Puntos for lunch... walk back or along the evergreen walkway to really work things off and enjoy the views. Close out the day with some taquitos at El Tepayac... ;D

                            --Dommy!

                            -----
                            Cinco Puntos
                            3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90063

                            1. re: Dommy
                              monku Nov 5, 2010 09:29 PM

                              Isn't the Evergreen walkway a walk around the cemetary?

                              1. re: monku
                                Dommy Nov 5, 2010 10:19 PM

                                Yup, but it goes up a hill with a lovely view of the city! :) And it's always good people watching as to who is doing the walk... ;)

                  2. re: brian j
                    monku Nov 5, 2010 06:25 PM

                    Word of warning.
                    A burrito at El Tepeyac is not a "hand held" burrito by any means.

        2. JAB Nov 5, 2010 10:46 AM

          Come on, there's a police station only a stones throw away.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JAB
            Dommy Nov 5, 2010 11:37 AM

            Thank you, you pointed that out in a much nicer way than I would...

            --Dommy!

          2. s
            sel Nov 5, 2010 11:44 AM

            "...driving thru some parts of town i probably shouldn't have been in."
            I recently had some of the best Mexican food in the city all served by a cheerful guy covered in gang ink!

            1 Reply
            1. re: sel
              b
              brian j Nov 5, 2010 12:15 PM

              I'm totally down to travel to any part of town if the food is worth it. Just thought it was worth noting that I was a bit nervous walking around over there. Had that burrito blown my mind I would be back there on a weekly basis without a second thought...

            2. m
              mdpilam Nov 5, 2010 01:59 PM

              The mission burrito doesn't exist down here. You'll just have to learn to like tacos or LA's version of burritos. Or Cemitas - they're delicious.

              1. h
                HastaLaPasta Nov 5, 2010 04:03 PM

                Silly question, but what would constitute a NorCal style burrito? For whatever reason when I've headed up north, I don't think I've ever had a burrito, and really didn't expect they'd be that much different up there.

                7 Replies
                1. re: HastaLaPasta
                  n
                  ns1 Nov 5, 2010 04:14 PM

                  steamer + giant tortilla + Chipotle-style service = mission burrito

                  correct me if I'm wrong here.

                  1. re: ns1
                    monku Nov 5, 2010 06:30 PM

                    That's what I thought= Chipotle

                    1. re: monku
                      m
                      mdpilam Nov 5, 2010 06:54 PM

                      Chipotle just happened to copy the mission burrito, not the other way. It'd be akin to answering a "what's pizza?" question with "Domino's" IMO.

                      1. re: mdpilam
                        monku Nov 6, 2010 07:23 AM

                        I know Chipoltle is a copy and not the originator.

                    2. re: ns1
                      l
                      LaLa Eat Nov 5, 2010 10:09 PM

                      The best mission burrito's tortilla's are not steamed but grilled. Big chunks of real avocado are used and the ingredients for the most part are flavorful. The burrito is wrapped tightly in foil so you have the option of chomping on it to-go. Yes, it is Chipotle style service where you get to pick the ingredients you want, what is not replicated is the bland flavor. LA folk will continue to deride this burrito, but I will valiantly continue to defend it! : )

                    3. re: HastaLaPasta
                      Peripatetic Nov 5, 2010 04:15 PM

                      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Fran...

                      Newcomers to LA (myself included) are often surprised that Mission burritos -- which are widely available in many US cities -- are virtually non-existent here. I suspect it's because Mexican food here is more directly influenced by regional Mexican cuisine than by US variants.

                      1. re: HastaLaPasta
                        Servorg Nov 5, 2010 04:15 PM

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/68232

                      2. s
                        sushigirlie Nov 5, 2010 09:44 PM

                        i doubt you'll find what you consider a great burrito in LA. i used to live in boston. i ate at boca grande or anna's taqueria at least once a week. (both chains are listed in the san francisco burrito wikipedia article.) i haven't found any place in LA nearly as good as boca or anna's. i just don't eat burritos any more, except for casa downtown, which is a solid effort.

                        as for grilled burritos, casa has very good grilled burritos. i don't know of any place that properly steams the tortillas

                        19 Replies
                        1. re: sushigirlie
                          c
                          condiment Nov 5, 2010 11:06 PM

                          Yes, I would concur. Boston-style burritos are difficult to find in Los Angeles. Just as Los Angeles-style chowder is all but non-existent in New England.

                          1. re: condiment
                            s
                            sushigirlie Nov 6, 2010 06:49 AM

                            I'm entitled to my view that burritos in Los Angeles are among the worst in any major metropolitan area. I used to live in the Bay Area, and I'd say that the burritos there, similar to those in Boston, are also far superior to those prevalent. I obviously understand that there are lots of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles. That does not imply that there is great Mexican-influenced food in Los Angeles. I know I'm not the only person who's been disappointed to find when she moves to LA that she doesn't like the Mexican-American cuisine here.

                            1. re: sushigirlie
                              n
                              namstermonster Nov 6, 2010 12:19 PM

                              I agree w/monku in that it's really just a matter of pref. Mission-stye burritos can be great, just as fusion food can be. When it comes down to it tho, my personal pref, however, is for the more authentically mexican, seedy places in la.

                          2. re: sushigirlie
                            e
                            Ernie Nov 6, 2010 08:54 AM

                            CASA burritos are very mediocre for their high price tag and their al pastor is inedible

                            1. re: Ernie
                              s
                              sushigirlie Nov 6, 2010 12:53 PM

                              it's just personal preference. casa is a popular favorite of many downtown professionals and there's a line out the door every day for lunch. i don't think the burritos are great, but they're good for LA, and IMO much better than the board favorite taquerias. but i stick to the chicken: i don't eat al pastor burritos, much less eyeballs, tongues, and brains. it could be that what i'm interested in is things like the guacamole tasting fresh, the rice being flavorful, the chicken not having gross bits of connective tissue and skin, and the burrito being cohesive and non-sloppy, whereas other people are mostly interested in eating animal flesh of any sort.

                              1. re: sushigirlie
                                e
                                Encinitan Nov 6, 2010 01:39 PM

                                You might want to try Eduardo's Border Grill in Westwood, which I used to frequent regularly when I lived in that area. The meat and condiments are very fresh and tasty. And they have black beans and rice in some of their burritos.

                                http://www.eduardosbordergrill.com/Me...

                                -----
                                Eduardo's Border Grill
                                1830 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                1. re: Encinitan
                                  s
                                  sushigirlie Nov 6, 2010 01:45 PM

                                  Thanks. That's on my list of places to try when I'm in the area.

                            2. re: sushigirlie
                              b
                              Bandini Nov 7, 2010 10:40 PM

                              well define great.

                              to me great is the Al and Bea's green chile and cheese or Mexicatessen's chile verde pork burrito.

                              but I like simple burritos - refried beans, some stewed meat, some chopped onion and salsa.

                              -----
                              Mexicatessen
                              830 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                              1. re: Bandini
                                Dommy Nov 7, 2010 10:46 PM

                                Dang, I keep meaning to give Mexicatessen a try... how does their chile verde compare to tonny's?

                                --Dommy!

                                -----
                                Mexicatessen
                                830 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                                1. re: Bandini
                                  r
                                  rickym13 Nov 8, 2010 08:47 AM

                                  i like red chili all meat at mexicatessen. maybe you can try half n half :)

                                  1. re: Bandini
                                    DiveFan Nov 8, 2010 02:51 PM

                                    I'm totally with you on this one. I prefer fewer ingredients and less filler (like rice usually is) in a 'lower' calorie, Meat biased package.
                                    I came to HATE Mission style burritos in the SFBA because every resto catering to yupscale folks stuffs them with rice / lardfree beans / guac / corn salsa / sprouts / etc and promotes the 'healthy' aspect. Not to mention the cheese, sour cream, lettuce options. Just like Chipotle. Dammit!

                                    The OP needs to find a CATERING TRUCK serving several freshly made salsas, become a regular, get friendly wth the staff and find out why L.A. burritos can be great!

                                    And how is the Mission Burrito NOT Mexican / American cuisine? WTH? You won't find it S.O.B. except in tourist areas, maybe.

                                    1. re: DiveFan
                                      b
                                      brian j Nov 8, 2010 03:11 PM

                                      The Mission style burrito you described above is certainly not what I'm searching for... To be honest the burrito I miss the most is not strictly a Mission style burrito. Green Chili Kitchen in San Francisco serves a hybrid burrito which is partly inspired by the Mission style, but also heavily influenced by New Mexican cooking. They use organic/natural ingredients and Niman Ranch beef and pork. The NM inflection comes in the form of the addition of red or green chili sauce in the burrito. They serve a burrito which is my favorite of all time consisting of seasoned ground beef, refried beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, rice and green chili sauce. They import their green chilis from NM. And they grill their burritos, too. Their burritos perfectly meld all those components into a gooey, tasty amalgamation of pure bliss. On top of that, they make the most amazingly flavorful and fiery habanero salsa that when added to the mix only raises the stakes to orgasmic.

                                      I miss that burrito severely... I've begun to accept the fact that I will never find anything like it in LA. Unless I start making my own, which I am considering...

                                      1. re: brian j
                                        b
                                        brian j Nov 8, 2010 03:20 PM

                                        I should also mention that ground beef is not my usual choice for a burrito filling... I most often go for Carnitas or Chorizo, or a combination of the two. There's just something about GCK's ground beef burrito that sends me...

                                        1. re: brian j
                                          Dommy Nov 8, 2010 03:51 PM

                                          Yeah, ground beef burrito here are just not done. But if you are looking for a green chile pork burrito, give Tonny's a try. It's NOT what you are exactly pining for (and It's good that you are making peace that won't find it here...) , but it's an excellent thing on its own right.

                                          -----
                                          Tonny's Restaurant
                                          843 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104

                                          1. re: Dommy
                                            cant talk...eating Nov 8, 2010 05:53 PM

                                            Seems like ground beef was the norm for burritos in L.A. before around 1990 - most low-end hamburger stands must do them (you know, the ones that say "burgers pastrami teriyaki Mexican food" etc. etc. on the awnings). See: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/436396

                                            Now, finding one that *also* uses Niman Ranch beef, well,,that may be a tall order!

                                            (and DiveFan - sprouts in a burrito? Really? I had to laugh at "corn salsa" - one of my faux Mexican pet peeves)

                                            1. re: cant talk...eating
                                              Dommy Nov 8, 2010 08:59 PM

                                              Yeah, that is an era most taquerias are trying to forget... LOL!!

                                              --Dommy!

                                        2. re: brian j
                                          DiveFan Nov 9, 2010 12:44 PM

                                          Perhaps my memory is fading fast, but I don't remember ground beef burritos or tacos way back then except at the big fast food chains. The first 'real' steak taco al carbon I ate was in the late 1970's at a new taqueria in Inglewood (still there, now called Don Amigos). No turning back!
                                          Likewise, I've come across all manner of burrito joints in the East Bay who have screwy vegan options - sprouts (and tofu) might be a figment or a real memory.
                                          NM style green chile sauce is very difficult to find here because immigrant restaurant owners have zero knowledge of it. Unfortunately, some old school places have converted from Anaheims to the readily available, cheap, mutant, large, bland TAM jalapenos.
                                          Habanero based sauce is hard to find because Dommy's Yucatecan relatives don't open enough restos :-).

                                          -----
                                          Don Amigos
                                          613 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301

                                          1. re: DiveFan
                                            Dommy Nov 9, 2010 01:15 PM

                                            har har... ;D

                                            Haberno salsas are showing up more and more. I had a lovely one at Ritual Tavery in San Diego (Big help I know...) and at Homegirl Cafe a couple of weekends ago...

                                            But my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE was at Sabor al Mexico... I miss it's passing so much...

                                            --Dommy!

                                            1. re: Dommy
                                              m
                                              mdpilam Nov 10, 2010 11:30 AM

                                              Oooh, I loved Sabor's salsa.

                                  2. ritab Nov 7, 2010 01:05 PM

                                    Try "Mi Lupits's" in the north section of the area of Los Angeles now known as "Atwater Village". It was called Toonerville when I was growing up. Anyway, it is located at the intersection of Brunswick and Chevy Chase.

                                    1. b
                                      Bandini Nov 7, 2010 10:37 PM

                                      "i didn't eat the green chili, bean & cheese burrito, which is supposed to be their specialty. it's in the fridge and will likely be consumed late night sometime this weekend"

                                      man that's no way to treat an Al and Bea's bean and cheese

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Bandini
                                        b
                                        brian j Nov 8, 2010 01:00 PM

                                        I ate it late night this weekend. Heated it up by grilling it in the cast iron. It was gooey and tasty, but from what I could tell they forgot to include the green chili, so it was disappointing.

                                        1. re: brian j
                                          monku Nov 8, 2010 04:07 PM

                                          They didn't forget the green chili, it's mixed in...just not a lot. There's a "mild" amount of heat to the burrito from bit of green chili in there.

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