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

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...

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  1. 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

      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

        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

          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

            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

              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

              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

                Awesome. How about the Carnitas?

                1. re: brian j

                  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

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

                    1. re: mdpilam

                      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: mdpilam

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

                          1. re: monku

                            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

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

                              1. re: monku

                                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

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

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

          1 Reply
          1. re: JAB

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

            --Dommy!

          2. "...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

              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. 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. 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

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

                  correct me if I'm wrong here.

                  1. re: ns1

                    That's what I thought= Chipotle

                    1. re: monku

                      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

                        I know Chipoltle is a copy and not the originator.

                    2. re: ns1

                      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

                      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.