December 12, 2012 03:53 PM
4538 1/2 Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90022
As I, Don Miguel de Los Angeles no McDonalds, transition from the statewide documentation of my extraordinary Quest for The Perfect Burrito (as related by my Sancha no Panza Maria de Guadalupe Sanchez in the book advertised to your right) to less grandiose but, I hope, more regular posts regarding that most noble example of casual Mexican cuisine, the burrito, you will find that my focus will shift from statewide surveys of the notable entrants in the quest for perfection to a more local milieu, primarily (and quite naturally) featuring burritos from establishments in and around my beloved hometown of Los Angeles.
You will not, however, see my sentences become any shorter.
I am pleased to report that after some questing about the environs of Los Angeles, I have sampled a worthy contender for the title of The Perfect Burrito within the very limits of the City of Angels. Having seen it mentioned a couple of times in threads about carne asada on my favorite interwebs foodie search site, and having a Saturday with little else to do, your humble knight made the long journey from Hollywood to the Barrio to sample their offerings.
On a sleepy block of Cesar E. Chavez blvd in East L.A., in the crook of the 5 and 710 freeways, there are two side-by-side establishments that share signs of identical style and font. To the left is La Carreta, which if Yelpers are to be believed (and they are not) has much to recommend it as a sit-down eatery. To the right is La Azteca Tortilleria.
The space is spartan; a tortilla factory, not a kitchen. There is a counter, and two small tables for those few who choose to dine in.
The girl behind the counter is notably kind and chatty. On my first visit, I wander in at nearly four pm and ask for a carne asada burrito. The girl says, “Oh, I’m sorry! We close at three-thirty!”
“...Usually,” she continues. “Let me ask.” She goes back into the massive kitchen, and emerges with two men, one younger, one older (father and brother?) who without complaint turn on the griddle and refire the pot of beans just to make me, a humble seeker, a burrito!
It takes a few minutes because everything has to heat up, and I fear that the food will be not quite fully cooked. The fear proves unfounded.
The burrito is hot and delicious.
The moniker of the restaurant betrays the secret weapon of this establishment: it is in fact primarily a purveyor of fresh, hand made tortillas and masa for tamales, but also features a small menu of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tamales. As my readers well know, my default behavior when encountering a new burrito purveyor is to sample their carne asada. Not just because me gusta carne asada, but because it is in my humble opinion the most difficult to execute well. A cheap cut of meat or too long a wait in a steam tray will give itself away immediately in the form of toughness, gristliness, or dry-and-grayness. No such disappointment here. The asada is chopped larger rather than smaller (it retains more juice that way), is tender with a nice crisp around the edges and perfectly seasoned. The beans, too, are nice. Although technically “refried” they are mostly whole beans with a satisfying texture. And the pico de gallo is exceptional, with unusually large chunks of ripe tomatoes adding a cooling sweetness to what is a fiery, jalapeño based salsa fresca. But it is the tortilla that is the star here, and it shines; firm yet giving like a good ramen noodle, it lends what is otherwise a robust and savory burrito an almost pastry-like consistency, especially on those last two bites that are mostly tortilla, infused with delicious meat and bean juices. The only lack for both me and mi esposa is that because this is not a fully formed taqueria, there are few extras to be had: no guacamole, no cheese, and only one variety of salsa: a fine and moderately picante smoky red.
On a return visit, having Googled and discovered this notice, I commanded a chile relleno burrito be brought forth.
As you know from my previous post, a chile relleno burrito nearly claimed the title of The Perfect Burrito upon my original Quest. And La Azteca’s is nearly as good. The chile is of the poblano variety, tangier and infinitesimally spicier than Anaheim used at Johnny’s. The white cheese inside the relleno is light but flavorful, the egg thinly cooked, like an unstirred omelet, and the tortilla…ah, the tortilla is the gold leaf de haring that enfolds the whole. This is an incredibly good burrito, in the top two I’ve had the pleasure to sample in Los Angeles.
But the ace in the hole of the mighty Johnny’s relleno burrito is that it contains pork chile verde as well; baroque, perhaps, compared to the more Bauhaus construction of the simple Azteca burrito, but Johnny’s porcine siren song is hard to resist.
I hope that you have enjoyed this post. And I also hope that you, dear reader, will suggest further burritos for me to sample during my ongoing Quest.