I had a day to ride the rails for free, thanks to a Metrolink promotion, so I organized some errands for downtown Los Angeles (most notably a visit to The Last Bookstore) and took note of whatever other stuff was worth visiting that laid close to train stations.
While temped to ride the spiffy new line to Santa Monica pier, I put that safari off for another day and decided instead to think about lunch. Something new. That meant passing on the best pastrami in the world at Langer‘s (right near a Red line train stop) and instead venturing to sample Al & Bea’s Mexican Food, within a a couple of blocks of a Gold line stop.
This place has been there for literally fifty years, serving up old school Mexican, specializing in burritos. Supposedly it has the best bean & cheese burrito in Los Angeles. My pick for best LA-area foodie Jonathan Gold certainly thinks so. Twenty first century Criswell-wannabe stat cruncher Nate Silver came to the same conclusion.
And so did LA Weekly.
I’ve been trying to remember an episode of St. Elsewhere, when Howie Mandel & Stephen Furst go out to Los Angeles, and ex-pat Angeleno Dr. Ehrilch (Ed Begly Jr) begs them to bring him back a burrito from some specific place…. I keep wondering if it was Al & Bea’s. I only remember the shot of Begley unwrapping the burrito outside the hospital on a cold Boston winter night, and smelling it in heavenly bliss.
So I hiked from Mariachi Station in Boyle Heights, admiring the wonderful hilltop view of the downtown LA skyline in back of me, and ordered the bean & cheese with red sauce the other day.
The first bite. Just ONE bite and my reaction was an immediate “Lives up to the hype!”
And then I basically inhaled the thing.
I tried to peg down the secret. The beans had a definite home made vibe to them. Looser and goopier than the pasty-style refried beans you get in some burritos or other dishes. Made the thing a sloppy mess to eat, but I wasn’t exactly in tie & tails. Not a lot of cheese in the thing, which kept the cheese flavor and melty texture from overwhelming the thing. And the red sauce? My guess it that the red sauce was practically pure hot pepper mash, but – and here was the MAGIC – while the hotness pervaded each bite, it did not overwhelm. The main flavor consisted of the mild flavor of the refried pintos, with the cheese and hot pepper moving in and out of. And let’s not forget the tortilla – slightly thinner than other flour tortilla burtitos I’ve had, but with enough of a chewy al dente type bite – not too gummy, not too chewy, but with enough substance to be a dry framework for the thing without being too dry or going soggy. An impressive piece of culinary engineering, to be sure.
I love the old school stuff at Henry’s in North Hollywood, and any time I have to schlep to the stupid airport, I try to make a stop at Tito’s. But I gotta give this one the top rating.
Oh, and if I keep eating this stuff, by all means buy stock in Glaxo/Smith-Kline, makers of Gas-X.