I love Boyle Heights. It’s one of the few areas left in LA where chihuahuas still roam free (if you ever visit Hollenbeck park, you’ll be treated to chihuahuas scaling the trees as if they were squirrels). The thing that gets me is that residents in the neighborhood don’t even react to the little dogs any more (not even the black one that looks EXACTLY like Samuel L. Jackson). Wild chihuahuas are now just another quirky, ridiculous fact of life here – almost as quirky and ridiculous as a 5-pound burrito.
El Tepeyac Cafe is a cozy Mexican restaurant on Evergreen, at the top of a hilly San Francisco-ish part of Boyle Heights. There are roughly 10 tables in the tiny dining room and some counter-seating. The decor is cutesy-Mexi (Frida Kahlo meets ‘Johnny Rocket’s’) with some interesting photos of the owner with celebrities, and one very cool portrait of the owner (Manuel – or “Manny”, if you become a Tepeyac regular) fighting an unseen opponent. I prefer to think that this portrait is “fan art”, with an accompanying fan-fiction about an evil Mexican fast food chain coming into the neighborhood that wants to turn El Tepeyac into a parking lot, or something.
Thu and I waited in line outside for probably 10 minutes on a Saturday night, and it was a little chilly. The staff were very communicative with the customers outside about how long we’d be waiting. I liked the atmosphere already, it was welcoming (and every time one of the staff opened the door to talk to us, we could feel the steam of a thousand burritos).
The ‘Manuel Special’ is an enormous wet burrito filled with rice, beans, guacamole and your choice of meat (we chose carne asada, which was ‘la bomba’). The cheese is melted on top of the burrito, with some sauteed onions on top. There are no fancy touches (like sprigs of parsley, or a tiny Mexican flag), just a straight-up burrito gorge-fest. The two of us shared this huge burrito, fully expecting to take home some leftovers. We finished the whole thing, but I really don’t think that this is typical: I ate way more than I needed to and I think that our server should have stopped me. This was reflected in her tip.