Prompted by a list that appeared on fivethirtyeight.com, my daughter and her fiancé decided to go on a burrito quest (with me in tow). And why not, since Southern California has one of the highest concentrations of the best burritos in America. One of the restaurants that made the list was La Azteca, which technically is not a restaurant at all, but a tortilleria. It also happens to be in the same neighborhood as Molés La Tia (reviewed here), within a block of each other on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in East Los Angeles.
Even at 1:30 in the afternoon, the place was packed with customers, some eating at the skimpy few tables and counter space inside. Above the order counter printed on a blackboard is the menu, which reveals that La Azteca also sells tacos, quesadillas, tamales. And there are the tortillas, both flour and corn. But people come here for the burritos.
Along the west wall is a huge mural of an Aztec with a background of a masonry wall and portal and blue sky that continues through to the entire ceiling. To the right of the order counter are copies of food reviews. One of them, written by Michael Krikorian, journalist, novelist and occasional food critic, who writes primarily about Los Angeles crime, provocatively mentions La Azteca in the same breath as French Laundry and Alinea. It also happens to be L.A.’s highest rated burrito place on Yelp.
All the burritos are wrapped in Azteca’s glorious, freshly made flour tortillas. There are no excessive fillers, as in Mission-style, only a thinly applied spread of refried beans and pico de gallo, plus the main ingredient.
Our party ordered three kinds of burritos: chile verde, carne asada and chile relleno. It took a good half hour, maybe even longer, to get them in hand, which apparently is typical on a busy day.
The carne asada was the least appealing of the three (☆☆). Tasty enough, it had shortcomings. The beef was hardly tender, probably overcooked. Because of that and the fact that they were cut in large slices, they had the annoying tendency to pull out whole with almost every bite. Worse, many pieces were gristly. La Azteca’s fame can’t possibly rest on this burrito.
The chile relleno can be had with or without asada, which I would recommend against (read above). The vegetarian burrito (☆☆½) consisted of a roasted poblano chile stuffed with white cheese, battered and fried, then wrapped in a flour tortilla. It didn’t generate any excitement among those who ate it, including diners back at the house for whom we ordered takeout, a clear disconnect between our circle and those who generally gave it high marks.
Except for the superior tortilla, the burritos failed to impress. Our own hunt for the best continues.
La Azteca Tortilleria
4538 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90022