Lunch at a Legend – Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Café

I first ate at Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Café back when I was a mere ingénue in the 80s. I had heard tell of its legendary Hollenbeck burrito, named in honor of the police officers of the nearby Hollenbeck station who frequented the place. The burrito was said to be huge and oh, so good… a wet burrito with big savory chunks of stewed pork mingled with rice, beans, cheese and guacamole. There was also a 5 lb. “ManueI’s Special” burrito for families or any big eater bold enough to try to finish it. It sounded like quite the spectacle.

I remember walking in with my deadbeat friends, and, as one of those friends recalls, it seemed as though every plainclothes cop from Hollenbeck division was eating lunch and turned around to glare at us. It was like an episode from Dragnet.

Years had since passed. Then I began hearing the name “El Tepeyac” intoned devoutly and often on Facebook by a kickass black belt “man of the cloth” friend of mine. The memory of the delicious food was now faint to me, but it still beckoned me to go back again.

I returned with my “significant lover” back in February, and we have returned two times since. The food here is addictive. I know, I know, I know I shouldn’t be eating these huge portions… but I just can’t resist. I’m fortunate genetically because when I gain weight most of it goes straight to my tube top, but there’s only so much a poor figure can withstand.

I tell myself that it’s not too bad because a single Hollenbeck burrito stretches into four meals: two portions to share at the restaurant and two portions to take home. When I look at it this way, it seems both pragmatic and dietetic.

The restaurant is small, with a 1940s diner feel to it, and you can expect to stand out front in line before getting in. Nevertheless, the staff manages the crowd with precision: your order is taken quickly, the food arrives promptly, you’re offered a refill on your drink,  offered your choice of candy, then given the bill, which you pay at the door and you’re done. You can eat at the counter or bring a group large or small; they will push the tables together to accommodate a larger party. There is also a to-go order window on the side if you just want to get some food and scarf it at home.

Chips aren’t served for free, but are worth adding to your order, especially with a side of guacamole. You can get a ¼ order, ½ order or full order of guac, with or without chips. The waitress implied that the ¼ order was very small, so my date and I chose the ½ order, which was really too much, but we ate it all anyway. I must add special praise for their smoky red salsa, which hooked me upon first taste and haunts me with longing desire even now as I type.

On my first visit, my date and I split a Hollenbeck burrito and a cheese quesadilla. A cautionary note: the cheese quesadilla was enormous and seemed to be made of an entire brick of cheese. Quite enjoyable, but not for anyone relying on it for a “lighter” meal. The Hollenbeck burrito was even better than I had remembered it, and I was so happy that I could take home leftovers and enjoy it again.

My most recent visit to El Tepeyac was on Cinco de Mayo. This time I met up with a group of friends, all of whom had come here in the 70s or 80s but had not been back in ages. We dove into plates filled with chile verde, chile rellenos, cheese enchiladas, beef enchiladas, carne asada tacos and a carne asada tostada.

Everyone had positive things to say about the food. A few quibbles: it appeared as though the chiles in the chile relleno came from a can, and the carne asada tostada was good, with fresh ingredients, but unremarkable. It seems to me as though anything in their red sauce (with its “superior, deep red chile flavor”, as one friend described it) and anything with the savory stewed pork were the dishes to remember (and come back for again).

Writing this article just serves to remind me of all the things I haven’t tried yet at El Tepeyac. I’m looking forward to going back there soon.

Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe

812 N Evergreen Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 268-1960

Tawny Tubetop

About Tawny Tubetop

Tawny was born in Pasadena, the City of Roses, and has been soaking up the fun and sun of the Los Angeles area her entire life. Tawny’s motto is: “Why live anywhere else?” A daughter of Angeleno culture, Tawny has a passion for strange movies and music, gets a chuckle out of vintage men’s magazines, finds inspiration in a perfect cocktail, pines for the days of whimsical architecture, wonders if it would really ruin the diet to have one Thai iced tea and whispers secrets to her dog before going to sleep at night.
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