El Tepeyac Cafe: Pull Up a Seat at Manuel's Place
There is no question that El Tepeyac Cafe, a fifty-plus-year-old Mexican establishment in Boyle Heights, is legendary. Stories swirl amongst foodies, local and otherwise, about the monumentally oversized burritos and equally over-the-top owner, Manuel. My parents tell tales about the "poor old days" when they would hungrily dig into one of the "Manuel's Special" burritos, whose four pounds of meat, rice, and beans was enough to feed two skinny kids for days on end. No visit to the East Side would be complete without a stop at El Tepeyac, where the ever-present line outside the door isn't enough to deter locals who have depended on this place for their burrito fix since time immemorial. Even Hillary Clinton herself visited back in 1998 during her "Save America's Treasures" campaign -- although she hardly did justice to the Special.
So does El Tepeyac live up to the hype? Is it the best burrito in the city? Probably not. The portion sizes can't be denied: it's a good deal for the money (a Hollenbeck or Okie Burrito for about $7.50, Manuel's Special is about $11). But the meat (machaca, pork, or carne asada) is hit and miss, the rice & bean filling nothing special, and although the red chile sauce that coats the wet burritos packs a punch, it took several additional spoonfuls of salsa to get my Okie up to proper spiciness standards.
With all of this under consideration, however, is El Tepeyac still worth a visit? Absolutely. Let me tell you why.