Los Cinco Puntos
Los Cinco Puntos is as authentic a taquería as they come. It’s in the heart of East LA and has been preparing tacos with love since 1967. Every one of its crusty, chewy corn tortillas is hand-prepared by a team of old ladies who have been honing their craft for decades. Cinco Punto’s specialty is tacos de carnitas, which come greasy, crispy and full of savory flavor; not to be missed. These go great with guacamole and salsa verde and, of course, an ice cold Modelo.
El Tepeyac Café
El Tepeyac Café embodies everything great about the Eastside: simplicity, community, and friendliness. The decor at El Tepeyac Café is unpretentious, and seating is close and intimate. Manuel, the restaurant’s owner, is a local legend, famous for his hospitality and his larger-than-life personality. You might recognize El Tepeyac Café from the Travel Channel’s Man Vs Food, so it’s safe to assume that portions are generous. Try the Hollenbeck de Machaca, it’s pretty massive and comes with shredded beef, sautéed onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, eggs, melted cheddar cheese, rice, beans, and guacamole topped with tangy ranchera sauce.
Al & Bea’s Mexican Food
Continuing with the burrito motif, LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold named Al & Bea’s as his number one place for burritos in LA, and who are we to argue? Al & Bea’s is a simple, down-to-earth food stall. Seating is limited, and the line often runs around the block. Nevertheless, the wait is well worth it. Do not leave without trying the combination, which is a classic bean and cheese burrito with lean, slow-cooked brisket. Apparently the beans are cooked with lard, which is what makes them taste oh-so-good.
Guisados serves a robust array of tacos made with freshly ground corn masa. The space itself is simple, homey, and inviting. In an effort to keep the spirit of Boyle Heights alive, Guisados regularly showcases the work of local artists. It might be tough deciding between the delicious braises, so try the sampler of six tacos. A common favorite is the mole poblano, which has succulent shredded chicken breast in a rich, sticky dark sauce with effervescent spices.
Tacos Baja Ensenada
Specializing in Ensenada cuisine, Tacos Baja specializes in sublime fish tacos which are full of succulent white fishy flesh inside delicately fried batter. As well as fish, Tacos Baja excels in all things shrimp: shrimp tacos, shrimp cocktails, and ceviche tostadas. Go on Wednesdays, when the fish tacos are just $0.99 (Except Ash Wednesday, lest you be damned).
Good desserts are what separate the good restaurants from the great, and La Serenata offers an exquisite range of Mexican desserts which are baked daily by the resident pâtissier. These include Mexican guava in light cream, which is a traditional dish from San Juan del Rio; and Cajeta, a thick goat’s milk caramel from Celaya. East LA is still LA and, with that in mind, La Serenata strives to keep things clean and healthy and uses no lard in its cooking.
Un Solo Sol
If you’re a stickler for authenticity, Un Solo Sol is probably not the place for you. Un Solo Sol is a restaurant on a mission: to innovate ethical, sustainable, and, of course, delicious variations on classic Mexican dishes. Located right next to Mariachi Plaza (which itself is worth visiting for the beautiful murals and captivating mariachi bands), Un Solo Sol’s menu includes a range of vegetarian and vegan friendly options (carnivores are catered to, as well).
La Azteca Tortilleria
Complete with Chicano murals, La Azteca Tortilleria is every inch an East LA joint. It sticks to a few dishes but does them well. The specialty is the chile relleno burrito, which comes with carne asada. This is a novel twist on a poblano classic: a burrito with a stuffed poblano chili fried in egg batter inside as well as slices of marinated and grilled chuck roast (diezmillio in Spanish), as well as the customary beans, pico de gallo, and hot sauce.
Moles La Tia
Mole poblano is more than just the national dish of Mexico. As a blend of Old and New World ingredients, it’s a symbol of Mexican culture as a whole. Moles La Tia specializes in Oaxacan and poblano moles including passion fruit, tequila, and coffee mole. Moles La Tia prides itself on cooking with organic and fresh ingredients and using more than 15 kinds of chilis and ten different spices and seeds. The restaurant itself is bright and airy, and the décor is characterized by traditional ranchera pastel colors.
It might seem a tad eccentric to go to Boyle Heights for Japanese food when Little Tokyo is just a couple of miles away, but once you’ve eaten at Otomisan, it will make perfect sense. Otomisan is as unassuming on the inside as it is on the outside, but it is a wonderful relic of Boyle Heights’s diverse past and a time when it was home to many Japanese Americans. The dishes are simple but uniformly excellent, inventive yet familiar. Come for the delicious food, but stay for the unique, colorful, and warming ambiance.