Yes, I harp on this Eastside thing, I’m not going to let it go. That beautifully coarse landscape East of the River is an expansive terrain that encompasses such a variety of stories and interpretations that it’s absurd to accept the Westsider Cultural Empire knocking it out with a weak punch of irrelevance, arbitrarily deciding that Silverlake/Echo Park are the easternmost regions of the known LA universe. Just because you don’t live here, just because you refuse to get out of your car here, that is not sufficient reason for you to decide that we do not exist. But anyways, I’m preaching to the nonconvertible.
For whatever it’s worth, this next installment of ES 101 is going to focus on two Eastside eating establishments, and hopefully this post will shine a bit of light on why I love this geographical area so much. I know many of you just think the Eastside is simply where the Mexicans live, dumping it into a cerebral corner of cultural homogeneity, but the reality is a bit different; under the surface there is still a vibrant tug and pull that keeps the area interesting. For one, there is a major difference between Mexican food and Mexican-American/Chicano food, and our first stop at Lupe’s is a shining example of Chicano eats!
Though the sign for Lupe’s reads ’12 kinds of burritos’, I come here for only one reason: the bean and cheese burrito. I grew up on this masterpiece of Chicano cuisine, eating an untold number of them with my family from the back seat of an unreliable Ford Granada and washing them down with a mini can of 7UP from the market that used to be next door. This time around I had it with a coke, fries, and a few packs of cheapo ketchup. Only $4.30 for this meal.
It’s weird how I can still imagine the flavor of this burrito and fully taste it in my thoughts, even though I rarely eat it anymore; being vegetarian puts a damper on eating lard. All these years later, and the burrito tastes exactly how I remember it: a mixture of warm liquidy beans and melty nondescript yellow cheese. It’s tasty comfort food, completely enjoyable to eat despite it’s nutritional (and in my case, ethical) shortcomings. This is a must visit for that older, established Chicano generation as this place represents Mexican food as they know it.
Though I have an emotional historical attachment to Lupe’s, I value the fact that the Eastside isn’t stagnant, the influx of immigrants brings new ideas and culinary tastes. The notion of the heavy Mexican meal has taken root and Americans have come to believe that to be a culinary fact, luckily Mexican immigrants continue to challenge that sad reality. Take for example one of my favorite places to eat, La Placita del D.F.
In the same general area where La Serenata attracts only wealthy outsiders and Homegirl Cafe tries to cater to a knowledgeable eating crowd, you can also find a place that strives for the authentic taste of Mexico’s D.F. I’m not sure how to best describe this amazing little hole in the wall eatery, other than to repeat the word amazing. The lousy pic above is of the Pambazo, basically a torta with the toasty bread dipped in red chile sauce. I go with the quesillo, that salty Oaxacan string cheese that is a meal in itself, and is impossible to find in a supermarket. It’s powerful tasty, I’d suggest even meat eaters give it a go. The food here is fresh and the flavors are simple, but it’s crazy how good simple flavors can be!
But there’s more than just Pambazos here, my other favorite is the quesadilla de huitlacoche or cuitlacoche (pronounced wee-tlah-KOH-cheh) which is a black fungus that grows on maize and has a woody, earthy but very enjoyable taste. They also add a good amount of epazote to this quesadilla so the flavor is going to strike you hard if all you know are the taco bell versions. The freshly made maiz tortilla is reason enough to try these excellent quesadillas, and as far as I can tell, the huitlacoche one is also vegan as they don’t put any cheese in it, though I forgot to verify that.
Here’s a pic of a quesadilla con hongos (mushrooms) from a previous visit, this one did have cheese! Very tasty as well, as is the flor de calabaza, aka squash flower. Which ever one you choose, you can’t go wrong.
Be it Chicano or Mexican food, on the Eastside you’ll find places to explore those different tastes. Be it your cuisine, your parents, or hopefully your grandparents, there is a vital mixture here that deserves some recognition. Just cuz the bastards want to reimagine the reality of life on the Eastside isn’t reason enough for us to let them have it, trucha with the usurpers!
4642 E 3rd St.
La Placita del D.F.
1859 E. 1st St.
Link to all ES 101 locations