The Top 5 Dishes in East Los Angeles

Pastelaso El Guero at Mariscos El Bigotón
Pastelaso El Guero at Mariscos El Bigotón  |  Photo:  Joshua Lurie

East L.A. has a storied and complicated history that started well before Spanish settlement from Gaspar de Portolà in the 1700s. The area is now a center for Latino culture in L.A., particularly for Mexican Americans. Discover five of the best dishes in this vibrant community that lives between Boyle Heights and Montebello/Monterey Park.


Chile Relleno Burrito at La Azteca Tortilleria
Chile Relleno Burrito at La Azteca Tortilleria  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

La Azteca Tortilleria

La Azteca Tortilleria is a legendary East L.A. business that opened in 1945, later relocated, and now belongs to the Villa family. Michoacán-born parents Juan and Candy Villa work alongside children Cynthia and Juan. The space features a mural of an Aztec woman holding a basket of maize before a pyramid. La Azteca Tortilleria draws on time-tested masa traditions to make tortillas for tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Their chile relleno burrito is particularly devastating, featuring a griddled flour tortilla folded around an egg-battered Poblano pepper packed with molten Monterey Jack cheese, earthy pinto beans, and pico de gallo. Spoon on smoky, spicy chile de arbol salsa to reach peak flavor.

Beef Combo Red Burrito at Lupe’s #2
Beef Combo Red Burrito at Lupe’s #2  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Lupe’s #2

Matriarch Adeline “Tuchie” Portillo passed away in 2010, but her family carries on the family’s culinary legacy at Lupe’s #2, a beloved East L.A. burrito stand that dates to 1972. People fill eight red stools at a speckled counter and pile into communal picnic tables to experience Lupe’s 12 different types of burritos. Beef combo is a beast, with a flour tortilla cradling a blend of juicy shredded beef chunks, Cheddar cheese, and refried pinto beans enriched with lard. Decide whether to douse the messy fillings with mild green salsa or fire red salsa made with a proprietary chile blend. Align yourself with fire.

Pastelaso El Guero at Mariscos El Bigotón
Pastelaso El Guero at Mariscos El Bigotón  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Mariscos El Bigotón

El bigotón is a man with a big mustache, and Edgar Sanchez honors his grandpa’s nickname with Mariscos El Bigotón, a stunning seafood truck that belies his family’s origins in land-locked Jerez, Zacatecas. The logo features an anchor with a thick mustache and nautical knot. Customers sit on five black cushioned stools at a stainless steel counter built into the side of the truck, or at fold-up card tables. Pastelaso is a standout on their ambitious menu. The base version of this epic seafood tower stacks tilapia ceviche, octopus, cooked shrimp, shrimp aguachile, and one fried head-on shrimp. Pastelaso El Guero is a slight upgrade crafted with cooked shrimp, shrimp aguachile, shrimp ceviche, octopus, silky scallops, and six head-on shrimp. Creamy avocado is the roof on a house that’s lashed with savory salsa negra made with soy sauce, chile guajillo, chiltepin, tamarind, garlic, onion, and spices. They sprinkle on piquant Michelada spice from Salsa Sinaloa, but you can still squirt on your preferred hot sauce from the salsa bar.

Camarones Cucarachas at Mariscos Linda 4
Camarones Cucarachas at Mariscos Linda 4  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Mariscos Linda 4

Mariscos Linda is part of a growing restaurant group that Guanajuato native Juan Lugo named for his wife, who’s depicted in the logo listening to a seashell under palm trees. The couple also runs Boyle Heights food trucks, and until recently, a Bakersfield restaurant. Their East L.A. outpost features red and white walls lined with faux sportfish and a mermaid stuck in a net. A sister food truck parks just outside for expediency’s sake, but the restaurant has a far deeper menu, including more than a dozen shrimp dishes. Camarones Cucarachas are an off menu preparation with an unfortunate name that translates from Spanish as “cockroach shrimp.” Sweet crustaceans are sautéed in butter, onion, garlic, ancho chile, chile de arbol, and cayenne until the protective shells soften. This dish is judiciously spicy and served with cool, crunchy cucumbers.

Fried chicken at Phat Birds
Fried chicken at Phat Birds  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Phat Birds

Phat Birds provides counterprogramming with Southern-style fried chicken. Chef Max Henriquez helped found Horse Thief BBQ and teamed with wife Tanya Stukes on this red walled restaurant with corrugated metal wrap and light-strung patio near the 710 freeway. The logo features a bird with a high-top fade, gold chain, and sunglasses, a sign you won’t find any basic birds. Crisp-coated legs and thighs are the way to go, honey-dipped and balanced with jalapeño kick. They also serve traditional fried chicken and Nashville Hot coated in jalapeño-infused oil, spices and cayenne. Complement with supple cheddar & chive corn fritters dipped in Mississippi comeback sauce, a creamy, “kicked up Thousand Island dressing.”