It’s surprising that until a few weeks ago, I’d never been to Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe in Boyle Heights. Serving up traditional Mexican food since 1955, El Tepeyac is an LA institution known for its legendary “Hollenbeck Burrito.” The restaurant was suggested to me by my friend Frank Buckley, anchor extraordinaire of the KTLA 5 Morning News, who does not play jazz flute like Ron Burgundy, but does knows a thing or two about good food. While Frank had heard about El Tepeyac, he too had never actually been there so we decided to check it out together to see if the burritos lived up to the hype.
Walking into El Tepeyac was like walking back in time into a different era. The restaurant is a small and lively diner packed to the gills with affable Angelenos of all races, ages, shapes and sizes. Presiding over the party is diminutive (in stature only) 78-year-old owner Manny Rojas, who arrives for work at the restaurant at 3am every morning and stays until early afternoon. Manny is incredibly charming and treats all of his customers as if they are his family or close friends. He loves to flirt with the ladies and greets many of his female customers with a kiss, while he welcomes the male clientele with a warm handshake or a hug. Manny poured Frank and me shots of tequilla from his private reserve and regaled us with stories of his youth interspersed with bits of his life philosophy. He is quite the character and no doubt a large contributing factor to the restaurant’s success.
But the food is also a huge draw at El Tepeyac, especially the delicious burritos that we devoured. My favorite was the Machaca Hollenbeck Burrito (pictured above), which contained shredded beef, sautÃ©ed onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, eggs, melted cheddar cheese, rice, beans and guacamole and was topped with ranchero sauce. There was a lot going on inside that flour tortilla but it all worked and I loved it! I also really enjoyed the original Hollenbeck, which contained chile verde (pork meat in chili sauce), rice, beans and guacamole and was topped with more chile verde. El Tepeyac has other burritos on its menu as well, including “Manuel’s Special Burritos,” which are ridiculously gigantic six-pound versions of the Hollenbecks. I seriously think that a family of four could come in, order only a single Manuel’s Special Burrito, split it four ways, and each family member would have a filling meal. There is a wide assortment of other Mexican dishes on the menu including huevos rancheros, chile rellenos, tacos, taquitos, tostadas and quesadillas, but the real stars of the show here are the burritos, and of course Manny.
Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe is located at 812 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles (in Boyle Heights). A second location recently opened at 13131 Crossroads Pkwy South, City of Industry.