Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Families Are Hard: Guadalupe's Place

Guadalupe's Place
5028 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA
(323) 462-3329
Cash Only

Google Local Info

No, that's not a typo in the caption. The sign that says "Elizondo's" means "Guadalupe's." Read on.

About twenty years ago, I had just moved to LA from San Francisco's Mission District, and was looking for a replacement for my daily burrito fix from Taqueria La Cumbre, El Toro, Pancho Villa, La Parrilla Suiza, El Faro, and the other fantastic competing burrito joints in the few square blocks bounded by Mission and Valencia, 16th and 24th Streets. The burrito was invented in the Mission (it's true, you can look it up), so they've got 'em down, there.

I was shocked that LA, with a much higher Latino population, hadn't matched San Francisco -- at least in this one, very important regard. The first place that made me think LA might someday catch up was Anelcy's, on Melrose Blvd. one block west of Western.

Their carne asada was good (though no Taqueria La Cumbre, whence my friend Franz occasionally brings me a steak burrito, still warm its foil wrapper, when he returns home from a visit to The City), their carnitas excellent. But what made Anelcy's worth the drive across town for me was their Burrito de Vegetales.

Now I'm not a vegetarian, heaven forfend, but I enjoy vegetables as much as the next ominivore, and am just as likely to order tofu at any given meal as lamb or steak. But the vegetable burrito at Anelcy's, for my money, was the best burrito in town.

A burrito is always way more than the sum of its parts. Anelcy's was the poster child for the concept. It was just your standard big tortilla, beans, shredded lettuce, rice, grated cheese, chopped tomatos, chunks of avocado, and a fiery salsa. But it just totally kicked ass.

First and foremost, the vegetables were never unceremoniously dumped onto your burrito from a Taco Bell style prep line. When you ordered a burrito, the silent, macho dude behind the counter would take out a whole fresh tomato; a whole, ripe avocodo; a head of lettuce, and begin slicing, chopping and shredding. It actually TOOK a few minutes to make your burrito! The beans were delicious, the cheese, grated coarsely, retained some texture, the huge chunks of avocado were always impeccably creamy, and the tangy, lemony hot red sauce was such a perfect complement to the cool, crisp fresh veggies that it all just WORKED.

A few years ago, I went to Anelcy's to find the name had changed: "Elizondo's" it was called. I walked in in fear, to find that the menu board still said "Anelcy's", the prices were unchanged, and most of all, the same taciturn macho dude was still chopping up fresh avocados for the veggie burrito. The burrito was identical.

Well, I've been meaning to write it up for awhile, so today I went back to check the location and take a picture, only to find out the name has changed again. It still says "Elizondo's Place" on the outside, but inside the menu board has changed. It's now "Guadalupe's Place." And no macho dude behind the counter. Concerned, I asked the pretty young cashier what was up. "It's always been the same place. In fact," she said, "there was one more name between Elizondo and Guadalupe. But it's all in the family."

Well, I ordered my burrito, and watched for telltale signs of even infinitesimal change in Guadalupe's purveyance of its preparateion. The tomato was still taken fresh from the counter cooler and chopped. Same with the avocado-- though I think there was significantly less of it in in the burrito than there Used To Be. But the dude didn't ask if wanted my salsa inside the burrito (you do -- make sure to specify), and he doused it with some squeeze-bottle crema. I was distracted by a World Cup goal on the TV over the door, and didn't see if the lettuce was fresh shredded... I suspect it wasn't, as the burrito popped up onto the counter too quickly. The delicious fiery red salsa picante is the same... I came home with a pint of it.

But somehow, the sum of this burrito, while still greater than the parts and still delicious, was somewhat less than its former whole self. The rice (I usually order without, but forgot this time) was too prevalent, the avocado was skimpy, and the lettuce was a little limp.

I'll go back to try again, and I'd be curious to see if anyone else has followed it through all of its myriad changes of management, and has thoughts about its development. But, sadly, my long-awaited post about Anelcy's/Elizondo's/Guadalupe's place is not the triumph I had hoped; it mostly makes me crave a burrito from Taqueria La Cumbre.