So, for the past three or four weeks, I don't know why, but I've been craving a really good carne asada burrito. Usually, I'm more a chili verde or carnitas kind of a guy, and since carne asada is not something I usually order, I'd been sort of flailing about trying to scratch the itch. Tried El Gran Burrito on S.M. Blvd. at Vermont (meat not very fresh or particularly good), Taqueria Vista Hermosa (bland), El Rancho (steam table, blech) and a couple of other places that I don't recall, all in vain. Today, however, I found the asada I've been looking for at El Parain (1528 Pico Blvd., just west of the 110, (213) 386-7361), a short 5 minute drive from the downtown financial district.
This place is small and a bit divey. (Or, depending on your standards, maybe a lot divey.) Inside smells of grilling meat or raw meat, depending on where you sit. They have only three main items on the menu: birria (goat), carnitas, and carne asada, each available straight up, or in tostada, taco, or burrito form. Also, they have a decent selection of bottled beer, and chips that anywhere less authentic would be ashamed to serve. (I kid you not, I think they were those round shaped tostitos.)
Me and a buddy each ordered a carne asada burrito and we split an order of birria tacos. The birria consisted of large chunks of falling-apart tender meat, marbled with fat, and which looked and tasted as if it had been stewed for a long time in a mildly spiced broth. Tacos have about a full cup of meat, plus some raw onions and cilantro for $2.25 each. I am probably insufficiently knowledgeable to pass judgment on the birria, but it didn't bowl me over. The flavor was just a bit gamey, and at the same time, a bit bland. I usually like this kind of stewed-tender meat, but this just didn't do it for me.
The carne asada, on the other hand, was friggin' excellent. Hot off of the fire, with lots of almost burned toasty, salty bits, but also big chunks of juicy, beefy, flank-steaky goodness. This asada had never been anywhere near a steam table, and was deeply satisfying. The burritos are ample (though not the huge, football-sized behemoths Ana Maria's, for example, turns out) and are available with meat only for $5.15, or with beans, rice, and salsa for $4.00. Served with a small salad of shredded iceburg topped with pico de gallo, that is, frankly, not worth the stomach space.
Will have to sample the carnitas on a future visit, but for carne asada, I think El Parian is my new favorite.