Al & Bea's Restaurant in Boyle Heights. Photo by Kate Valdez.
Al & Bea’s is a familiar First Street sight in Boyle Heights. Photo by Kate Valdez.

Between the Hollenbeck Youth Center and a Dollar Store on First Street sits a small restaurant with a sign that proudly displays “Al & Bea’s Mexican Food Since 1966.”

As you enter the establishment, the smell of slow-cooked beans and the sweet odor of hot grease fill your nose. In the take-out window, wrapped burritos sit neatly on patterned trays waiting to be picked up. A printed menu on the wall has many types of Mexican food. On top, it reads “Specializing in Burritos,” with more than 10 options offered.

After waiting in a busy line, a cashier takes your order at the walk-up window.

Many customers have been coming here for generations. 

“My mom introduced me to it because she grew up on St. Louis Street,” said Brilo, a regular customer who did not give his last name. “It has been there for many years. We have been going for as long as I can remember, and I am 22 now. We keep going back because it feels like home.”

The eatery is a small, shack-like building in front of a two-story house. A few benches rest near it, with a backyard housing an additional cooking area. The front of the restaurant is compressed, with only ten tables. Most of the customers are standing outside, waiting for their orders. The speakers are loud and announce the order numbers in English and Spanish, in consideration of the bilingual community it serves.

While other restaurants and eateries struggled to survive, Al & Bea’s prospered during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the owner, the quality of the food, low prices, cleanliness and traditional family recipes have made the restaurant a success. 

A;bert Carreon is the owner of Al & Bea’s Restaurant. Photo by Ethan Fernandez.

“My grandma was a good cook,” said Albert Carreon, the grandson of founders Al and Bea and heir to the mom-and-pop shop that has survived in Boyle Heights for more than half a century. 

Before Al & Bea’s was established, it was a little shed in front of the house owned by the Carreon family. In 1959, the family’s patriarch was approached by two men with a business plan to create a restaurant. Seven years later it was closed, and the family’s 17-year-old son Albert and his newlywed Bea came up with a plan to reopen it.

Armed with recipes from Chihuahua and Mexico City and her cooking skills, Al and Bea Carreon established the restaurant, where they sold burritos for just 18 cents. That’s how Al & Bea’s came to be on Nov. 15, 1966. 

“I’ve been… just blessed to have the opportunity to keep my grandparents’ legacy even though they’re gone,” said Albert. “It’s impacted my life where I still feel like they’re here, even though they’re not physically here, because people talk about them all the time.”

Even though Al & Bea’s has grown with the community it has served for 55 years, it has not changed the principles with which it started. 

The combination burrito is a favorite at Al & Bea’s. Photo by Kate Valdez.

When one bites into the combination burrito at Al & Bea’s, the first taste that bursts into your mouth is the smooth, savory, slow-cooked refried beans that have been cooking for 20 hours. The bright orange cheese oozes out of the burrito leaving a melted salty goodness that makes you want another bite. The shredded beef in each bite is tender and flavorful, while the green chili sauce leaves a spicy aftertaste in your mouth.

“It reminds me of my mom’s cooking,” said Melanie Sanchez, a customer for nine years. “It’s like an authentic Mexican restaurant… a lot of other Mexican places don’t actually taste good”.

That combination burrito in its thin, delicious, flour tortilla remains a customer favorite at a cost just below eight dollars. Even as food prices rise, Albert has tried to keep the price at a minimum.

The menu has not changed much over the decades. Photo by Kate Valdez.

After many years in business, no changes to his grandmother’s recipes have been made because the restaurant wants to keep the food the same as it’s always been.  

“I mean, we could be super nostalgic, but if the food isn’t as good, people are gonna stop coming eventually. So, we haven’t changed anything,”  he said with a smile. 

Albert said that cleanliness is another reason why the place has been in business for so long, and why the shop was trusted with large amounts of takeout orders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – the busiest period the restaurant has ever had. 

“We just keep it super clean,” he gleamed. “You’ve noticed, but this place is spotless usually. When the inspectors come, they’re like, ‘this is our model.’”

Albert said that cleanliness is another thing he learned from his family. 

“My grandmother was the type of person that would be strict, so my dad was super clean,” he said. “It kind of wore on me.”

The owner believes Al & Bea’s has been lucky to stay open while other restaurant owners he knows had to shut down their businesses.  Even if it had unexpected success during the outbreak, it also suffered losses because it had to scale back its hours.

Another challenge has been the rising cost of operating.

“[The] last two years have been kind of a struggle, we did fine, we never closed, but right now all the prices are going up,” he said. “Our cost of everything that you could think of [has] gone up, like meat, paper goods, everything.”

He said that although the cost of goods continues to rise, the business has to keep going.

Customers wait for their orders. Photo by Ethan Fernandez.

Despite  the obstacles Al & Bea’s has faced in the past two years, Albert has plans for the future. He hopes to open another restaurant, for customers who drive far to eat in Boyle Heights. With no children to pass the restaurant down to when he retires, he plans to donate parts of the restaurant to the church, as his family has always been religiously devoted. 

“We’ve been blessed, we haven’t had any major catastrophes or anything that’s been too bad. We’re lucky!,” he happily stated.

Generations of residents have frequented Al & Bea’s and he hopes that will continue. 

“We’re going through our fourth generation of customers now,” he says. “It’s a comfort place for people where they can come in, it brings back memories to them, because they used to come with their parents.”

Al & Bea’s

2025 East 1st St.

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 am to 7 pm (closed Mondays)
(323) 267-8810

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Dania Alejandres

Dania Alejandres is a rising senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights.

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