After emerging from beneath Boyle Heights, look east down 1st Street to Otomisan, a sukiyaki standby and remnant of the neighborhood's Japanese past. If you happen to be riding a night train, seek out the group of street-food vendors recently uprooted from Breed Street (known as the Breed Street Food Fair). Their pop-up food fairs last only a few hours, but they're rich with excellent antojitos and more, including hand-formed quesadillas, steamed tacos, huaraches, pozole and fiery pambazos, chile-soaked sandwiches that are best at Nina's Catering, where there's a remarkable salsa of pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and peanuts.
In the shadow of Evergreen Cemetery is El Rinconcito del Mar. The airy mariscos restaurant has an attached bakery, plus all the dutifully consistent fish tacos you'd expect. There are some exceptionally cheap breakfasts for morning commuters; otherwise, order the tart, fresh ceviches of octopus, fish and shrimp alongside a cold beer or a cocktail from the bar.
A few storefronts away near the corner florist is Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita. The 1st Street restaurant spells out its specialty: There are more than a dozen varieties of cemitas here, oversized sandwiches stuffed with so much meat, avocado, stringy quesillo and either pickled jalapeño or chipotle chiles that they could conceivably feed three. Try the classic carnitas or perhaps pickled pig skin, called cueritos. There are also plate-straining huitlacoche quesadillas and tacos árabes, cross-cultural constructions of pork and chipotle salsa descended from the shawarma.
Otomisan, 2506 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 526-1150
Boyle Heights Food Fairs, twitter.com/breedstscene
El Rinconcito del Mar, 2908 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 269-8723
Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita, 3010 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 881-0428
Follow the train tracks back onto 1st Street and into Tamales Lilianas. The menu is larger than you might think, but stick with the tamales -- soft blocks of masa stuffed with the likes of roasted chiles and cheese, pork slathered in salsa verde or a sweet treat of raisins and pineapple. Across the street is the mammoth El Mercado, a three-story emporium of all things edible and wearable. There are full-service restaurants inside, but go for smaller bites such as cups of esquites (kernels of corn cooked with epazote and chile powder) and shaved ice. El Mercado is about the experience -- visit for the mariachi grudge match played out on the third floor and take home some pre-made mole while you're at it.
Head north on Lorena Street to Los Cinco Puntos, an institution that sells its meats, masa and tamales practically by the truckload. Los Cinco Puntos also makes terrific tacos. While the carnitas is particularly good, these tacos are more a study in tortillas, presented here as chubby discs molded out of handmade masa and blackened right before your eyes on a gargantuan comal. Top your tacos with the works: guacamole, three kinds of salsa and sticky strips of nopales. (A few steps away is Cemitas Tepeaca, a truck that parks at the triangular intersection of Cesar Chavez Avenue, Indiana Street and Brooklyn Place. Stop by for huge cemitas, memelitas and other Pueblan essentials.)
Farther east on 1st Street is Birrieria Chalio. In a stretch of neighborhood markets and corner stores, Chalio is a bastion of goat so dedicated to its delicacy that taxidermy is its primary source of decor. Pile some of the supremely tender and finely spiced goat (served on the bone or in pre-chopped chunks) into handmade, Frisbee-sized flour tortillas with onion, cilantro, a dash of habanero salsa and a squeeze of lime.
A few more blocks eastward is Teresitas, a decades-old favorite built on a menu of solid staples and excellent daily specials such as pork short ribs in black chile sauce.
Tamales Lilianas, 3448 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 780-0829
El Mercado, 3425 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 268-3451; www.elmercadodelosangeles.com
Los Cinco Puntos, 3300 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 261-4084
Birrieria Chalio, 3580 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 268-5349
Teresitas, 3826 E. 1st St.; (323) 266-6045; www.teresitasrestaurant.com
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