Essential T: Uchepos at the New Birrieria Apatzingan

Talking tamale in Lake Balboa.

The very best Mexican foods start with the letter T—tacos, tortas, tlayudas. Here we showcase the tastiest “T” bites from the streets of L.A.

My first gig with Los Angeles magazine was collaborating with our fabulous food editor, Lesley Barger Suter, on the 2010 Mexican Restaurant Issue. One of the several tasks was to send a list of places for the critic mas chingon (most bad ass), Patric Kuh, to try—this list included Arleta’s Birrieria Apatzingan, which ended up in Kuh’s Top Ten Mexican Restaurants.

In his write-up, Kuh eloquently spoke of the regional delights of Birrieria Apatzingan (Apatzingan is part of the tierra caliente, or hot land): birria, apporeadillo (eggs and dried beef), and the “straight corn tamales” known in Apatzingan as uchepos.

Since then, Birrieria Apatzingan regularly sees lines out the door with a more mixed crowd than ever. This has led them to open a second branch in Lake Balboa, with a bigger space and menu driven by Chef Martin Cruz’s provincial mastery.

The uchepos are only available on weekends at the newer Birrieria Apatzingan. These fragrant, sweet corn tamales dressed with cool Mexican cream and the house salsa, just simple and perfect. My first uchepos were at Fonda Marceva in Morelia, Michoacan, which have raised my expectations for pure corn tamales.

Now, corn tamales—which are of pre-hispanic origin—are made all over Mexico, but they are given the utmost respect and care in the Tierra Caliente.

When you order uchepos at the newest Birrieria Apatzingan, you might get an approving smile accompanied by raised eyebrows. It’s the same reaction you might get when you greet someone in their native language—tamales are spoken here! Birrieria Apatzingan #2, 16903 Saticoy St., Lake Balboa, 818-785-8926 Apatzingan, 10040 Laurel Canyon Bl., Pacoima, 818-890-6265