Street Food: Handmade flautas at Balbina

Story and photos by Valentina Silva

With the Breed Street food vendors now dispersed, you really have to drive around Boyle Heights to find the best stuff. My tactic is to search out the stands with a bit of a crowd, the thinking being that most people won’t stand in line for bad food.

That’s not a foolproof theory, but it proved accurate when I spotted Balbina on a recent Friday night. Just off First Street, at the corner of Soto Street and Michigan Avenue, Balbina serves a full menu – which includes flautas, pambazos, huaraches, sopes and quesadillasto a steady stream of regulars and newbies like me. The promise of thick, hearty tortillas handmade on the spot is a big part of the allure.

We chose a quesadilla filled with with huitlachoce, a.k.a. corn smut. If you haven’t had it, don’t fear, it’s more delicious than scary. Yes, it’s a fungus, but its earthy flavor and mushroom-like texture has earned it delicacy status since the days of the Ancient Aztecs. For good reason, too: it added a savory sharpness to this quesadilla that was balanced perfectly by a drizzle of crema.

A good flauta can be hard to find, but these were made to order, crispy and lighter than you’d expect. We mixed it up, ordering one with chorizo and potatoes, one with chicken, and another with champiñones (mushrooms, chopped and marinated in this case). They were finished with crema, salsa, lettuce and a sprinkle of cojita cheese. Better than any restaurant flauta I’ve ever had.

Next time, I’m going to order a flauta with huitlacoche and definitely a pambazo. What would you go for?

Valentina Silva is a regular contributor writing about food and restaurants. You can also find Valentina’s reviews and stories on her new blog, Eastside Food Bites.


  1. This place will be going soon. Enjoy, police will be there soon!!!!!!!

  2. I highly recommend the quesadillas with FLOR DE CALABAZA…delicious. Add some mushrooms…and it is quite a delicatessen.
    In the winter I would stop by there at night for some atole, too.

  3. Wow, those are bad photos.

  4. Thanks for your review. However, next time do not give the location of these secrete finds. Crowds will come and so will the police to shut them down. If you are in the Eastside and find a delicious secrete spot, don’t tell no one, because it might not be there for you the next time you visit. Besides, you did the work-and there is nothing more fun than a little adventure hunt. Just a word of advise, respect the community and it’s all good. Peace!

  5. Hi. Valentina had asked if we should give out a location given concerns about the vendors. I said yes in this case because the corner of Soto & Michigan is not exactly a hidden spot. It’s out in the public for everyone to see. There was never any disrespect intended.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Joe. To add to The Eastsider’s comments, I’d like to note that I asked the owner of the stand for permission to take photos. No disrespect was intended at all.

  7. I just went again to Balbinas, to pay my culinary respects.
    As she was cooking up a carne asada quesadilla, a silver car drove by and snapped a few pictures.
    She then told her assistant who runs the cashier that they had driven again and taken pictures.
    I asked her what that was about, she said that the city sends out people in cars to take pictures to identify street food vendors. I asked her if she gets cited a fine for not having a permit, she said not only do they fine her, but that they have multiple times destroyed her make-shift stand and cook gear, right there on the spot. At times they’ll trash her stuff or load it in a truck and haul it away.

  8. the Police will clean the area because the people who live by want that, if they call the Police, the Police have to respond to a formal complain. This lady needs to rent a space and help the City and employ area residents. If her food is good I am sure “custumers will follow her”. BASTA with the iligal food in my area……

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