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For L.A.’s Snappiest Handmade Chile Relleno Sausages, Head to the Top of City Terrace in East L.A.

The pitmaster at A's BBQ makes smoked sausages based on the chile relleno burrito at La Azteca, tamal rojo sausages in honor of his mother's tamales, and al pastor sausages studded with pineapple.

The logo for A’s BBQ says it all:

A’s BBQ: East Los Soul.

For an outsider, the first time you order (or pre-order, preferably) from Alan Cruz and try to find parking during the early evening hours in the car-lined streets around his City Terrace home, you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, this barbecue is built exclusively for the neighborhood. 

If you want a taste, you're going to have to put some work in, parking near the bottom of the hill, and scaling your way to the top of Hazard Avenue, potentially navigating your way around some of the local roosters and hens roaming around.

But don’t wait for an invite; just go in. Even if the gate is closed during operating hours. Because, much like the Olive Garden and Dom Torretto’s house, you’re family when you’re there.

Make no mistake, this is East Los. This is Cruz’s home. And he’ll offer you a drink and a table to sit at.

“This is my first time making this,” says Cruz in the middle of preparing a chopped cheese sandwich: the New York bodega classic, made East Los-style with chopped al pastor and cheese. “I watched some videos online and thought, ‘I can do that.’” And he did.

Cruz's subtle nods to the community may be hard to miss on the menu at A's at first. A name like "La Azteca," may seem de rigueur, until seeing the sausage's ingredients (roasted poblanos, Oaxaca cheese, 100% beef sausage) and coming to realize they're a nod to the iconic chile relleno burrito with carne asada at La Azteca Tortillería

When Cruz prepares his sausages, it isn’t merely a crude chop of ingredients mixed together then fed through a grinder. There’s a fine subtlety to the process, as you'll shortly see.

A handmade sausage at A's BBQ pop-up.
A handmade sausage at A's BBQ pop-up. Photo by Sean Vukan for L.A. TACO.

Before Christmas, Cruz dropped what is perhaps his most personal sausage creation yet: a tamal rojo sausage in honor of the tamales his mother makes every holiday. With his family hailing from Acapulco, everything but a banana leaf goes into them, including masa harina, cheese, pork, and blends of various spices.

“I want them to get an essence of each dish,” explains Cruz. “I’ve eaten tamal sausages before, and they were fine. What I want is to take each component of the tamal and put it into the blend. That way you’re able to savor the entire bite and get the essence of the tamale instead of just chunks of it.”

The Ice Bath

A's entire sausage prep is all done in Cruz’s tiny backyard. From the smoking and fire-tending, to the predawn inspections of his smoking brisket and sausage, down to the refrigeration, he works alone. Except on service days, when he’ll have help under the canopy.

It’s been a learning process the entire way. Including the education that sausage casings are yet another thing one can buy from Amazon.

“When I initially bought the casings for the sausage, they turned out fine, but something was off,” explains Cruz. “They were mushy, and they were salty. That’s when I realized I had to soak the casings first to remove all the salt.”  

In due time, in his tiny City Terrace backyard, Cruz has come damn near close to perfecting the process.

The key to a good sausage, according to Cruz? The snap.

Birria sausages from A's BBQ. Photo by Sean Vukan for L.A. TACO.

After giving them a cold smoke, the sausages immediately go into an ice bath, shocking the cooking process, “freezing” and halting it, which allows the sausage to keep its color, taste, and texture, endowing them with that coveted snap when you bite in.   

In addition to his tamal rojo and Azteca sausages, Cruz has cooked up beef birria and al pastor sausages (with little bits of pineapple speckled throughout), a chicken mole using mole from Guelaguetza, plus a chicken tinga sausage and his version of the barbecue staple that is the jalapeño cheddar.

“We started with a jalapeño cheddar because that’s what you’ll see with Texas barbecue,” explains Cruz.  “From there, we just started to experiment and try different things.”

The Cook

As I walk into his backyard, Cruz takes out a deep serving tray filled with prepped sausages waiting to go into the smoker. 

“These are for a special order," says Cruz. "Beef birria.”

Back in 2019, the special orders weren’t there. It has taken time to build the business, much like it takes a sausage to cure.

For his last pop-up of 2023, Cruz changed his start time to 2PM on a Friday, a little over two or three hours earlier than when he normally starts. He always recommends pre-ordering on his Instagram page because, as it’s just him with his limited space, items tend to run out fast.

I watched the menu availability all week and everything was pretty much in stock. Then, like a contestant coming off the board in The Hunger Games, the beef ribs suddenly disappeared around Thursday. 

After that, I pre-ordered a little bit of everything. I was not missing out on tamal sausages or glazed pork belly burnt ends.

Cooked birria sausages from A's BBQ. Photo by Sean Vukan for L.A. TACO.

After misjudging traffic, I arrive with friends about an hour into service, finding a spot at the bottom of the Hazard and making the trek up the hill. It's 3 P.M. on a Friday afternoon and there’s still a line. 

Since we pre-ordered, Cruz sees us standing in line as he makes his way to the backyard to get supplies from the backyard. With a cheerful smile, he says hello and has us sit down at a table.

“Your food will be out in a little bit,” he says.

Cruz returns to the canopy a little while later to take some orders.  He’s making conversation with regulars, offering conversation and drinks from a cooler to both regulars and non-regulars. Like with all of his customers, Cruz is gracious and appreciative to the A’s first-timers that showed up with me, thanking us for coming.

“I know everyone says that their mom makes really good tamales, but my mom’s are really good,“ laughs Cruz. “I know because my friends always ask me for her tamales every Christmas. I wanted to honor that. This is my childhood.”

For an A’s customer, regular or first-timer, you’re found family. You’ve made the trek up the hill or you’ve walked across the street from the neighboring apartments. You've avoided upsetting any roosters.

This is East Los Angeles. This is home.

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