Alberto’s Mexican Food is one of my favorite Mexican restaurant chains. So when I saw a sign saying it was coming to Alhambra, I was thrilled. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the sign actually was not for Alberto’s but for Albert Mexican Food. That started me on a chase to figure out the difference between Albert and Alberto’s. And then I learned there are actually a lot of -berto’s, -bert’s and even a few -‘berts — which all appear to trace their roots back to one Mexican immigrant.
When I drove by the new Albert on the corner of Fremont Avenue and Main Street one day last October and saw the “Open” sign, I immediately pulled over. Situated in the building that once housed Popeyes Chicken, Albert guests were greeted by bright, green neon lights, a large picture-filled menu, and a “Welcome Home” sign. It looked just like any Alberto’s.
Unfortunately, the restaurant owner was not in on that day, has not been on site during several subsequent visits to the restaurant, and has not returned any of my attempts to clarify this confusion. But a couple of weeks later, I retuned and spoke with one of the cashiers at Albert Mexican Food, who casually admitted that one difference between Albert and the more popular Alberto’s is only a couple of letters. She also told me that the restaurants are owned by two acquaintances who have worked together in the past, yet operate independently of each other.
I knew this was not the only Alberto’s look-alike lacking an “o”. Last year while eating at a Mexican restaurant in Montebello, my family and I realized it was in fact an Albert’s, not an Alberto’s as we had always thought. It seems that we had been alternating between Albert’s in Montebello and Alberto’s in El Monte without realizing the difference. Remarkably similar in name, style, signage, and price, the relationship between these restaurants was unclear.
I found the reason why these restaurants look the same and sound the same in the pages of Gustavo Arellano’s book Taco USA. Apparently, it lies in Roberto Robledo, who opened his first fast-food Mexican restaurant in 1968. Roberto’s was the -berto that started it all, and as the potential for expansion became evident, Robledo invited family members and friends from Mexico to take part in the chain’s success.
The first -berto offshoot emerged after Robledo and two of his cousins had a business disagreement, at which point the two renamed their restaurants Alberto’s while leaving everything else unchanged. Such splits have continued to take place over the years with only minor changes in the businesses’ names, logos, and menus, as new owners rely on their associations to other more established -berto’s for their own success.
Arellano explains, “All told the number of -berto’s across the United States is into the hundreds and represents millions of dollars in revenue.” And, in the Los Angeles area, apparently there are some -berts and -bert’s as well.
Yes, it’s confusing. I spoke to other customers at Alhambra’s Albert who also were unclear about the restaurant’s connection to Albert’s and Alberto’s, yet enjoyed their meals nonetheless and planned on returning.Unlike Pepe’s on Valley Boulevard and 5th Street (another personal favorite), Albert has in-door seating, which is a definite plus in these cooler winter months. While waiting in line I noticed a tray of fresh grilled peppers next to the salsa bar that I was informed are served every day, and which are definitely fresher than the canned jalapenos that one usually finds at similar restaurants.
My burrito was larger than expected and included beans, rice, pico de gallo sauce, and a decent serving of savory carnitas. Its taste and presentation were almost identical to burritos from both Albert’s and Alberto’s, and overall the ingredients seemed fresh and capable of filling me adequately for dinner. The $4.99 I paid was worth it, and as my mom pointed out, it’s definitely cheaper than Chipotle.