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Tortilla Tuesdays: Marcela Valladolid's Tortillas

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Dave Lieberman
Have we found the Holy Grail? In this case the golden cup in question is non-Latino supermarket tortillas that don't suck.


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Tortilla Tuesdays: Mama's Tortillas

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My hope that good flour tortillas might be on the upswing was buoyed by last week's find of decent, not-awful flour tortillas in a non-Latino grocery store.

Unfortunately, they were dashed this week. I bought a pack of Mama's Tortillas at the grocery store (Stater Bros. this time, I think) from one of those fancy aisle-end standalone stands next to the eggs. I should've known they would be weird, because tortillas only come in packs of 8 when they're a) targeted toward pasty white people like me, and b) bad with fancy labels.

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Tortilla Tuesdays: Mi Familia Flour Tortillas

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I sat down as I began to write this article, and I wrote down all the adjectives I would use to describe a flour tortilla from an American supermarket. Gummy, stale, dried-out (which takes talent in conjunction with gummy), oily-tasting, nasty.

It doesn't seem to matter who makes the tortillas; whether it's GRUMA and their evil forays into northern Mexican staples, or a mom-and-pop tortilla shop. Flour tortillas require preservatives to stay pliable and edible, and those preservatives render flour tortillas disgusting. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of running to Roland Rubalcava every time I want to make carne asada tacos with flour tortillas, and I don't have time to make my own when I'm cooking after a day at work, so I'm trying to find the least awful flour tortillas in the supermarket, with a nod toward the lowered bar I've set.

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Tortilla Tuesdays: Sobaqueras at St. Mary's Mexican Food in Tucson

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Now THAT is a flour tortilla!

Last weekend, I was in Tucson for the city's annual book festival, and I made sure to bash traditional Cal-Mex at every opportunity as a bastard child of Sonoran cuisine. It wasn't just me playing up to the hometown crowd, folks: our chimichangas are Styrofoam compared to theirs, California machaca is a stringy glop compared to the glories of air-dried carne seca, and we don't even have caldo de queso, for chrissakes!

The biggest difference, though, is in the flour tortillas. Ours are simply vile save those of Rubalcava's Market, but those from the Sonora region are like manna, given that it's the birthplace of the tortilla. And the queen of the flour tortillas is the sobaqueras, the gargantuan tortillas so named because they can reach up to one's armpits if extended over a forearm.

Since I was in town, I decided to seek out the most famous sobaqueras in town, those made by St. Mary's Mexican Food in West Tucson.
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Tortilla Tuesdays: La Tortilla Factory

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Dave Lieberman
I am a gabacho. While I have many non-gabacho food-shopping habits (markets in Tijuana, an intimate familiarity with my local Northgate, a love for nopales, etc.), when time is of the essence, I resort to the dreaded White Folks Supermarket--you know, Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs, et al.

The problem is that I eat tortillas every week, and the tortillas sold at the White Folks Supermarket are almost always disgusting. I keep trying because it'd be nice to not have to swing by a tortillería on the way home from Albertsons, but the results have not been encouraging, and usually it's the garbage from GRUMA that takes up the entire display case.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw a stand sitting in front of an aisle-end cap at the Vons on 17th Street in Tustin with some decent-looking tortillas in them. La Tortilla Factory, the brand name screamed, corn and wheat flour mix, handmade style, the works. Hey, why not? 

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Tortilla Tuesdays: Trader Joe's Trader José's Flour Tortillas

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I have had many bad tortillas in my life, lifeless disks not even worthy of turning into chilaquiles or throwing as Frisbees. But I've never had anything as vile as the flour tortillas sold under the Trader José's brand at Trader Joe's.

I had high hopes, of course, given Trader Joe's other house brands are usually good-really good. And I'm not one of these purists who retch at the fact that big brands co-opt Mexican food. But I knew there was a problem the moment I opened the pack and put the tortilla on the comal.
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Tortilla Tuesdays: Nuño Brothers Tortilleria

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There some OC Mexican market dynasties--the Gonzalezes of Northgate, the Bonillas of El Toro, El Toro Bravo, and El Camino Real, the Rubalcavas of La Reina and Rubalcava's Bakery, the Zambranos behind Taco Mesa, La Reyna, and Soho Taco--whose imprint is all across Latino OC, whose product travels far and wide. And then there's Nuño Brothers Market in SanTana, a sprawling shopping plaza in--yep--Nuño Brothers Plaza, off of big, bad Standard. The namesakes are fabulously wealthy, frequently popping up in campaign-finance reports in city politics, and generous in local charities--but their only location is that shopping plaza. There, they have a market, a carnicería, taqueria, and what we care about for the purposes of this column: a tortillería.
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Tortilla Tuesday: El Campeón

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Cool logo, though...

Geographic isolation has the unfortunate tendency of making people over-estimate the worth of their restaurants, and nowhere is this more true than South County and its Mexican food scene. Oh, there's Mexi restaurants a'plenty, mostly Cal-Mex dining (and Dana Point's own curious scene, which I'll examine at a future time) and the occasional wab shop. But between Albatros in Lake Forest and The Surfin' Chicken in San Clemente, it's a vast wasteland for Mexican food.

Nowhere is this more true than El Campeón, a San Juan Capistrano institution that wouldn't rank as the eight-best tortilleria in SanTana but is lionized by South County types as more Mexican than the Templo Mayor. As if! The food is fine, if not particularly memorable. Their masa, as Dave can attest, ain't much. And their tortillas? A grand disappointment.
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Tortilla Tuesday: Flour Tortillas at Rubalcava's Market AKA Best Flour Tortillas in Southern California

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Rubalcava's wonders

In the borderlands, a flour tortilla is sacramental, holy, filling, the true daily bread: fluffy, filling, thick, pliable, toothsome love. In Southern California? Universally, shit.

I've eaten tortillas my entire life, and the flour versions have only been consumed out of necessity for quesadillas (due to their large size) and for burritos (for the obvious reasons); other than that, there's no reason for them. I've eaten flour tortillas made in San Diego, made in Los Angeles, made in Orange County, and none were memorable, most the same: tepid, thin discs better as Frisbees than for day-to-day consumption.

No bias on my part: while I do prefer corn to flour, I do know the magic of a great flour tortilla--the only flour tortillas my family will devour are the ones that whatever tía or tío made the last trek to Juarez or Tucson, and stocked up on hundreds, to dole out to the rest of the family. Here? Crap. That's why, whenever someone asked me where to get good flour tortillas in Orange County, I'd tell them there was no place--because there wasn't.

Until now. Ladies and germs: behold the best flour tortillas in Southern California, made by special request at Rubalcava's in Placentia.
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Santa Ana's Outstanding Tortilleria Flor de Mexicali to Expand to Garden Grove

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Dave Lieberman

Flor de Mexicali, the Santa Ana bakery that makes what may be the very best tortillas in Orange County, is expanding to Garden Grove. The store, which previously was the completely forgettable Eden's Bakery, is located at 12859 Chapman Avenue, in the Vons shopping center at the corner of Haster Street.
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