To those of you devoted to corn tortillas: Don't get your knickers all in a twist. Battle Corn Tortilla will come to fruition -- in fact, why don't you leave your nominees in the comments? -- but for now we are focusing on the smooth, pliant goodness that is the flour tortilla.
Disclaimer: The best tortillas you'll ever put in your mouth were made by somebody's grandmother, and with lard. Alas, most bakeries that sell tortillas to the public use vegetable shortening or oil for their tortillas, thereby rendering them safe for vegans and vegetarians, and giving them a longer shelf life. Unfortunately, we can't really battle it out between grandmas here on Food Fight, or taco trucks supplied by grandmas, or any place that doesn't sell a stack of tortillas to the public. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't hit us with your favorite places to find delicious tortillas, grandma-made or otherwise.
In the meantime, for the general and not-too-lazy public, we give you a side-by-side comparison of the tortillas you can find for sale at El Bolillo in the Heights (2517 Airline Dr) and Mi Tienda in Pasadena (1630 Spencer Hwy). Both places are a little bit out of the way but worthy of a trip -- for tortillas and more.
To test the tortillas, we heated them up in a skillet on the stove; we once swore to a friend's Mexican dad that we would never, ever put tortillas in the microwave, and we like to keep our promises. After heating, we tried both tortillas plain, just dipped in a little salsa verde, and then cooked up some chorizo (homemade, bitches) and assembled tacos to test the tortillas' folding pliancy. The results:
When I directed my Mexican-American friend to pick up tortillas at El Bolillo for the first time, she had two comments. One, "That place is in the 'hood!" Two, "These are almost as good as my mom's." El Bolillo is right on the northern edge of the Heights, just inside the loop. It has something of a cult following among folks, both white and brown (and other colors, too), who show up for the namesake bolillo rolls and other well-made, inexpensively priced baked goods.
As for the matter at hand, my friend's high praise was right on, for the tortillas at El Bolillo are worthy. Flaky and thin, with a not-quite-perfectly-circular shape that gives them a homemade feel, these were tasty dipped in salsa but really kicked ass when layered with chorizo, onions and cilantro. El Bolillo's tortilla folded perfectly and didn't crack or rip even though we packed a whole lot inside our taco. Thumbs up.
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If you've never driven out to Mi Tienda, consider taking a field trip sometime. It's quite a lovely spectacle and a delicious way to kill time, plus it's pretty cool (we think) to see a mercado-style grocery store right here in our own backyard.
We picked up a pack of tortillas from Mi Tienda as we took in the sights, then made our way back home to stack one Mexican bakery against another. Mi Tienda's tortillas are thicker and more uniformly shaped than El Bolillo's -- which makes sense, given the contrast in size of the operations. Still, it puffed nicely when heated and similarly did not break or tear when a taco was assembled. Personally, I found the tortilla a tad chewy and didn't love its taste when eaten with salsa alone.
El Bolillo, for the homemade look and feel, plus a slight edge in thinness and taste. That being said, many folks prefer their tortillas thick and fluffy, in which case Mi Tienda may be the place for you. We also hear from a little bird that, given that Central Market shares a parent company with Mi Tienda, their bakery tortillas may be a fair substitute if you just can't make the drive.