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Last modified on February 18th, 2019 at 11:31 am
As with any regional food, locals, and natives are blindly wed to their preferred go-to taqueria. They shake their fists in the air and shout to the maize goddesses which taco joint is “best,” which is not, and then intersperse a personal rationale as to why.
“They’re not ‘authentic’! It’s not like my abuelita made!” a devotee will insist at a fiesta. “The salsa is too thin! Their guac tastes like nothing!”
And right there, mid-zealous sermon, emerges a useful method by which to assess a taqueria — deconstruct and compare their main dish’s integral elements. You can weigh the fattiness of their carne asada, the creaminess of their beans, or note whether they garnish with cabbage or lettuce. Those are valid ways to qualitatively address regionalisms and flavor profiles. Subjective preferences are informed, instead of just impassioned.
Because the tortilla is the foundational ingredient for taquerias worldwide, it comprises the ideal quality metric. Few local taco restaurants make their own tortillas nowadays. Rather, they source them from local or even distant factories.
This list compiles some of the last holdouts, a description of their homemade tortillas, and a few backstories. Of course, these places don’t just make tacos — some don’t even really specialize in tacos, but you can get tacos with homemade tortillas at these places.
The Quesadillas is a relative newcomer to the taqueria scene. Owing to its locale, which inches trepidatiously near the northeast side of town, a Puritan might be too quick to disavow The Quesadillas’ taqueria cred. But they’d be missing out on a flavor profile distinct from the rest, specifically a mesquite-infused smoky-flavored tortilla without preservatives.
The Barragán family hails from Guaymas and makes about a thousand tortillas a week for their restaurant. They are beginning to craft thick gorditas tortillas, which don’t fall apart in their Sonoran taco — a dish that harmoniously conjoins mesquite-smoked ribeye, cabbage, green chile, cheese, beans, and thick bacon.
Gordita tortillas happen to be an insurgent trend happily flooding a multitude of Tucson’s menus, praise be.
For more information, visit queso520.com.
Francisco’s De Noche undergoes midday transformations from bacon-and-eggs diner to a full-service Mexican restaurant. They only serve their house-made tortillas at night, upon awakening from their vampiric metamorphoses.
Francisco’s is Michoatec-style, so get Birria Sopes with their ultra thick, made-to-order gordita tortillas. Alternately, crisp that baby up, tostada style, and definitely try their salsas.
For more information, visit franksrestaurant.com.
The health-conscious, family-owned Tanias 33 still uses the same flour tortilla recipe and iron pan as the original chef Tania did when she started a home-based tortilla-selling business 45 years ago.
To the impartial diner, Tania 33’s homemade wheat tortillas are larger and thinner than those of most other taquerias. They are vegan, use more shortening, are not-so-stretchy, and are flakier. They hold up well under the infinite combination of ingredients that one can put in a Tanias taco or burrito.
To the original Tania’s granddaughter Erica Lira, it’s the family heritage that makes the tortillas special. “It’s a personal thing,” she said. “It’s the memories – and the years of seasoning on that pan,” which is and always has been dedicated exclusively to their flour tortillas.
Tanias will package flour tortillas to go and sell out seven days a week, but if you call ahead and ask owner/Erica’s dad Rudy Lira, he’ll set some aside for you (allowing you a 30-minute grace period if you’re running late). After that, your bag of goodness is fair game for the others in line.
For more information, visit tanias33.com.
La Indita is also known for its health-conscious approach toward eating — specializing in indigenous Mexican dishes featuring unexpected items like spinach, pecans, and prunes. They use no lard in their gordita tortillas, nor in their refried beans, which involve smashing pintos for creaminess.
La Indita makes their gordita-style corn tortillas to order, so they come out beautifully irregular, some slightly blackened and charred, some thicker and chewier, but always playing a stand-up corn-rich host to the calabacitas or Michoacan-style mole or barbacoa on a bed of pretty red cabbage. Those can be made as sopes, tacos, tostadas, or fry bread.
Keep up with La Indita on Facebook.
With its multiple locations, El Guero Canelo is known for their Sonoran-style hot dogs, but they also handcraft their under-appreciated flour tortillas, exclusively for their own usage, in a factory in Magdalena, Sonora. They have done so since 1993. They use said tortillas for some of their tacos and quesadillas, but more notably for their giant caramelos.
The tortillas are double-layered, and at first, they seem like they’re actually two stacked tortillas. They have to be thick enough to hold the juicy carne asada, including the toppings like cebollitas that are customary to load on top.
When asked how many the Magdalena factory hand makes daily, the nice lady at the counter just says, “muchos.” Prompted, she emphasizes, “MUCHOS.”
For more information, visit elguerocanelo.com.
Flat-out ignore the crispier wheat tortillas at Taqueria Pico De Gallo. They’re fine. But do as the locals do and opt instead for their homemade soft, wet, bright yellow corn tortillas, which the Pico De Gallo crew makes in-house early in the mornings. It’s almost as if they are steamed.
When it’s later in the day and tacos are loaded up with soupier items like birria. The tortillas tend to break down the middle under the heft of being picked up, but they hold up under lighter items like a dollop of frijoles or shredded meats.
When (very) regular customer Kenyon Newman was pregnant last year, she admitted an addiction to Pico De Gallo for its corn tortillas. She’d been there three times in a week. She said she can’t exactly pin down why.
“The tortillas are fresh. Maybe it’s the texture. They’re kind of crunchy. They’re kind of chewy. I can’t live without them,” said Newman.
Keep up with Taqueria Pico de Gallo on Yelp.
The thing to do at Anita Street Market is to order their famous flour tortillas ahead, and when you pick them up, grab some red chile to go and assemble the whole shebang at home with your choice of toppings. Perhaps get some of their homemade empanadas, chips, and salsa as well.
Anita Street runs out of their fresh tortillas predictably often, especially on Saturdays, and they’ll make more in front of you while you wait, tortured by the smell.
You can get 14” diameter, 9” diameter, or 5” diameter. Check out the actual-size display on the wall — it’s like an optical illusion.
The tortillas are differentiated from others by their stretchiness. Pair that chew with sour cream and the aforementioned red chile, and you have a sacrilegious, “inauthentic” mouthgasm that’s kept locals returning to Anita Street for years for their daily specials, charitable events, and grocery items.
Keep up with Anita Street Market on Facebook.
El Chivo de Oro’s breadlike house-made corn tortillas are substantial enough in flavor and texture to stand up to what must be Tucson’s hottest salsa and the goat birria dishes for which they are esteemed. The taco truck with awning-shaded picnic benches keeps long hours and is almost always parked near the intersection of South 11th Avenue and West Irvington Road.
It’s not listed on the menu, but try birria caramelos on corn tortillas, squeeze a bunch of lime on top, go light on the salsa, and you have what amounts to an inch-thick Sonoran beastly grilled cheese. Their asada, Lorenzo tostada, and breakfast burritos are also good, but note that they don’t make their tortillas de harina (flour).
Keep up with El Chivo de Oro on Facebook.
From the outside and the name, one might assume that La Mesa Tortillas is just another tortilleria (tortilla factory), but it’s also a restaurant where you can get full plates and bulk food to go.
Their tortillas are special because they use no preservatives or additives, and they ship. They also make memorable tamales that people are said to crave upon moving away from the Old Pueblo.
La Mesa has a location on the east side and a central site as well.
For more information, visit lamesatortillas.com.
Eastside Mexican restaurant, Salsa Verde opened in April 2018. This family-owned-and-operated restaurant not only make tortillas from scratch daily, but they also make tortilla chips, aguas frescas, and desserts.
The tortillas are light and fluffy and are made fresh each morning. The salsa ingredients are prepared fresh, too.
If you’re wanting to try the tortillas, order the Machetes — massive foot-wide corn masa tortillas filled with cheese and your choice of steak, beef fajitas, barbacoa, pork pibil, or chicken fajita — or Lorenzas — crispy corn tortillas with cheese, stuffed with steak or pork adobada if desired.
For more information, visit salsaverderestaurant.business.site.
Owners of Calle Tepa describe the restaurant as a “fast-casual Mexican outpost with a street-style twist”. The menu is influenced by family recipes and flavors from the owners’ hometown in Jalisco, Mexico.
House-made tortillas are made and cooked in their scratch kitchen in plain sight — flour tortillas can be exchanged for house-made corn tortillas and are perfect sides for their meats, salads, and soups.
Although the Sonoran dogs and Tortas are popular menu items, you’ll want to try the Chicken Fajitas with their fresh tortillas and a side order of Calabacitas. Pair your meal with a specialty margarita and dip into the salsa bar, which is superb as well.
For more information, visit calletepa.com.
[This article was originally written on September 11, 2018, and most recently updated on February 18, 2019]