My two middle boys went deep-sea fishing a while back, and a couple of Fridays ago I cooked up some killer fish tacos with their rockfish. But while the insides were awesome, the tortillas proved a touch dry. “Why not make your own?” asked Patrick. The notion started eating at me. I like my bread better when I make it from scratch — why not tortillas?
But how to do it? Luis Estrada, kitchen manager at Café Coyote in Old Town (619-291-4695; cafecoyoteoldtown.com), told me that his restaurant makes its own tortillas. “For corn tortillas, we purchase masa. Then, to make the tortillas, we add three ounces of water for each pound of masa and mix it up.” Each tortilla starts out as a roughly two-ounce ball of masa. “We use a tortilla press. You put the masa on a round metal plate and then the top presses down.” After the tortilla is flat, it’s time for grilling on a 350-degree plancha (griddle). “I know when it’s done from the feel — a firm texture — and then I flip it over for, say, one more minute.”
Flour tortillas are slightly more complicated. “You use three pounds of flour to half a pound of lard, ten ounces of water, and two ounces of salt. You can mix it by hand or with a mixer. When you’re done, the dough will be similar to pizza dough. Divide the dough into two-ounce balls and roll them out the way you would a pizza. You can use any roller. Cook them on a small, flat grill — just like the corn tortillas, about a minute a side. You can serve them fresh and hot, or they will keep for about one week in the refrigerator.”
I had my marching orders. First up, masa. Sammy at Supermercado Murphy’s in City Heights (619-624-2504) told me he had masa for $.59 a pound. “We make it here. It’s just dried corn that has been soaked for a day and then ground. We add lime as a preservative.” Supermercado Murphy’s also sells corn tortillas, made in-store daily ($1.39 for 2.2 pounds, $2.59 for 4.4 pounds, and $3.59 for 6.6 pounds). I also found masa at Gabriel’s Tortilleria in Sherman Heights (619-232-5744) for $.60 a pound.
For flour tortillas, I would need lard. Pancho Villa’s Farmer’s Market in Normal Heights (619-584-4595) sells pork lard for $1.59 a pound. “It comes in one- to one-and-a-half pound containers,” said the clerk. “We also sell masa mixed with lard for tamales [$1.99 a pound] and plain masa [$.69 a pound].
For the tortilla press, I called Great News in Pacific Beach (858-270-1582; great-news.com). “We carry a manual tortilla press by Norpro for $18.94,” said the clerk. “It’s made from aluminum and is about six inches in diameter.” San Diego Restaurant Supply downtown (619-239-8107; sdrs.com) offered an aluminum, six-and-a-half-inch manual press for $10.95.
So many tortilla-making options. I began to consider scrapping the from-scratch approach and asked my friends for their tortilla hotspots. For corn tortillas, Mary suggested El Indio (619-299-0333; el-indio.com). “They have a machine that cranks them out all morning for $1.30 a dozen. Get there early if you want ’em while they’re warm.”
Kathy only goes to Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan (619-234-4460). “You can get corn tortillas for $1.25 a dozen or flour for $2.75 a dozen. They start making them around 8:30 in the morning, but if you want some, you have to call ahead and place an order first.”
Maria argued for Tortilleria Lily in City Heights (619-281-2890). “They make only white corn, and they’re open early, from five in the morning until around two in the afternoon. You can get 33 for $1.45, 66 for $2.55, and 110 for $3.55. I buy the large bag and just keep the extras in the freezer.”