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I guess “make it yourself” has never been in my vocabulary.

Till now.

Talking National City. I was just turning onto 7th street when here’s this little tortilleria, El Grano de Oro (730 E. 7th Street, National City, 619-474-7401).

Kids and their moms are in there behind the white security grill buying small stacks of tortillas, made right here. Plus groceries and veggies.

I come in because I’m thinking fresh tortillas. So much better than store-bought, like Vons, Albertson’s.

Liz the gal at the counter says they make about 1,000 tortillas every day. The place is like a little grocery store upfront, but the back is this mobie series of metal trays and racks and conveyer belts, so you know they really make them here.

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The factory

“Every morning,” says Liz.

But this is late, maybe three in the afternoon.

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The price list

And now, all I see on the counter is a plastic bag with three of those thick corn tortillas with their edges curled up into a lip to hold in, well, stuff.

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“Sopes,” she says. “They’re like tortillas, made from ground maize soaked in lime like tortillas.”

Except it seems they’re thicker, and fried just enough so they have a slightly crisp skin that will not fall apart when you put a whole lot of sloppy stuff in it. Like frijoles, grated cheese, maybe shredded beef, and salsas.

“Do you do that?” I ask.

“No, but we have some of the things you need,” she says.

“And those are?”

“Well, there are all sorts. Every region of Mexico has its favorites, but this will make a good sope,” she says, and starts listing out the ingredients: shredded beef, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa with tomatoes and onions, avocado, shredded lettuce and frijoles.

“Just lettuce and frijoles makes a good basic sope,” she says.

Result, a few hours later, a little mountain of stuff riding in this round barge of thick masa.

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So yes, it does cost a few bucks to assemble everything. But, gotta say, actually doing it yourself and not ending up with a disaster? What satisfaction. What gustation. What a beautiful mess!

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Even the lovely Carla appreciates the fact I did this with my own fair hands.

And given that you can actually put what da heck you want into the little boat, I can see the sky’s the limit, now I’ve got the idea.

Thanks, Liz!

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