Three days, 400 miles, and 16 tortillerías: The diary of Gustavo’s Tortilla Runner

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In spring 2021, I enrolled in Gustavo Arellano’s narrative non-fiction class at Orange Coast College after years of asking for his advice about how to break into food journalism. Taking his class was one of the most rewarding experiences in recent memory, and one that would not have happened if the class wasn’t offered online. After completing the course with an A, it was time to start searching out stories.

What does all this have to do with tortillas? Well, everything. On Aug. 1, my first night after moving into my new place, I got a DM from Gustavo: “Do you want to be a scout for my tortilla tournament?”

 Of course I would scout. I just thought he meant for next year’s tourney.


A week later, Gustavo emailed me tortilla brackets and a tortilla directory, complete with addresses (this point is important), and brief descriptions of each contending tortilla. My tortilla pickups would span two days and take me from Indio, to the San Fernando Valley, to Riverside, to Venice and so many other cities in between. 

Gustavo’s advice on the itinerary? 

“Tuesday get the West LA ones and any East LA ones that you can,” he wrote me. “Wednesday, start in East LA early and then work towards Indio, then take the 91 back home to Riverside and Anaheim. And don’t let the bracket beat you."