Tortilla Tournament, Week 1 Results: March of the Masas

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Read all about it! Read all about it! The tortilla battle has begun! Photo via Shutterstock

As with past Tortilla Tournaments, Round 1 brought some upsets, saw favorites roll over weak salsa competition, and didn't really give us a preview of what's to come. But you can't have a Round 2 without a Round 1, you know? So onward with all the matchups!

Kernel of Truth, based in Boyle Heights, beat La Copa de Oro of Santa Ana in their head-to-head matchup. Photo by Gustavo Arellano


Judge: Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW's Good Food

#1 La Princesita Tortilleria vs. #16 Mission 25 Calories 

As always La Princesita in East Los Angeles makes a great everyday tortilla. It has a beautiful puff and excellent flavor with a bit of characteristic gelling of starch to give it body. The perfect tortilla to keep in your non-dominant hand to accompany any meal. Missión 25 Calories is thin and small as one would expect with a low cal tortilla. It held together better than most Mission tortillas but it had help from guar gum. Winner: La Princesita

#8 Chiguacle vs #9 El Torito Restaurant & Meat Market 

Chiguacle, with locations in Sun Valley and DTLA, makes an interesting tortilla. Lots of texture, as if the masa was made with coarse ground nixtamal. I like it a lot. Sweet and corny. El Torito, a Hesperia restaurant not to be confused with the flailing Cal-Mex chain, offers a thick and pillowy tortilla that's made with white corn. It's more of a main event tortilla, very filling. I would definitely eat it again with pot beans. Winner: Chiguacle

#5 Las Cuatro Milpas vs #12 Pan Victoria  

Both are gordita-type tortillas, a bit thick with Pan Victoria being Guatemalan style, which makes sense since it's a Guatemalan market with locations in Inglewood and near the Pico-Union neighborhood. I have a special fondness for thick tortillas, but I preferred Pan Victoria's. It was flavorful with a wonderful texture. Las Cuatro Milpas, of San Diego, is good but was a bit stodgy in texture. Winner: Pan Victoria.

#4 Ruben's Bakery vs. #13 Urbano Mexican Kitchen  

Pasadena's Urbano Mexican Kitchen produces an interesting tortilla. It's small, like the kind used for street tacos. But it's thicker so instead of using two, they only need one to hold up to the fillings, I'm guessing. It's well seasoned with just the right amount of salt. Not enough to interfere if used as a taco, but really great as an accompaniment to eating whatever. I've liked Ruben's Bakery, in Compton, in the past but this time around it was kind of meh. Winner: Urbano

#6 Holbox vs. #11 La Yalaltequita 

This was the nightmare matchup for me. The Holbox tortilla is low production and you can tell the hands on this one. It continues to be pliable after heating on the comal and I always like a slightly thicker tortilla. It won't fall apart, which is particularly great for tacos. But La Yalaltequita, in LA's Mid-City area, is no slouch. For a higher production tortilla, it has a delicious flavor. I might make this my everyday tortilla from now on. Winner: La Yalaltequita

#3 Kernel of Truth Organics vs. #14 La Copa de Oro 

Kernel of Truth, based in Boyle Heights, takes this one with its corn-forward flavor and pleasing textural contrast of the slightly leathery exterior and nice chewy gel on the inside. La Copa de Oro, of Santa Ana, is a workman-like tortilla that's perfectly fine but a bit bland for me. Winner: Kernel of Truth

#7 Taco Mesita #10 Original La Adelita 

It's always hard to judge a blue corn vs. a white corn matchup. They are so different. La Adelita, in Pico-Union, takes this one due to the super gummy texture and bland flavor of Taco Mesita, In Tustin. The La Adelita tortilla is a good everyday white corn tortilla, with no off flavors and good texture. Winner: Original La Adelita

 #2 Mitla Café vs. #15 Stater Bros.

Everytime San Bernardino's Mitla Café comes up in the contest I love it, so I tasted carefully so as to not be swayed by past experiences. Stater Bros. is better than Mission/Guerrero but still bland and gummy. Mitla is a large golden disc with tons of irregularity in its face, which makes eating it a delicious and varied experience. Good for eating with pot beans or making a thick, filling quesadilla. Winner: Mitla Café

Evan's Round 2 Matchups

#1 La Princesita vs. #8 Chiguacle 

#12 Pan Victoria vs. #13 Urbano Mexican Kitchen 

#11 La Yalaltequita vs. #3 Kernel of Truth 

#10 Original La Adelita vs. #2 Mitla Cafe

Gustavo's takeaway: Evan always brings it with the upsets, and she always frets to me that maybe she was wrong. I always reassure her that she was right, because she almost always is. Pan Victoria and Chiguacle, in particular, are fabulous and rightfully move on.

San Diego classic El Indio prevailed over Bell Gardens stalwart Leyva's in this battle. Photo by Gustavo Arellano


Judge: Gustavo Arellano, LA Times journalist and KCRW contributor

#1 Tallula's vs. #16 Guerrero Yellow Corn: The great tortilla deceiver that is Guerrero keeps making "new" tortillas every year, and this time busts out one with a good, natural yellow color that's thick and smells like masa BUT… those ingredients. A pharmacy's worth of them, for a corn tortilla. It didn't do the embarrassing thing this time of melting onto the comal, like other GRUMA labels do. And Guerrero Yellow Corn is not bad at first, and chewy and sweet. I didn't spit it out, which qualifies as a win for them. But then it got bitter — PASS. Meanwhile, the blue corn tortilla from shuttered Santa Monica restaurant Tallula's, looks like a moonscape and is absolutely fabulous. Sucks that they closed! Winner: Tallula's

#8 Tortilleria Oaxaca vs. #9 Cocina 1912: Here's something you usually don't see with corn tortillas: Huge. Cocina 1912, in Santa Paula, does it by throwing in flour, while Tortilleria Oaxaca (made by the legendary La Mayordomia chain of Oaxacan businesses) makes what's called a blanda, an all-corn tortilla that can be as large as a flour one, although not as big (or toasted) as a tlayuda. Although I liked the thickness of Cocina 1912, the choice to do a corn-flour hybrid is a mistake: There wasn't enough corn flavor or flour flavor, leading to a flavorless, though technically sound, product. Not disgusting, but a big nada. Warning to those who want to ride the improbable trend of corn-flour tortillas: Why? Although Tortilleria Oaxaca didn't have the strongest of corn flavors, it still tasted better than Cocina 1912. Winner: Tortilleria Oaxaca

#5 Chabelita's vs. #12 Chela's y Carnitas: The corn tortilla from Chela's y Carnitas has a soft texture but got bitter at the end — but kudos for making your own tortillas out in Victorville (and gracias to my former student Roxanne for grabbing them for me — may you beat "Burger Time" for the rest of your days). Chabelita's tortilla was almost perfect: unadulterated masa, and big. Only fault? I didn't have the Pacoima restaurant's incredible chile rellenos next to me! Winner: Chabelita's

#4 Rancho Grande Market vs. #13 La Flor Blanca Salvadoreña: Last year, I profiled Alexis Navarrete, the owner of La Flor Blanca Salvadoreña near USC. Smart, young guy who's the second generation of his family to run the pioneering pupusería. The last time we talked, he told me that Salvadoran-style tortillas just don't hold up well if frozen, they have to be eaten fresh. I didn't disagree with him. Everything fresh is better reheated, except maybe pizza. But Navarette was wrong that Salvadoran tortillas aren't the best after being frozen, and his tortillas are proof. They reheated great, and the charm of such tortillas was immediate. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. The only thing I'll fault him on is a  bitter aftertaste that's the telltale sign of an inferior masa. Invest in better masa, Alexis, and you'll have a winner. It was structurally a better tortilla than Rancho Grande Market, in Desert Hot Springs, and they had a slight bitterness as well, but Rancho Grande eeked out the victory. Winner: Rancho Grande

#6 Tortillería Lily vs. #11 La Carreta: La Carreta reflects its home city of Colton — sturdy, good, and often overlooked by the rest of Southern California. But San Diego-based Tortillería Lily made it into the bigger tournament last year for a reason. It's what a machine-made corn tortilla should be, brown and smooth with a heavy corn flavor. La Carreta could've pulled an upset elsewhere in this bracket but not here. Winner: Tortillería Lilly

#3 El Indio vs. #14 Leyva's Tortillería: Coming from Bell Gardens, Leyva's flour tortillas were in the very first tournament, and I'm not exactly sure why their corn one waited until this year. When you're drowning in options, sometimes you forget about places, you know?  It starts fluffy and a little bit sweet, but then it turns bitter at the very end, so no go. El Indio, on the other hand, retained the interesting sweetness that allowed this San Diego classic to make it into the Suave 16 last year. Winner: El Indio

#7 La Fondita vs. #10 Nuños Market: Two small spots that serve their overlooked communities and thus don't get much love outside of them — this is what #TortillaTournament is about. Nuños, a mercado in the El Salvador Community Corridor, does a good job; La Fondita, a Mexican restaurant in the tiny Ventura County city of Fillmore, does a better one. Winner: La Fondita 

#2 Taco María vs. #15 La Blanquita Tortilleria: The Michelin-starred, James Beard-nominated, Golden Tortilla-winning Taco María finds itself in an unfamiliar position — a #2 seed for the first time ever. Chef Carlos Salgado is quiet by nature but intense in spirit, so I knew he was going to level up his tortilla game, and he did. The Taco María corn tortilla is a Southern California treasure, as complex and powerful as an Aztec calendar. La Blanquita in El Monte — the sister company of last year's Golden Tortilla winner, La Princesita — is just okay. Winner: Taco María

Gustavo's Round 2 Matchups

#1 Tallula's vs. #8 Tortilleria Oaxaca 

#4 Rancho Grande Market vs. #5 Chabelita's

#3 El Indio vs. #6 Tortilleria Lily 

#2 Taco Maria vs. #7 La Fondita

Gustavo's Takeaway: While Evan's bracket was full of upsets, mine had none. It's a living!

In its first time entering the Tortilla Tournament, Eagle Rock restaurant Dunsmoor made it through the first round of judging. Photo by Gustavo Arellano


Judge: Connie Alvarez, KCRW Communications Director

#1 Sonoratown vs. #16 Mission Everything Bagel Flour Tortillas: The Everything Bagel tortilla really tried to do everything, but instead it was just a slightly limp bagel chip in disguise. ¡Fuera! Winner: Sonoratown

#8 Sonora Restaurant vs. #9 La Cazuela: Sonora Restaurant in Chino was good. But despite its small size giving the burrito advantage to its opponent, La Cazuela of Coachella, brought the flavor that moves a tortilla from good to yummy. Winner: La Cazuela

#5 Manolo Farmers Market vs. #12 Los Agaves: No notes! Winner: Manolo Farmers Market 

#4 El Cholo vs. #13 Casa Torres: Forget burritos, El Cholo's flour tortillas are heavy-duty chimichangas only! Casa Torres, in Sylmar, is also pretty thick, but while they were busy packing all the thickness into a much smaller size, they forgot the flavor. Winner: Ese Cholo for the win! 

#6 Dunsmoor vs. #11 Carolina Tortillas Estilo Sonora: Both of these little guys did a nice puff on the comal and on the initial bite, they tasted similar. But, Carolina was betrayed by the back-of-the-tongue aftertaste which detected something floral — soap? Por dios, it better not be Fabuloso! Winner: Dunsmoor, you move ahead

#3 El Ruso vs. #14 Stater Bros. Sonora-Style: Lord help me. It's a tie. One has no flavor. The other has flavor but with a chemical chaser. TIE: El Ruso and Stater Bros. Sonora-Style

#7 Heritage Craft BBQ & Brewery vs #10 Barrera's Restaurante y Panaderia: Heritage Craft BBQ in San Juan Capistrano takes this one for its simple, yet unique flavor (almost tastes like peppery BBQ?) that gave it the edge over the also good Barrera's. Winner: Heritage Craft BBQ

#2 Burritos La Palma vs. #15 Trader Joe's Tortillas del Comal: Perfect thickness, perfect pliability, perfectly seasoned. It's BLP all the way. Winner: Burritos La Palma

Connie's Round 2 Matchups

#1 Sonoratown vs. #8 Sonora Restaurant 

#4 El Cholo vs. #5 Manolo Farmers Market

#3 El Ruso vs. #14 Stater Bros. Sonora Style vs. #6 Dunsmoor

#2 Burritos La Palma vs. #7 Heritage Craft BBQ & Brewery

Gustavo's takeaway: I thought Connie was a bit unfair on El Ruso and Stater Bros., and weak salsa for not picking a winner between the two. But wrong? Not necessarily!

LA's only Honduran food truck, La Troca Catracha, achieved victory in its flour tortilla bracket in this first round. Photo by Gustavo Arellano


Judge: Sean Vukan, #TortillaTournament scout

#1 HomeState vs. #16 Happy Belly: Bezos does tortillas? Bezos should take these Happy Belly tortillas and launch them into outer space on one of his rockets. These hit the comal as if a Fruit Roll-Up were thrown onto a countertop. Winner: HomeState

#8 Patty's Mexican Food vs. #9 A's BBQ: In complete honesty, this was my first time dealing with raw tortillas. So much so that because I'm a dutiful judge, I texted Gustavo asking if I need to take out the individual tortillas to let them defrost with the sheets of wax paper in between Alan Cruz's raw, beef tallow, "Foo Organic" tortillas. Gustavo's response? "You figure it out!" But there really is no contest here. Patty's Mexican Food, in Claremont, while serviceable, are big and would be great for a quesadilla for a late afternoon snack. You know the ones? The quesadillas on thin, flour tortillas using that giant grocery store orange cheese. Those just hit differently. You know what else hits differently? The tortillas from A's BBQ in East Los Angeles, which started to sizzle the moment they hit my cast iron. Flavor abounds. Winner: A's BBQ

#5 Ojai Tortilla House vs. #12 La Carreta: I imagined coming down for a late night snack having both of these tortillas at my disposal and opting for Ojai Tortilla House's because I initially found Carreta's to be kinda gummy. Then, I warmed up both again and added a hint of salt to each. This brought out La Carreta's floury flavor and tasted much better. Ojai's flavor improved, but a dryness was still there, breaking apart as I picked it up to eat it. Preparedness and time win over the late-night snack but it's close. Winner: La Carreta

#4 Super A Foods vs. #13 Panaderia y Tortilleria Guerrero: This was one of those March Madness 4-13 matchups that came down to the wire, with the #4 seed hitting a last second shot to stave off elimination against the small conference upstart. Both are nearly identical in size and cookie-cutter roundness, with Guerrero — the Indio one, not the GRUMA demon baby — giving off five dollar pancake-size vibes and Super A Foods looking like a white, full moon. On the surface, Guerrero wins. They're more aesthetically pleasing to look at, with brown spots of flavor dotted throughout. They also smell better when cooked. I was struggling to find any standout smell with the Super A tortillas. The thing about aromatics is that you can't get full from them. Panaderia Guerrero's are good but Super A had just the tiniest hint of salt that helped propel it into the next round. Winner: Super A Foods

#6 Las Cuatro Milpas vs. #11 Tacos y Que: What a horrible matchup of goodness. You know those diner pancakes that pick up the flavors of everything else that's been cooked on that griddle? Everything from onions to bacon? That's what I picked up with these tortillas from Las Cuatro Milpas. Hints of chicharrón. Perfect for dunking in their classic chorizo con huevo and soaking up all that flavor. It was a bit off-putting on its own, however, and it distracted from the flour aspect of the flour tortilla. Tacos y Que of Whittier makes versatile tortillas that are perfect for quesadillas or tacos. When I have these available in my freezer or fridge, I'm always extremely happy. So serviceable. But Las Cuatro Milpas ultimately tasted better and had way better chew to them. This first time judge will not be knocking off one of the United States' oldest Mexican restaurants in the first round. Winner: Las Cuatro Milpas

#3 Bar Amá vs #14 La Copa de Oro: On first tasting, I was surprised at the brittleness of Bar Amá's. They were good but broke apart easily. Was my cast iron too hot? Did I let the small, Tex Mex-style flour tortilla sit out too long before coming back to it? La Copa de Oro's were good. Chewy, giant, and at the time, had flavor. So I wanted further testing. On second taste, Bar Amá's smelled buttery, floury and pleasant,] while there was something off-putting about Copa de Oro's. Winner: Bar Amá

#7 La Troca Catracha vs. #10 El Tranvia: Tortilla or pizza dough?  That was my initial thought when taking La Troca Catracha's Honduran tortillas out of the bag. Almost pita-like, these thick, beautifully dotted tortillas were remarkably flexible, pliable and delicious. So much flavor throughout. El Tranvia's were delicious but Honduras moves on over the Coachella Valley Winner: La Troca Catracha

#2 Anchos Southwest Grill vs. #15 Guerrero Carb Watch Salsa Roja Tortillas: I love the tortillas from Riverside restaurant Anchos. So snack-worthy. Everytime I pick them up to bring to Gustavo I'm tempted to eat half the bag. (Which is why I order a couple extra for the road.) Anchos are beautifully irregular, thick, but not gordita thick, although I remember them having a tad more salt. GRUMA Guerrero's Carb Watch Salsa Roja tortillas that don't taste like salsa roja? To borrow from Ian Malcolm: "Your scientists were too preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Winner: Anchos

Sean's Round 2 Matchups

#1 HomeState vs #9 A's BBQ 

#4 Super A Foods vs. #12 La Carreta 

#3 Bar Amà vs. #6 Las Cuatro Milpas 

#2 Ancho's vs. #7 La Troca Catracha

Gustavo's takeaway: Random observation: Every Round 2 matchup here has a contestant where "A" figures prominently in their name, while three of their opponents have "La(s)" or a word that starts with C. That spells out "CAL" — WHOA…ok, maybe not. Onto around 2!