It’s that time of the year again: KCRW and Gustavo’s Great #TortillaTournament with Good Food’s Evan Kleiman, in which we match up 64 tortillas — 32 corn, 32 flour — in a weekly sports-style seeded bracket to determine who will win the Golden Tortilla!
Is all of this too esoteric to understand, gentle reader? Here’s plain talk: A month of tortillas, corn and flour and fluffy and organic and all around Southern California for tortilla supremacy, from Oxnard to Coachella to the San Fernando Valley to Fallbrook. Our Suave 16 finalists return from last year, along with 48 new contestants for Masa (and Harina) Madness!
This is the third year we’ve done the #TortillaTournament, and the weirdest one yet because, you know, coronavirus. There was serious discussion to skip this year. But as we see so many restaurants struggle across the Southland to stay afloat, doing the #TortillaTournament is not only the right thing to do, but almost an obligation (and the subject of a separate essay that will publish tomorrow).
It’s a celebration not just of delicious tortillas, but of innovators and neighborhood classics, of small business and ingenuity. It’s great counter-programming in any regular year. For 2020? We hope this gives you a bit of comforting, buttery solace from the madness of it all.
Because no matter how things may get, we still need to eat tortillas.
Over the next month, go to kcrw.com/tortilla to see the progression of our bracket but also read original essays, reports, a full tortilla directory) and more. For now, you can see all 64 contestants here, along with a map, and their information and brief bios.
We won’t have a grand finale in person like last year because, you know, coronavirus. Instead, on Oct. 18, we will have a one-hour Zoom special in which me and my fellow judges — KCRW’s Evan Kleiman and Connie Alvarez, and KCRW contributor/Eater LA writer Mona Holmes — will judge the four finalists live along with a special judge, and also offer video tutorials and other general tortilla education!
The tournament format will be familiar to any of you who follow the NCAA’s March Madness or the FIFA World Cup: 32 corn, 32 flour, split into four brackets of 16. Within those brackets, every tortilla is assigned a seed, so that the highest-ranked tortillas are up against the lowest-ranked ones in the early rounds. That makes it easier for the best of the best to advance toward the finals — but also allows for upsets.
For the first two rounds, we bought the tortillas fresh, then froze them that day to see how they would hold up after defrosting (pro tip: dust off all the ice when you take them out of the freezer, toss out the top and bottom tortillas once they’re ready to eat, and get a towel to sop up any additional moisture). For the Suave 16 on, we bought new packs of the advancing tortillas and ate them fresh through the Eso Eight.
The top four seeds in each bracket represent the corn (Taco Maria, Kernel of Truth) and flour finalists (HomeState, Burritos La Palma, La Monarca) from last year. Gustavo assigned rankings and brackets for all other newcomers based on taste, historicity, and potential.
Evan and Mona got the flour category; Gustavo and Connie are now doing corn.
One group that ISN’T part of the competition yet again this year: home cooks. We want people to be able to easily buy the tortillas in the tournament, and I don’t think your mom, abuelita, tio, or cousin wants hundreds of strangers to just swing by their house next Sunday and ask for a dozen, you know?
Your favorite tortilla didn’t make it this year? There’s always next year. And if you have a problem with the seeding or the entries? Hit me up and only me — my name is in the tourno, after all.
Anyways, enjoy and start eating! And don't forget to use #TortillaTournament in your photos and posts!