Tortilla Tournament week 1 update: Inevitable favorites, inevitable upsets

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“El Burrito House has oversized flour tortillas, thick and powdery that remind me of Jimenez Ranch Market in SanTana, an eternal favorite of mine,” says judge Gustavo Arellano. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Arellano.

Every year, the first round of our #TortillaTournament follows the same basic script: Almost all the higher seeds win, but there’s always a couple of newcomers that stage unexpected upsets, and lay the groundwork for unexpected runs.

That’s exactly what’s happening so far, changed up only by the inclusion of 4 San Diego County tortillas who were the finalists in our first-ever #TortillaTournament invitational and got 5 and 6 seeds.

How did they do? How did you do? Let’s get to the results!

Catch up on the rules and methodology of this year’s tourney here.

Now, the results!

“El Molino de Oro had a supple, good flavor,” says judge Evan Kleiman. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Arellano.


Judge: Evan Kleiman, Host of KCRW’s Good Food

Evan's note: I had a bias toward white versus yellow corn. Also, if I see the telltale lines of char instead of splotches, I know they were cooked on a conveyor, which is another bias.  It was interesting to notice this bias and how it changed over the tastings.


No. 1 Tallula's vs. No. 16 Kroger
Tallula’s was a delicious blue corn tortilla. Supple texture, good flavor with the trademark softer mouth feel of blue corn. Kroger had the trifecta of bad tortilla problems: sourness, bitterness and mealiness all rolled into one white corn disc. 

Winner: Tallula’s

 No. 8 Umbrella taCO vs  No. 9 El Molino de Oro: 
Umbrella’s edges were dry. No salt, no puff. El Molino de Oro had a supple, good flavor.

Winner: El Molino de Oro

No. 5 El Indio vs. No. 12 Baja Ranch Market: 
El Indio offered probably the best white corn workman tortilla of all that I tasted. The best puff of any, no off flavors and an appealing corny sweetness. I was excited to try Baja Ranch Market because it looks like it’s made with coarsely ground yellow corn flour, but they were very disappointing. Mealy texture and no corn forward flavor.               

Winner: El Indio

No. 4 Amapola Deli & Market vs. No. 13 Zamora Bros.: 
Amapola had a supple, good mouthfeel. Corny. Zamora Bros. had the textbook bad Maseca flavors of bitter/sour.

Winner: Amapola           

No. 6 La Parrilla vs. No. 11 El Torito Grill: 
La Parilla’s tortillas are made from yellow corn and Thickish. Good texture. I wanted to like it more than I did but, was a bit bland. The perfect tortilla with butter and salt. El Torito Grill’s tortillas were from white corn. Super basic very sturdy tortilla with a hint of sweetness. No off-flavors. Would be fine for scooping up beans or accompanying a meal. 

Winner: La Parrilla

No. 3 Mitla Café vs. No. 14 Super A Foods: 
No contest here. Mitla has a beautiful yellow corn-forward flavor and excellent supple texture. Thick but not stody. Super A Foods were from white corn and tasted awful. So sour in the nose I didn’t want to take a bite. Super-sour to taste and brittle texture. Not a rollie.

Winner: Mitla Café

No. 7 Moreno Foods vs. No. 10 Ruben’s Bakery: 
Moreno Foods had no off aromas or flavors. A bit of puff despite thickness. Great texture. I wasn’t hopeful for Ruben’s due to the pale color and telltale marks of the conveyor but pleasant sweet flavor. Puffed as soon as it hit the comal. A good daily tortilla.

Winner: Ruben’s Bakery

2 Trader Joe's vs. No. 15 Número Uno: 
Trader Joe’s was a bit tough, yet still had a supple texture. Bland but no off-flavors. Número Uno was mealy with major off-flavors. 

Winner: Trader Joe’s


 No. 1 Tallula’s vs No. 9 El Molino de Oro
No. 5 El Indio vs No. 4 Amapola Deli & Market
No. 6 La Parrilla vs No. 3 Mitla Café
No. 10 Ruben’s Bakery’s vs No. 2 Trader Joe’s

Gustavo’s takeaway: The only real disagreement I have here was with Moreno Foods, which I found to be a great tortilla. Then again, Ruben’s looked so unassuming that I didn’t bother to taste it. They always say to never judge a tortilla by its looks…

“As for flavor, I hoped to have some with Tresierras, but it didn't deliver much with consistency and was overly dry,” says judge Mona Holmes. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Arellano.

Judge: Mona Holmes, KCRW Contributor 


No. 1 Taco Maria versus No. 16 La Banderita: 
Taco Maria is without question, a fantastic tortilla. The consistency is so moist but not overly so, reheats well, maintains its structure, good flavor, and is one I can eat on its own. La Banderita has very good flavor, a great bite, is slightly sweet and a delicious tortilla! But Taco Maria wins.

Winner: Taco Maria

No. 8 Ditroit Taqueria vs No. 9 The Taco Shop Mexican Kitchen: 
There's good flavor with Ditroit, a very good consistency — I actually wanted to reach for a second and third bite. As for Taco Shop, it's a solid tortilla, feels like it could be the base of a great quesadilla, but would have to lean towards Ditroit for this round.

Winner: Ditroit

5 La Canasta Tortilleria versus No. 12 Tortilleria Dios de Maíz:  
I liked this tortilla, but I love it more on the second taste. It's got a great bite and finish. Not overly chewy. Dios de Maíz is a fine tortilla! But in this round, it's not a standout. I would like just a bit more flavor even though it has good consistency. 

Winner: La Canasta

No. 4 La Rancherita Tortilleria (Santa Ana) vs. No. 13 Maria's Tortillas: 
La Rancherita tortilla isn't a standout for me and not worth getting past this round.  Maria's has a slight nuttiness as the finishing flavors, the right amount of salt, and a great bite.

Winner: Maria’s

No. 3 Carnitas El Rey vs. No. 14 Rancho Grande Market: 
Carnitas El Rey was not able to deliver here. The lack of flavor, salt, and poor consistency made it fail in this round. But Rancho Grande was a lovely tortilla with good flavor. It's safe to say I enjoyed eating it and loved the way it worked on its own and with salsa.

Winner: Rancho Grande

No. 7 Crazy Coyote Tacos versus No. 10 La Fe: 
Crazy Coyotes are very thick and solid with consistency and maintains its structure well. I found it more delicious after adding my own salt. La Fe is not a bad tortilla, but not great either. I found it lacking in flavor and crumbly.

Winner: Crazy Coyote

No. 2 La Princesita vs. No. 15 Tresierras Supermarket: 
Was a little stunned to try La Princesita and found it to be slightly sweet, pliable, and with a balanced amount of salt. As for flavor, I hoped to have some with Tresierras, but it didn't deliver much with consistency and was overly dry. 

Winner: La Princesita

No. 6 Tortilleria Lily's 11 La Superior Tortilleria: 
Lily's is a consistent tortilla. You can actually taste the lime in these tortillas and the structure is great. La Superior felt like a sad tortilla and was extraordinarily dry. It couldn't be helped with salsa or avocado.

Winner: Tortilleria Lily’s


No. 1 Taco Maria vs No. 8 Ditroit Taqueria
No. 5 La Canasta vs No. 14 Rancho Grande Market
No. 7 Crazy Coyote Tacos vs No. 13 Maria’s Tortillas
No. 2 La Princesita vs. No. 6 Tortilleria Lily’s

Gustavo’s takeaways: Although Carnitas El Rey still makes incredible carnitas, I knew from the moment I bought their corn tortillas this time around that they wouldn’t get far. They just didn’t look the same as the mighty, humongous tortilla that had advanced to two straight Suave 16s. Maybe it was an off-day for them. Maybe the change is permanent. But this is why we #TortillaTournament: true excellence is ever present, the mighty fall, the meek rise.

As for the La Rancherita upset? My brother-in-law’s not going to like THAT.

Ancho’s wins a round with their small, irregularly shaped tortillas with doughy Tex-Mex charm. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW.


Judge: Gustavo Arellano, L.A. Times columnist and KCRW Contributor


No. 1 Ancho's vs. No. 6 Sana:
Sana’s took forever to heat, and while the smell of toasted coconut flour is pleasant — kinda like sunscreen, actually — there was no pliability whatsoever. It tasted like the toast points you spread caviar on, but with less flavor. They were no match for the small, irregularly shaped Ancho’s and its doughy Tex-Mex charm. 

Winner: Ancho’s

No. 8 Masa Catalina vs. No. 9 One Stop Taco Shop: 
Masa Catalina’s flour tortilla is sold raw, a trend in flour tortillas that’s increasing. I got some flavored with garlic and chives at their usual spot at the Santa Monica Pico Farmer's Market, because they were sold out of corn. I was kind of hesitant to try them, but the flavor worked! The tortilla structure was perfect and fluffy, and the flavor was strong, but not overwhelming–would make a great quesadilla. Although it had the higher seed, Masa Catalina still scored an upset in beating One Stop Taco Shop, an Indio gas station whose flour tortillas are great but just couldn’t win this time.

Winner: Masa Catalina

No. 5 El Burrito House vs. No. 12 Maria's Tortillas:
Maria’s was a very thin flour tortilla, and it blistered with a bunch of small bubbles when I put it in the comal so that it looked like sangak. Unfortunately, it had an off-putting, synthetic smell that lingered even as the flavor was buttery. El Burrito House has oversized flour tortillas, thick and powdery that remind me of Jimenez Ranch Market in SanTana, an eternal favorite of mine. Rolled up, their tortilla looked like a wet chamois, but thankfully didn’t taste like one. Doughy and perfect, this type of flour tortilla isn’t readily available in SoCal. 

Winner: El Burrito House

No. 4 Graciana's Tortilla Factory vs. No. 13 Tortilleria Temecula: 
Graciana’s is one of the oldest tortillerias in Southern California, with a machine-made product that nevertheless puffs up and has a pleasing flavor. Tortilleria Temecula has one of the most distinctive tortilla package art in Southern California – a hot-air balloon! Sadly, the flavor is about as unremarkable as Temecula’s wines. 

Winner: Graciana’s

No. 6 Old Town Mexican Café vs. No. 11 Whole Foods 365: 
Whole Foods is a little bit thicker than your usual Southern California flour tortilla, perhaps owning to its Austin-ness. Its pleasant smell reminded me of a New Mexico-style flour tortilla since it’s slightly browner than most flour tortillas. The texture at first was good, but there was a bitterness at the end that ruined everything. Compared to Old Town, whose flour tortillas I saw made in front of me, and which sizzled the moment I threw it on the comal. It’s exactly what lard sounds like! 

Winner: Old Town Mexican Café

No. 3 Bar Ama vs. No. 14 Más y Más: 
Elevated Tex-Mex versus Kroger’s attempt at flour? 

Winner: Bar Amá

No. 7 Mírame vs. No. 10 Mejorado: 
Mejorado immediately sizzled and browned and bubbled like a great flour tortilla should. Thicker than its Burritos La Palma sibling. Maybe cooked a bit too fast. It would beat most tortillas here…but the tortillas at Mírame were a revelation — soft, chewy, redolent of its flour sourced from Sonora. Food writers nowadays make mucho hay about nixtamalized corn, but not enough flour tortilla makers pay attention to the flour that they use. Mírame did — and that pulled off the win.

Winner: Mírame

No. 2 Sonoratown vs. No. 15 La Banderita: 
Sonoratown cooks great, puffs up, and small but mighty—and the flavor! La Banderita is okay until the end, when it’s no longer okay. 

Winner: Sonoratown


No. 1 Ancho’s vs. No. 9 Mejorado
No. 5 El Burrito House vs No. 4 Graciana’s Tortilla Factory
No. 6 Old Town Mexican Café vs. No. 3 Bar Amá
No. 2 Sonoratown vs. No. 7 Mírame

Gustavo’s takeaways: All intriguing matchups, but the most interesting one will be Sonoratown versus Mírame, because you’ve got two acolytes of Sonora tortillas against each other. Who’s going to bring the bacanora? 

The staff of Burritos La Palma pose with their 2021 winning trophy. Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

Judge: Connie Alvarez, KCRW Communications Director


No. 1 Burritos La Palma vs. No. 16 Von’s Flour Tortillas
First of all, hello again, tortilla heaven called La Palma! Meanwhile, Von’s reminded me of hurried nights and desperate dinners... yup, they tasted just like El Pollo Loco's chewy blandness. 

Winner: Burritos La Palma

No. 8 Mama Blanquita vs. No. 9 Tortilla Land
The first was aight. Just aight. The second…despite the foot-long block of instructions for heating this raw tortilla, I managed to intuitively drop it on my comal. And it was good. 

Winner: Tortilla Land

No. 5 Manolo’s Farmer Market vs. No. 12 Baja Ranch Market:
Manolo’s busted through sleepiness and fed-upness on a hot morning! As for Baja Ranch Market: Do you know what nada tastes like? I do (with a slight tang). 

Winner: Manolo’s Farmers Market 

No. 4 Salazar vs. No. 13 Super A Foods: 
Salazar is so good, but it. needs a little salt. Which is a shame because this is like a yummy little cake. Super A, though, was magic. It puffed up with the thinnest of croissant layers. And it tasted just as buttery good. 

Winner: Super A Foods 

No. 6 Macheen vs.  No. 11 El Torito Grill
Macheen was a very different tortilla. It had an almost peppery flavor, was very powdery, crispy, and small. Not bad, but not usual. El Torito Grill — hm, this was surprisingly good! Now I know its flavor goes beyond that sweet butter the waiter would bring to the table back in El Torito Grill's chain heyday. 

Winner: El Torito Grill

No. 3 El Ruso vs. No. 14 La La’s 
I totally taste some animal fat with El Ruso. And that's not a bad thing! As for La La’s? Basically any flavor this one had came from my comal. I ate my comal. 

Winner: El Ruso

No. 7 Juanita’s III vs. No. 10 Poquito Más
Juanita’s III was light, but too light; its competitor was light and pleasant — how ‘bout that?

Winner: Poquito Más

No. 2 HomeState vs. No. 16 Great Value 

Winner: HomeState


No. 1 Burritos La Palma vs. No. 9 Tortilla Land
No. 5 Manolo’s Farmer Market vs. No. 13 Super A Foods
No. 11 El Torito Grill vs. No. 3 El Ruso
No. 10 Poquito Más vs. No. 2 HomeState

Gustavo’s takeaway: Leave it to Connie to have an underdog be in each part of the Week 2 bracket — but can any of them continue their streak against flour heavyweights?