#TortillaTournament week 1 recap: Upsets galore!

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Miramar Tortilleria in Boyle Heights: Gustavo's favorite machine-made corn tortilla. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

A cliche in sports says that you gotta play the game. In other words, just because you’re favored to win a matchup doesn’t mean you’ll win. 

You can also look to Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare thought it would win by virtue of its, um, hare-ness. But the tortoise won because its showed up to WIN.

That’s the theme of Week One of the #TortillaTournament. All our top seeds advanced, but we saw some major upsets, too. That’s why we match up tortillas in a sports-style format: because you never know who just might win!

A quick reminder of who’s judging: Good Food host Evan Kleiman and her producer, Nick Liao, are in charge of the corn tortillas; myself and KCRW mera mera Connie Alvarez handle the flour. I bought all these tortillas fresh, then froze them that day; everyone defrosted them at their home, and started to eat. 

Sabor a Mexico's tortillas are as large as a forearm--but their corn tortillas are better. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Sabor a Mexico's tortillas are as large as a forearm--but their corn tortillas are better. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

And now, the results for Week One. See it in bracket form here. And don’t forget to RSVP for our grand finale Sept. 8 at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes near Olvera Street, where the four finalists will offer samples of their tortillas!

CORN TORTILLAS

EVAN KLEIMAN BRACKET

#1 Taco Maria vs. 16 Calidad: Taco Maria is the Michelin-starred, James Beard-nominated Alta California restaurant in Orange County that makes their blue corn tortilla from heirloom corn. Calidad is the lower-market brand of GRUMA, the Thanos of the tortilla world. No contest. WINNER: Taco Maria.  

#8 Del Bajio vs. #9 La Mixteca: Two small Los Angeles-based tortillerias with weird distribution. We found La Mixteca at a store in Oxnard; meanwhile, La Venadita in Wilmington stocks the blue corn Del Bajio. Blue corn wins again. WINNER: Del Bajio

#5 La Tapatia vs. 12 Taco Mesa Tortilleria Organica: Taco Mesa is a famous taco chain in Orange County that opened up a tortilleria last year using organic corn for its flavored masa. It didn’t stand a chance against the Oxnard-based La Tapatia, whose tortillas gorditas were, according to Evan, “buttery, with great texture.” WINNER: La Tapatia.

#4 La Mazorca vs. 13 Taqueria Tortilla Factory: First upset of the tournament. The Riverside-based La Mazorca was a Suave Sixteen participant last year; this year, they couldn’t beat Taqueria Tortilla Factory, based in Cathedral City. The desert represents! WINNER: Taqueria Tortilla Factory.

#6 Tortilleria La Talpense vs. 11 La Rancherita - Oxnard: La Talpense is a San Fernando restaurant; La Rancherita, an Oxnard tortilleria. “Unfair matchup,” Evan writes. “Team Talpense is a beefy large tortilla while La Rancherita is a small delicate thin disc. Both were good. No off-flavors at all. But Talpense wins due to its super corny taste. I would use it for quesadillas while I would use La Rancherita for ripping and dipping.” WINNER: La Talpense.

#3 Miramar vs. #14 Julian's Tortilleria: Miramar in East Los Angeles is Gustavo’s favorite Southern California machine-made corn tortilla, buthe’s not the judge here. Evan gives it the edge over Julian’s, a Hawaiian Gardens restaurant that nixtamalizes and makes its own corn and flour tortillas but couldn’t beat Miramar, which has been in the game since 1955. WINNER: Miramar.

#7 Sabor a Mexico vs. 10 La Tolteca: Panorama City restaurant versus a Santa Barbara institution. Sorry, Tolteca; Sabor a Mexico’s handmade tortillas take time to make, but beat yours. WINNER: Sabor a Mexico.

#2 La Corona vs #15 El Campeon: La Corona in San Fernando nearly beat Fuerte Four Finalist Kernel of Truth last year; this year, they get beat by a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano. This is why we do the tournament, folks! WINNER: El Campeon. 

NICK LIAO BRACKET

#1 Kernel of Truth vs. #16 El Comal: From Nick: “Kernel had a toastier, corn-ier taste — more pliable.” No notes on El Comal, mostly because it’s forgettable. WINNER: Kernel of Truth.

#8 Acapulco Mexicatessen vs. #9 Tortilleria La Patria: Acapulco has been around since 1945; La Patria is in La Puente. Nick’s notes: “Face-off between yellow (Patria) and white. Acapulco tastes familiar, like a lot of the ones you get at taco trucks around town. Neither made a strong impression after tasting a bunch of other tortillas, but Acapulco gets the edge on flavor.” No-chill Nick! WINNER: Acapulco.

#5 Lenchita's vs. #12 La Gloria: Pacoima restaurant against Oxnard tortilleria. Nick’s notes: “La Gloria looks like a classic machine-cut white corn tortilla. A gordita-style tortilla, Lenchita’s seems more handmade with rustic edges, pleasantly cakey texture.” WINNER: Lenchita’s. 

#4 Tortilleria La Fiesta vs. #13 Tortilleria Mexico: Another upset. Nick’s notes: “La Fiesta was an impressively thin yet pliable yellow corn tortilla, on the smaller side. However, there were some sour notes that gave the edge to Mexico, despite it being a pretty standard yellow tortilla." WINNER: Tortilleria Mexico.

#6 Carnitas El Rey vs. #11 Arriola's: This is how serious we are about #TortillaTournament: This is a matchup between Oxnard and Indio! The ‘Nard’s buzziest taqueria versus what just might be the oldest continuously operating tortilleria in all of Southern California. But who wins? Nick’s notes: “Carnitas El Rey was the most visibly different tortilla of my bracket. It was larger, seemingly handmade, and also had these brown bubbly spots that reminded me of a flour tortilla. Was the corn cut with some wheat flour, I wonder? Or is there some fat in here? I could eat this by itself. Arriola's is a solid machine cut white tortilla but can't keep up.” WINNER: Carnitas El Rey.

#3 La Princesita vs. #14 Tortilleria El Ranchero: The East L.A. standard against a run-of-the-mill LA-based tortilla company. Nick’s notes: “Stalwart La Princesita pulls through on the merits of being a just solid workhorse yellow corn tortilla. In contrast, the batch of Ranchero tortillas I had was a little dry and crumbly.” WINNER: La Princesita.

#7 Tortilleria San Marcos vs. #10 La Rancherita - Santa Ana: Two La Rancheritas in the Corn Regional, but only one advances in an upset against Boyle Heights. Nick’s notes: “La Rancherita had a sturdy texture and pleasing chew — a no-nonsense white corn tortilla. San Marcos had some slightly sour notes and was brittle. Not for me.” WINNER: La Rancherita - Santa Ana.

#2 Guisados vs. #15 Sofia's: The taqueria chain versus a lower-shelf brand of La Fortaleza. But a near-upset! Nick’s notes: “I confess I like the old-school fine-ground texture of Sofia's. Reminds me of the corn tortillas they serve at King Taco. But Guisados has a freshly nixtamalized flavor that's hard to beat.” WINNER: Guisados.

CORN 2ND ROUND MATCHUPS

#1 Taco Maria vs. #8 Del Bajio

#5 La Tapatia vs. #13 Taqueria Tortilla Factory   

#6 Tortilleria La Talpense vs. 3 Miramar   

#7 Sabor a Mexico vs. #15 El Campeon

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#1 Kernel of Truth vs. 8 Acapulco Mexicatessen  

#5 Lenchita's vs. #13 Tortilleria Mexico   

#6 Carnitas El Rey vs. #3 La Princesita   

#10 La Rancherita - Santa Ana vs. #2 Guisados

And now, onto:

FLOUR TORTILLAS

CONNIE ALVAREZ BRACKET

#1 Sonoratown vs. #16 Calidad: See previous note about Calidad — they deserve cancel culture. Sonoratown was our Golden Tortilla winner last year. No contest. WINNER: Sonoratown.

#8 La Princesita vs. #9 Northgate Estilo Sonora: As proof of the popularity of Sonora-style tortillas in Southern California, the venerable Northgate Supermarket chain now makes ‘em. Meanwhile, the venerable La Princesita’s flour tortillas make an appearance this year after their corn tortillas made last year’s Suave 16. Sonora wins again, per Connie: “A little gummy, but good stretch for ingredients.” WINNER: Northgate Estilo Sonora.

#5 La Tolteca vs. #12 Arriola's: Farthest matchup of the tournament! The oldest tortilleria in Santa Barbara County (since 1946!) against Indio’s pride and joy since at least the 1920s. Who wins? An upset! Connie says Arriola’s has a “good flour flavor.” WINNER: Arriola’s

#4 Mexicali Taco vs. #13 Trejo Tortilla Factory: “Bland, needs salt,” Connie says about Trejo, which is NOT owned by Danny Trejo but rather a longstanding San Bernardino tortillería. Mexicali Taco, meanwhile, gets its flour from Sonora — BOOM. WINNER: Mexicali Taco.

#6 Sonoritas vs #11 Del Comal: Sonoritas is a Culver City taquería that, true to its name, makes Sonora-style tortillas; Del Comal is a brand of Tortilleria San Marcos. WINNER: Sonoritas.

#3 La Azteca vs. #14 Las Palomas: Eastlos against Compton? Cue the stereotypes. Or not. Connie, regarding La Azteca: “Pretty good - can taste the lard, or some beefy flavor that reminds me of way back with manteca.” WINNER: LA Azteca

 #7 La Venadita vs. #10 La Fiesta: La Venadita is Gustavo’s favorite place in Southern California for carne asada, and sells a lot of different tortillas; La Fiesta is a Long Beach tortilleria that’s behind a laundromat and whose corn tortillas made it into last year’s Suave 16. Gustavo likes La Venadita, but he ain’t the judge here! Connie goes with the WINNER: La Fiesta.

#2 HomeState vs. #15 Julian's: HomeState is one of the few places in Southern California that makes Tex-Mex-style flour tortillas and made it into the ¡Eso Eight! last year; Julian’s brings some shine to Hawaiian Gardens, according to Connie: “Slightly sweet, could use a tad more flavor, good texture.” Good, but not good enough to beat... WINNER: HomeState.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO BRACKET

#1 Burritos La Palma vs. #16 Gracias a Dios Tortillas: Burritos La Palma was one of Mr. Gold’s favorite flour tortillas; Gracias a Dios comes from Newport Beach -- ‘nuff said. WINNER: Burritos La Palma.

#8 Paco's Tacos Cantina vs. #9 Sabor a Mexico: Paco’s s a Cal-Mex classic that’s a particular favorite of Evan; Sabor a Mexico’s handmade flour tortillas are MASSIVE — as big as the legendary sobaqueras of Sonora. But they need more flavor; Paco’s, on the other hand, are thin and yummy. WINNER: Paco’s Tacos Cantina. 

#5 Chikali Tacos vs. #12 Las Cuatro Milpas: Chikali has gotten rightful buzz for its Tijuana-style tacos sold from the parking lot of a used-car dealer in Eastlos, but I found their tortillas de harina disappointingly bland. Las Cuatro Milpas, meanwhile, brought their game and made San Bernardino proud with the upset. WINNER: Las Cuatro Milpas

#4 Salazar vs. #13 La Rancherita - Oxnard: A dinner at Salazar remains one of the best patio experiences in Los Angeles, and their Sonora-style tortillas are as good as that of its sister restaurant, Mexicali Taco. I expected more from La Rancherita in Oxnard. Cool logo, though! WINNER: Salazar.   

#6 Fonda Moderna vs. #11 Taqueria Tortilla Factory: Fonda Moderna is the latest restaurant for OC chef Danny Godinez of Anepalco fame. He makes them from a machine, and they come out thin and chewy and wonderful for his high-end tacos. Taqueria Tortilla Factory from Cathedral City pulled off an upset in the corn bracket, but not here. WINNER: Fonda Moderna.

La Central in Oxnard has made flour tortillas since 1948. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Central in Oxnard has made flour tortillas since 1948. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

#3 Jimenez Ranch Market vs. #14 La Central: There’s a Jimenez Ranch in SanTana, and I just marvel at their powdery, misshapen flour tortillas that you have to order a day in advance. La Central (from Oxnard), as my notes say, is “Tex-Mex texture without the taste.” YIKES!!! WINNER: Jimenez Ranch Market.

#7 El Ruso vs. #10 Snack: Up-and-coming Tijuana-style taco wagon in East L.A. (just down the street from Miramar Tortilleria, my favorite machine-made corn tortilla in Southern California) that makes its own Sonora-style tortillas against the wheat tortilla of Tortilleria San Marcos. San Marcos had three entries in this year’s #TortillaTournament; not one advanced. Kinda like the Pac-12 in the NCAA basketball tournament, you know? WINNER: El Ruso.

#2 La Monarca vs. #15 Chipotle: The panadería chain makes its own flour tortillas for sale from Sonora-sourced wheat -- spectacular. I’m not a fan of Chipotle anything, but kudos to them for at least making their own flour tortillas. WINNER: La Monarca. 

FLOUR TORTILLA SECOND ROUND

#1 Sonoratown vs. #9 Northgate Estilo Sonora   

#12 Arriola's  vs. #4 Mexicali Taco   

#6 Sonoritas vs. #3 La Azteca

#10 La Fiesta  vs. #2 Homestate

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#1 Burritos La Palma vs. #8 Paco's Tacos

#12 Las Cuatro Milpas vs. #4 Salazar

#6 Fonda Moderna vs. #3 Jimenez Ranch Market

#7 El Ruso vs. #2 La Monarca