Southern California food goddess and host of KCRW-FM 89.9's Good Food Evan Kleiman rarely ventures into Orange County, but when she does, she's usually hanging out with my chica. One time for a segment, Evan went to El Toro Meat Market in SanTana, and has never fallen out of love with it, especially their tortillas. So rather than one of us wax poetic about the famous place, I'm turning over the mic to her…take it, Evan!
I love tortillas. No wait, that's too understated. I have a lifelong deep craving for corn tortillas, that's deeper than what I feel for bread, rice–yes even more than pasta. The dry, slightly sweet corn flavor, the charred aroma of a tortilla freshly heated atop the gas burner and the texture. Ah yes, the texture. And there we come to the conundrum, the disappointment, the betrayal of the modern mass-produced tortilla. Who thought it was a good idea to devolve the disk of life for Mexico from a springy, toothsome song to corn into a mealy thing that doesn't stand up in cooked dishes and has an off-putting sour taste?
Which is why we must give homage to the few places still left where a discerning eater can get a decent tortilla. Like El Toro in Santa Ana, where the magical process of corn transformation called nixtamalization happens every day. The labor of submitting field corn to an alkaline bath does more than soften and liberate the dry corn from the hull; it changes the chemical structure of the corn to allow it to hold together in a dough and gives us that incredibly satisfying bite of yielding firmness of the traditional tortilla (as well as making its nutrition accessible to the human body). Walk into the back of El Toro where the tortilla-making process begins, and you see huge troughs of corn soaking with “lime”, then being washed, drained and ground into the masa that will create thousands of tortillas (and tasty tamales) in a day.
Of course, El Toro also sells a cornucopia of foods ready to tuck inside that fresh tortilla and sauces to garnish it all. Don't miss the bags of chips made from slightly thicker tortillas–they are so dense each bite satisfies like you're chopping down on meat. Be careful. They are addicting.
GRADE: A-/B+, only because they're made by machine, not handmade. That's too much to ask for the volume they produce