What, you thought your last name had to end in -a, -o or -z to be able to review tortillas? Nope! The humble disk of corn, the legacy of pre-Columbian Mexico, is a staple not just for Mexicanos; they're indispensable even in European-mutt households.
La Reina is a market with a bad location: catercorner to the much more popular (but much less tortilla-riffic) Jax Market at the corner of East and Sycamore in Anaheim. It's got a weird parking lot and it's not a particularly welcoming-looking place, but it doesn't matter: the pursuit of great tortillas knows no fear.
Head back, past the brightly-lit meat counter, past the stacks of La
Costeña chiles and canned mole sauce, and most importantly, past the
stacks of tortillas on the shelf as you enter. They may be there for
decoration or for gabachos who don't know better, but the real
tortilleria is further back in the store, through a short, narrow
hallway that looks like it should lead to the stockroom.
This is a real tortilleria, a place redolent with the scent of
nixtamalized corn, where you'll join the (usually short) line to
purchase tortillas hot from the press. They're kept in tubs behind the
counter, under thick towels to keep them warm. A small package of 36
tortillas will cost you $1.59.
If you're a DIY freak (or a Good Eats devotee), you can purchase your
tortillas at whatever stage you would like. If all you want to do is
press them out and throw them on a comal, buy masa (with or without
chile). If you want to grind it and mix it yourself, buy nixtamal; if
you want to start from the beginning, you can buy raw field corn and cal (slaked lime), all for impressively low prices.
The tortillas are very, very good, even “raw” out of the bag and spread
with a little butter. They don't flake, they don't separate, they don't
crack, and they're not too thin. The only objection is that they tend to
stick together, making it a little difficult to extract just one.
Cooked on a comal, or right on the burner of the gas stove, the corn-y
flavor comes out strongly. Most importantly, they puff when you cook
them; so many “store brands” just sit there limply on the burner. They
crisp beautifully, and they make great quesadillas with a little milky
queso Oaxaca from the meat counter.
La Reina Meat Market, 508 N. East St., Anaheim; (714) 772-0582. Other
locations (not reviewed and not necessarily equipped with
tortillerias): 909 N. Tustin Ave., Orange; (714) 997-9524. 211 S. Harbor
Blvd., La Habra; (562) 691-4285.