9 a.m., Memorial Day. Santa Ana is mostly silent, sleeping off as much of the previous night's hangover as they can before venturing timidly out for extended-weekend menudo and birria. The line at Tortillería Flor de Mexicali looks jarring; it extends out the door and into the parking lot, people waiting patiently to pick up huge sacks of tortillas and masa.
Inside, it's all business. Chicharrones lay piled in a hot case to the left, carnitas simmer in metal cazos far in the back, and behind the counter are enormous vats of nixtamalizing corn and a large, tall automated press spitting out tortillas in three sizes at double-time. There are 4-inch tortillas for taquitos, 5-incy tortillas for tacos, and “large” tortillas for everyday table use.
The tortillas are fantastic; they have enough tensile strength to contain even the wettest of guisados, an appealing slaked corn taste without the bitterness of unleached cal, and they fold easily. When crisped for quesadillas, they don't color darkly, but that tensile strength turns into chewiness that provides some interest to what's just tortillas and cheese. The masa regular–quite expensive for masa at $1.00 a pound–makes even better tortillas than the machine, and can be patted into gorditas and sopes without having to knead water or lard into the masa.
One thing to know is that La Flor de Mexicali's tortillas shrink on the griddle more than any other we've reviewed for Tortilla Tuesdays; the “tortillas grandes” probably lost an inch in diameter, making them close to a normal-sized tortilla.
Tortillería Flor de Mexicali, 1212 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana; 714-751-4132; no website.
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