ehind the swinging doors, past the tequila-clad bar where taco hopefuls muse over margaritas, there exists another world at La Taqueria’s Mount Pleasant branch—a beguiling tortilleria that captivates the senses with the earthy, floral aromas of fresh corn tortillas. And though the imported tortilla maker—a brutalist piece of gas-powered machinery that requires a full-time operator—is certainly a sight to behold, it’s the artful alliance of Mexican cooks led by Sonoran chef Maria Ponce that constitutes the heart of this operation. The passion is so palpable, it feels like you’ve just stepped onto Mexican soil.
Not all tortillas are created equal; the age-old process of nixtamalization pioneered by Meso-Americans—cooking and steeping dried corn kernels by adding slaked lime, resulting in nixtamal: the precursor to masa—warrants dedication, brawn, and time. Even then, the resulting masa (the dough made from corn flour that is used in tortilla production) is fickle to work with. “Making tortillas from scratch is an artform,” says La Taqueria founder Marcelo Ramirez. “It’s no different than making bread. Everything fluctuates—constantly.”
What remains as the constant is evident: you can’t have good tacos without great tortillas. In this light, chef Ponce’s commitment to the time-honored process is unwavering: “A tortilla should never break. It can’t be too dry, or too moist. The process is about discovering the right balance through trial and error, and most importantly, having an understanding of the grain.” Using heirloom varieties of Mexican and Canadian corn, La Taqueria’s crown jewel churns out over 100 kilograms of tortillas delivered daily to all of their branches.
Having left Guadalajara for Vancouver to accept the executive chef position in January of this year, Ponce is transported to the delicious food memories of her childhood thanks to the smell of fresh tortillas: “Cooking Mexican food is about love. Love of food, and of family. It will always remind me of home.”