Roll up for tacos al pastor, quesadillas and fresh, hot tortillas at quirky La Tortilleria. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Authenticity - it's a hard ask when the item in question was first created 25,000 kilometres away about 10,000BC. But hold on to your sombreros, because this sunny, two-month-old tortilleria is producing Melbourne's - if not Australia's - most bona fide tortilla.
Diana Hull, 26, and Mexican Gerardo Lopez, 34, are the fresh faces of La Tortilleria, a tortilla bakery that sells warm, paper-wrapped tortillas and no-frills street food typical of Mexican taco stands.
''A lot of the corns weren't quite right,'' says Hull, who searched for six months to find an exact Mexican match, finally striking gold with a farmer in Queensland. ''Australia does grow it, but most of it's not human grade; it's mainly used for stock feed.''
Sample the lot with La Tortilleria's Amigo's Platter. Photo: Mal Fairclough
The Aztecs were mad for corn and would soak the kernels in white lime (calcium hydroxide), a process called nixtamalisation that helped increase the availability of amino acids, calcium and niacin (B3) and prevent disease from vitamin deficiencies.
With a bit of mechanical assistance, La Tortilleria follows the same ancient processes, lime-soaking the grains, crushing the masa (dough) in a motorised stone grinder, flattening it in the pressing machine, and then - ta da! - soft, sandy-coloured, beautifully textured hot tortillas. Buy them fresh (from about 11.30am), or vac-packed to take home.
''We've had some Mexicans nearly in tears because they can buy authentic tortillas,'' Hull says. She says most of the eatery's phone calls begin with, ''Hablas Espanol?'' The answer? Yes, almost all the staff speak Spanish.
La Tortilleria is a cute, quirky little place, a beacon on its industrial strip. Look for the street art, Mexican flag and riot of sunny yellows, turquoises and oranges. The plates are plastic, the menu simple and short, and most of the food is cooked on the little grill. ''That's our taco stand,'' Hull says.
There's a sensational guacamole with chopped jalapeno and baked tortilla chips; load up with hot sauces at the salsa bar.
Choose from three quesadillas, the tortillas folded over ''chorizo'', which is actually tofu marinated in chorizo spices; or beans and soft white cheese; or a slightly greasy stringy cheese mix that I reckon needed more salt.
There are tacos. The Carne Asada holds free-range beef with Mexican herb epazote, which Hull grows in her garden. There's a visually unappealing, low-sodium mushroom-and-cheese number; and the signature Al Pastor, the rocking free-range, chilli-marinated pork cut from the trompo - a vertical spit spiked with a whole pineapple.
The chicken sopes are pretty good, the thick tortilla discs topped with beans, lettuce and free-range meat.
La Tortilleria isn't fancy and it's not trying to be, but it is sweet and cheerful and upbeat. Good luck to Hull and Lopez, whose excitement about their business is palpable.
Do … try the chilli tequila, once LT's licence is approved.
Don't … ask for pork tacos on Thursday or Friday lunch.
Dish … Amigos Share Plate.
Vibe … upbeat, sunny and low-key.
BYO (corkage $2 a head; licence pending)
Twitter: @ninarousseau, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- 03 9376 5577
- Cuisine - Mexican
- Prices - Tacos, quesadillas and sopes $4.50-$6.50; take-home tortillas, $15 per kilo
- Features - BYO
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Thurs-Fri, noon-2.30pm; Thurs-Sun, 6-9.30pm; Sat-Sun, 11.30am-3.30pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau