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May 4, 2011 12:14 PM

Restaurants are inappropriately using flour tortillas instead of corn? :(

Okay, I'm not Mexican but I grew up in southern California in a Mexican neighborhood and learned Mexican cooking from friends and in-laws in the area. Tacos such as carnitas, seafood or carne asada were always served in grilled corn tortillas. Quesadillas, likewise, were always made with corn tortillas. This was true in restaurants and households.

Flash forward a hundred years to my current abode in the Midwest. The town I live in has several Mexican restaurants. And they all make quesadillas with flour tortillas. Same thing with the soft tacos. Now, if asked, they will make the tacos with corn tortillas but the default is flour. They balk at making a quesadilla with anything but flour and will usually say that they only make them that way. There was one restaurant, no longer in business, that billed itself as serving authentic and traditional Mexican food and they did it correctly.

All of these restaurants are Mexican owned and operated. I'm tempted to ask them, "Is this how you make this at home?!" So I'm wondering if this is a trend in the Midwest only or is this taking hold all over? I know that I can visit L.A. or San Diego or San Francisco and still have it done properly at the neighborhood taqueria. Are Midwestern restaurants appealing to, or attempting to appeal to, uneducated palates? What gives?

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  1. In my (mostly east coast) experience, quesadillas are always made with flour tortillas, and tacos - soft or hard - are almost always made with corn tortillas.

    11 Replies
    1. re: small h

      Maybe it is that flour tortillas keep longer than corn? We have a tortilleria that I go to for breakfast occasionally and they serve fresh made tortillias, corn, w/your dish. When I buy a few "pacquetes", they seem to be no good after a day or two.

      1. re: ospreycove

        That may be the case. You can heat up an oldish flour tortilla, and it will still be okay. But an oldish corn tortilla is (in my opinion) not really salvageable. Also, corn tortillas are smaller than flour tortillas, so a quesadilla made with a corn tortilla would not be a good candidate for cutting into six pieces, which is how they're usually served in Manhattan, where I live.

        1. re: small h

          Well, I must respectfully disagree on the heating issue. Flour tortillas contain fat, which can go rancid and contribute an off flavor. Of course, I guess it depends on how you're heating it. Stale corn tortillas can be fried or used in dishes that have a liquid component and rendered palatable whereas they wouldn't be if simply grilled for a taco.

          Yes, corn tortillas are smaller. That's why when you order a quesadilla in a traditional taqueria it's either not as expensive as the flour ones OR you get 2 or three smaller quesadillas. The quesadillas I grew up with weren't meant to be Mexican-style cheese pizzas! :-)

          1. re: xhepera

            Oh, you'll get no argument from me. I make my own flour tortillas, and I microwave them or heat them in a cast-iron pan on days 2, 3 & 4 - they don't get any older than that. And I (a non-carnivore) make 'em with Crisco, which I don't think goes rancid, ever.

            I could not come up with one single place that serves corn tortilla quesadillas around these parts, save this one:


            Note that it's a kid-size portion. 'Cause the corn tortillas are small.

          2. re: small h

            I buy several dozen freshly made corn tortillas at a time and freeze half. The rest hold up for a couple of weeks. They might start to tear a bit towards the end of that time but still tasty.

            1. re: c oliver

              Maybe I'm too hard on the poor elderly corn tortillas. The only time I have them at home is as part of a take-out order, and I don't think the leftover ones are very good. I've never bought them fresh in bulk (I'd have to haul my ass out to Queens for decent ones), so perhaps I just don't know what I'm missing.

              1. re: small h

                I do fry them up in just a sheen of lard, not crunch but some slightly crisp spots. I'm sure that helps.

                Oh, you poor baby! All the way to Queens?? How do you bear it? I drive 100+ miles roundtrip :)

                1. re: c oliver

                  I know it sounds a bit ridiculous. But the route from my house to Tortilleria Nixtamal involves a bus (15 minutes), two subways (40 minutes) and a 15 minute walk. You could drive your 100 miles in the time it takes me to get there and back.

                  1. re: small h

                    Oh, I know. We used to live in SF and distances were measured in time not miles :)

        2. re: small h

          Fresh ones will always be SO much better! The less fresh are still good for things like chilaquiles or quesadillas though. Just not for tacos or out-of-hand eating.

          1. re: small h

            Well, except for the quesadillas they've got it right! :-)

          2. I think it all has to do with the availability of fresh corn tortillas. In big California cities, there are lots of great little tortillarias turning out fresh, delicious corn tortillas, which are IMHO the greatest tortilla there is. But corn tortillas don't last very long. In the Midwest, the only corn tortillas around are the mass-produced ones at the supermarket that have sat in a bag for a month, making them rubbery and tasting like nothing. Whereas flour tortillas can sit around for a while and still be decent when heated. So, in the Midwest, people would rather have a decent flour tortilla than a crappy corn tortilla, and that becomes the standard after a while.

            I always preferred flour because I'd never had a good, fresh corn tortilla. When I finally did, it took me a little while to come around from my former preferences, but now I'm corn all the way (if it's fresh).

            17 Replies
            1. re: monopod

              Good point. I buy my tortillas from a small Hispanic market here that gets very fresh tortillas and freezes or refrigerates them.They have a high enough turnover so that they're never stale. When I buy them at the supermarket it's only to make something like chilaquiles, for which "stale" tortillas are best. If I'm feeling *really* industrious I make my own, but that can be such a pain sometimes. ;-)

              1. re: xhepera

                Ahh, Texas Migas, (chilaquiles), now that is comfort food!!!

              2. re: monopod

                I guess it boils down to a matter of taste, and at 58 yrs of age I'm more comfortable with what I grew up with and have had all my life. My friends and family in L.A. are appalled when I tell them about the flour tortilla thing here. I recently went to a restaurant and ordered a carne asada taco and an order of taquitos. The taquitos were done with flour tortillas and I sent them back. For the carne asada I specifically ordered a corn tortilla and got something that looked like it was from Taco Bell! I told the server that I wanted a soft tortilla. She apologized and brought me back one done with a flour tortilla. *sigh* I'm sorry, but it did not taste good or "right." Soooo, what I did was throw some refried beans on it and a bit of pico de gallo, rolled it up and pretended it was a mini-burrito. That worked.

                On the other hand, at the restaurant that is now out of business, I ordered a carnitas taco and a quesadilla. Both came with flour. I told the server that I wanted corn and he told me they didn't do that! As he was returning to the kitchen, the owner stopped him and asked what the problem was. After a brief conversation with him she came to me and asked what I wanted. I told her. She beamed at me like she had found a long lost friend who appreciated the way it should be done. She then told me that she would make me some corn tortillas "a mano" (by hand.) Every time I went there after that she always made my corn tortillas by hand, extremely pleased that I enjoyed them so much. One time she came out and apologized, saying that they were so incredibly busy that she didn't have time to do them and would packaged be okay. Loved that place!

                1. re: monopod

                  whoa. "the midwest" is a pretty big place. you won't have too much trouble getting fresh corn tortillas in chicago or other metro areas in "the midwest." however in many areas of "the midwest," mexican immigrants opened eateries serving northern mexican style foods--including the use of flour tortillas, because that is where they originally came from. the op has decided there is only one monolithic mexican cuisine-- which is as problematic as saying there is one monolithic italian cuisine or or one monolithic indian cuisine or one monolithic american cuisine. reminds me of a guy who looked at the menu of an excellent northern italian restaurant and claimed it couldn't be italian because there was no pasta and red sauce. he was convinced the owners must be chinese because of the risotto on the menu.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    Well, I'm the. OP and I claim no such thing. Please don't put words in my mouth. I have been very careful to say that things are what *I* am used to and grew up with. And also that perhaps it's just a matter of taste. What I've said is no different from people in Italy, for example, who say that *their* area's bolognese is the way it *should* be made. I'm much too old and experienced to ever claim that my way is gospel.

                    1. re: xhepera

                      the title of the op contains the word "inappropriately"-- inappropriately, to whom?

                      please tell me how your strong, non-ambivalent use of "improper" and "proper," as well as the words "authentic," "traditional" and "correct/ly" in your op is me somehow misreading your intent? sorry, but i'm not putting any words in your mouth that you didn't write yourself, or inventing any premise which you haven't already stated:

                      "Are Midwestern restaurants appealing to, or attempting to appeal to, uneducated palates?"

                      perhaps you should put your very neutral and inoffensively worded question to chef rick bayless, i'd be interested to hear his response.

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        It was use of the question mark that the OP brings doubt into the original hypothesis.

                        I would not attribute all flour tortillas and burritos served by Mexicans in the US as a product of what they grew up with. I think it is often bowing to the tastes of an American public.

                        1. re: Steve

                          Thanks Steve. You and others got what I was asking.

                        2. re: soupkitten

                          I take it your close reading did not take into account the fact that I put a question mark at the end of my topic head? I also take it that you did not read any of my other comments in the thread in which I say that I think that folks who replied are likely correct in citing the geographical element as a reason for the difference?

                          You say that "the op has decided that there is only one monolithic Mexican cuisine." Nothing could be further from the truth. You're talking to someone who can prepare four, different, regional moles from scratch when most people think mole poblano is the only mole.

                          In any case, I know for a fact that Rick Bayless would agree with me on one of my points. He's on record as saying that in Mexico, quesadillas and flour tortillas have nothing to do with one another. I refer you to the episode about quesadillas on his PBS show, "Mexico—One Plate at a Time." It's episode 708. And Bayless is always careful to point out when he's interpreting what he considers to be a "traditional" dish.

                          1. re: xhepera

                            And here's what Diana Kennedy (maybe a tad more of a authority than Bayless) has to say about it:


                            1. re: c oliver

                              "Quesadillas Quesadillas are tortillas, usually corn but also flour, that are folded over a filling of cheese, sometimes with the addition of an epazote leaf, squash blossom or other ingredient, and cooked on a greased or ungreased griddle until the cheese is melted and the tortilla begins to become crisp. In some areas an uncooked corn tortilla is folded over the cheese and sealed like a turnover, then fried in oil until crisp"

                                1. re: paulj

                                  A curious twist on the masa based quesadilla are los pastes from the state of Hidalgo


                                  This is a Cornish Pasty with a Mexican flair, originating with Cornish miners who came to the area nearly 2 centuries ago.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    This sounds so delicious and I've never heard of it! I'll have to try this some day. Thanks for the link.

                              1. re: xhepera

                                i guess i'd still like to know why you think it's appropriate to paint the entire area that is "the midwest" with your broad brush. are you seriously saying that given your local restaurants' offerings, therefore that somehow people can't get corn tortillas in mexican restaurants in chicago, cleveland, detroit? topolobampo caters to "uneducated palates" while your local corner taqueria in l.a. caters to refined ones? that's. . . a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

                                btw i certainly don't have any problem whatsoever w finding my alambres on corn double-stacks in minneapolis. you haven't disclosed where your residence, which we apparently are to presume is the representative capitol of "the midwest" (wink wink). . . if it's a podunk town 50 miles northeast of topeka, well yeah, of course-- the mexican restaurants may leave a little something to be desired-- as well as the hospitals and the local symphony orchestra. . . that doesn't justify stating that cleveland's orchestra must be crap because it's also in "the midwest," or that rochester mn must be pretty weak on the healthcare front based on m.d. dave's family practice clinic on main street. frankly your op reads like just another biased post which disparages a whole region and invites others to pile on, based on your expectations that may or may not be out of whack for where you are living. naturally there will be trade-offs for folks moving from large metro areas to very small ones-- the good news is that if corn tortillas in "the midwest" are your personal biggest letdown, you can get 'em fedexed from wherever you prefer.

                                in your op you state "All of these restaurants are Mexican owned and operated. I'm tempted to ask them, "Is this how you make this at home?!" "
                                yes i did read your op carefully-- and to me, this reads as if you don't think that anyone originally from mexico would use a flour tortilla under any circumstances in their own home. okay. so now halfway thru the thread you've flip-flopped and are stating that you *do* think some folks use/prefer flour tortillas, based on their original home/family's region, and that you *don't* think there is one, monolithic mexican cuisine. so. . . you haven't asked anybody running/owning your new local restaurants where they are from, or anything about the food they may specialize in, on or off-menu. i wonder: why not? how do you know you aren't being quite insulting to folks from sonora (for example) when you reject the food they prepare out of hand, insisting instead on mexico-city style or cal-mex preparations? would you know a great beef barbacoa, for example, served with hot flour tortillas, if it landed on your table and waved its little arms around, or would you walk out the door in disgust, or send it back, as you've described doing with other dishes accompanied by flour tortillas in your follow-up posts? would you also hate on a japanese restaurant that served ramen and udon noodles, but no sushi-- or a south indian vegetarian restaurant, because of the absence of chicken vindaloo or korma on the menu-- or would you actually taste food that doesn't quite click w your own expectations, and try to judge it on its own merits, without trying to dictate to the restaurant how food should "properly" be prepared?

                                if you actually eat as widely and adventurously as you are claiming to, i don't understand the point of your original post, which seems like someone wanting "proper" cookie cutter l.a.-style taqueria food in "the midwest," no changes, no variations.

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  I still think you are misinterpreting the OP. The OP blatantly says what their history and experiences were. That's what is 'known' to the OP. By asking the question, the OP was willing to learn, so a change during the thread was called for. I think it's rare on Chowhound when someone can admit to a change in attitude during a thread.

                                  For example, where I live there is a taqueria that has a 50/50 clientele of hispanic and non-hispanic. It sometimes takes a long time to get your food, plus I eat my stuff there at one of the four stools. Almost eveyrone gets there food to go. In all my many times of eating there, I have heard plenty of orders come and go. I can honestly say I have never seen a hispanic person order a burrito there. They are sometimes getting huge sacks of twenty tacos to go, but never the burritos. It's like they don't exist. Meanwhile, most non-hispanic orders will include burritos. My conclusion is that burritos are an invention by and for the non-hispanic. If I were to post about that and I was corrected by someone, then you might find a similar thread.

                        3. re: monopod

                          OK, I live in the Midwest and freshly made corn tortillas are widely available here, made by local Hispanic grocers and tortillarias. Have been for decades.

                        4. I think flour tortillas for soft tacos is a Taco Bell thing. They make no claim for being authentic. I think the phrase they use is "Mexican Inspired" so I don't think they are at fault. I know a ton of people that like them that way. I do have a little Mexican restaurant a block away that has a couple of grannies in the back patting their own corn tortillas all day. Good stuff.

                          1. I believe the answer to your query may come from geography. Generally speaking, flour tortillas are more prevelent and popular in the North of Mexico while corn reigns supreme in the rest of the country. In most regions, except Sonora, Chihuahua and Baja del Norte, when one asks for tortillas, corn tortillas will be served.

                            Perhaps your Midwestern Mexicans are from the Northern regions of Mexico. I have a friend who is from Sonora and her husband is from Oxacaca in the South. They're a divided family -- she eats flour tortillas while he eats corn. Since they've been married over 30 years, I don't expect this to change. Their "mixed marriage" has produced both corn and flour tortilla fans in their children.

                            1. It's definitely a regional thing, although I'm a little puzzled still...from what I've heard in the past, in very broad, sweeping, generalizations, northern Mexicans tend to eat Flour tortillas and live in the Southern US, since they can return home fairly easily. Southern mexicans can't go easily either way, so often moved north. All I know is, I can't find a flour tortilla in Chicago that is 1/4 as good as the ones I had in San Antonio.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mlipps

                                Mexicans in Chicago are predominately from central and southern Mexico. More than a few grocery stores carrying tortillas from multiple factories do not even stock flour tortillas from some factories. I tend to pick the brand of corn tortillas based on which ones are warmest from the factory.

                                The Latino population of Chicago itself was 778,862 in the 2010 census. I would guess that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of these have Mexican origins, so the market is pretty large.