The thinnest, most delicate flour tortillas you’ll ever taste come from a butcher shop. On the south side of Tucson at Los Amigos Meat Market, directly across from the glassed-in meat counter, there is a spectacular library of tortillas, stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves and in every imaginable size and shape, many of them so fresh the plastic bag they’re wrapped in is still warm to the touch and moist with steam. You can buy everything from tiny corn tortillas (perfect for bite-size tacos) to puffy gordita discs to mas grandes that unfold from neat squares into gigantic rounds. But the crown jewel of Los Amigos is a medium-sized flour tortilla whose only packaging is a clear baggie with a plain slip of paper inside that bears the modest inscription: “Tortillas by Anna.” In the past, I have asked about Anna. Who is she? How does she make these impossibly soft tortillas, slightly chewy and speckled with brown griddle spots? My string of questions has always been met with a tight smile and a hasty retreat, which probably has something to do with the fact that Los Amigos is in a part of Tucson where shops have hand-painted signs warning customers with guns they aren’t welcome inside.
I did some research and discovered that Anna isn’t such a mystery after all. She simply makes tortillas in the old-school, Sonoran-style way. Masters of this craft start with a bola (ball of masa), which skilled fingertips quickly pull into an eight-inch circle. For Stage Two, the disc is passed off to a colleague who further stretches and massages the dough until it could pass for 1,000-thread-count linen. Then, each side of the tortilla is cooked for 15 to 20 seconds on a long piece of sheet metal placed over a series of burners to keep the heat high and even.
On a recent trip to Los Amigos, I grabbed a stack of tortillas from the wrong shelf, something I didn’t realize until I got back home to Los Angeles and noticed that, this time, the sign-off inside the package read: “Tortillas by Esperanza.” I worried that I’d gotten the wrong brand and would wind up with rubbery, sub-standard tortillas, the same kind I could have picked up at my local supermarket. But I heated up one of Esperanza’s creations, bit into it, and learned something surprising: Anna has competition.
Los Amigos Meat Market, 3929 S. 12th Ave., Tucson, AZ (520-889-2969)