"We get a lot of people who assume our Mexican food isn't authentic just because we only use flour tortillas in our tacos," says Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez.
I've just sampled almost every item on the menu at his 15-seat taqueria, Sonoratown, which he opened with his girlfriend Jennifer Feltham in downtown Los Angeles. "But I just explain to people, 'No, this is actually the way that tacos are served in my hometown of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.'"
In a city known for its breadth of regional variations on tacos, Feltham and Rodriguez are the first to open a taco shop strictly dedicated to the flour tortilla-based tacos of Sonora. They may face an uphill battle—along with other Northern Mexican restaurants like Mexicali Taco & Co., Salazar, and Loqui—in convincing Angelenos to start taking flour tortillas seriously, but all it takes is a single bite of their tacos, quesadillas, or traditional chivichangas to make you rethink your entire perception of Mexican food. Eight months after opening their doors, the bold move to refuse to serve tacos on corn tortillas appears to be working out for them.
On a Tuesday afternoon, the line to order a taco snakes outside the restaurant and Feltham takes time to explain the concept to every befuddled person in line, each one with a smile just as big and as enthusiastic as the last. I'm positive that half the people in line were drawn in just by the smell of their mesquite-grilled carne asada, which can be detected from a block away. (That charcoal grill is the only cooking vessel in the entire restaurant.) In the back, a tortillera makes the dough for their 400 or so tortillas by hand every morning and pumps them out at about a second per tortilla.
The idea to open such a boldly different taqueria had always been a dream for them when Feltham and Rodriguez met 12 years ago, working in restaurants. "Teo romanticized the tacos of his hometown so much and I'm not going to lie that as a native Angeleno, I thought I've had all the tacos to be had," Feltham says. "But I was very young and naive back then." To prove her wrong, Rodriguez drove Feltham to his hometown and she was blown away. When they got back to LA, they couldn't find even one taqueria that offered Northern-style tacos, so they decided to create one themselves.
The first challenge was finding a tortillero or tortillera who knew how to make San Luis Rio Colorado-style flour tortillas, and was willing to make lots of them. "We went to every tortilleria in East LA and Boyle Heights and everyone slammed the door on our face and said we were crazy for wanting to make handmade flour tortillas," Feltham says with a laugh. "They all said it couldn't be done with their equipment." That's when Feltham and Rodriguez started to place job listings on La Opinion and finally found Julia Guerrero, a native of Mexicali who learned how to make tortillas in her hometown and now works for the duo every day.
The second challenge for Rodriguez was being able to accurately recreate the simple joys of the grilled meat of his hometown in downtown LA. Instead of pretending they knew what they were doing, they hired Javier Campas to consult on their opening menu. He is the founder of one of San Luis Rio Colorado's best taquerias, Asadero Campas, and he is working his magic on the grill at Sonoratown as the grill cook to this day. It turned out that the simple secrets to recreating that carne asada depended on four factors: using beef that has never been frozen; using a fattier, higher quality unique short rib cut named abuja; using only salt—no marinade—to season it; and cooking it over an open fire. As soon as they identified those factors, they opened the doors to their restaurant. Against the odds, people showed up and the positive accolades started to flow in right away.
Sonoratown's tacos will most likely knock the socks off even the snobbiest of Mexican food enthusiasts. The tortilla melts in your mouth as easily as the charred, smoky meat does. If you've only had deep-fried, American-style chimichangas and not the delicately grilled pillows filled with tender shredded beef or chicken, Anaheim peppers, and Monterey Jack cheese, you will probably realize that you have been cheated out real chivichangas Sonorenses your entire life.
The power couple's next ambitious project will be to recreate Sonora's famed sobaquera flour tortillas, which are as thin as a bed sheet and about four times the size of a normal flour tortilla. Feltham says that she has seen her customers tear up after eating the tacos at Sonoratown, because the flavor and components are all so accurate.
"There is just something so beautiful and emotional about having someone prepare fresh tortillas for you. It just has this way of provoking a sense of nostalgia and love."