Not-So Starving Artists: Katie Boyts on Tortilleria Sinaloa Tacos
The tortilla is the thing. Corn tortilla to be exact. In a place called “Tortilleria,” they are the gods to which all taco fillings kowtow. All the juiciest barbacoa in the world couldn’t begin to compete with the position of the omnipotent tortilla.
Every time I eat corn tortillas, I’m reminded of the sounds of women in Guatemala making them in little rooms right off the road. You could hear them being made as you walked down the street. Slap slap slap, the dough passing between their hands, their palms doing the work of a thousand tiny parts of a big machine. My Guatemalan host sister would go out with her small round tortilla basket and colorful cloth napkin and come back with a stack of the medallions, warm and steaming. Not from a microwave but from their recent run-in with a hot plate.
Walking into Tortilleria Sinaloa, I was immediately drawn to the large green and silver, antique-looking machine behind the counter, the tortilla-maker. I wanted to play with it. I wanted to take pictures of it. I wanted to eat the tortillas that came from its machinistic belly. It looked like a museum piece, but don’t be mistaken, they’re not serving museum food at Sinaloa. Museum food, to me, is food that is kept around purely for nostalgia’s sake, food that is no longer relevant but in our clinging to the past, we can’t let it go. So it sits, uneaten, behind glass (metaphorically speaking), rusty and stale.
In contrast, the tortillas at Tortilleria Sinaloa are stacked like gold coins, like magic wafers you put in your mouth at communion. They are divinely simple – just masa, water and salt. I love them for the same reason I love bread – so elementary, so nourishing somehow. And also really really really cheap to make at home.
With minimal seating and tiny standing room for ordering at the counter, Sinaloa feins a “hole-in-the-wall-esque” demeanor, but is far too clean and Chris saw way too many people he knew to be dubbed that, in my book. All of them exited with a tall stack of tortillas in-hand. So many people are visiting the tiny spot on Eastern Avenue that they’re opening a second location on Central in the old By Degrees Cafe spot.
the pastor (pork)
the lengua (beef tongue)
the pollo (chicken)
the barbacoa (barbeque)
chips and salsa (Duh)
Eggs with sausage and beans.
If you’re into weird kitsch shit – eat the Old Bay taco. I steered clear, thank you very much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t get the Old Bay thing. And that a tiny Mexican restaurant has an obligatory Old Bay option seems culturally problematic to me. But that’s another story. Ahem.
The tacos at Tortilleria Sinaloa are fantastic. There’s nothing worse than when a pastor taco has too much pineapple in it and… Ok, that’s entirely untrue but still… Sinaloa’s pastor was laced with pineapple but not too much. Pineapple perfection, one might say. But shouldn’t.
The barbacoa was tender–melting faster than chocolate on your tongue. The green salsa was the best of the two, spicey and bright and seasoned perfectly. I loved that the chips came in a plastic ziploc bag. I (secretly) loved that the beans came in a styrofoam cup. I drank a Coca-Cola, of course. It is what one should drink when eating tacos. And I loved it.
But what really stood out was the eggs with sausage and beans dish. Chorizo is mixed in with eggs, then scrambled perfectly, turning the eggs into a better, bright orange version of themselves. The chorizo has the strong flavor of cloves, in the best way, bordering on Christmas but not quite. The eggs were cooked perfectly and served with refried beans, which were rich but by my account not cooked with lard (just so you know). And then came the tortillas. With the eggs and sausage dish you get that basket of warm tortillas wrapped in the colorful cloth and nestled into the woven vessel and you make your own tacos. Heaven is my own personal taco bar so… this was it.
Breakfast tacos, regardless of the time of the day you’re eating them, in my opinion, should always be built on the solid foundation of some good refried beans. I feel like this gets missed a lot – people go straight for the eggs and often leave out the beans entirely. But the rich, protein-packed punch of pinto beans is not to be missed and Sinaloa nailed it here. I made my own little tacos of beans, eggs and chorizo, guacamole and salsa. A big meal for $5.35.
Sinaloa does not neglect any detail. Perhaps it would be easy to make the best tortillas (which they do) and leave the rest to fate. Cross your fingers and lean on that one thing, hoping the singularity carries you along. But they don’t have any such crutch. They’ve missed nothing. And other than slightly uninteresting chicken, everything shined. But don’t mistake, the tortilla is and probably always will be the thing. That machine will hopefully be loved and nurtured and steer clear of the museums. It will keep churning out the kilos of gold coins as any tortilleria should.
Author Katie Boyts is a pastry chef with a love of affordable carbs and the host of the Baltimore chapter of CreativeMornings.
All photos by Chris Attenborough.