Dining With Denise Neil

Fresh, hot, cheap tortillas always available in Wichita

You could throw a bag of tortillas packaged in a far-away factory into your cart at the grocery store.

Or, if you’re a Wichitan, you could take advantage of the fact that the city has several tortillierias that make them fresh every day. Go there, and you can get tortillas while they’re still warm, right off the tortilla press.

Wichita’s large Hispanic population affords residents the luxury of getting fresh tortillas whenever they want. At least four tortillierias operate in town, including Tortilleria Los III Potrillos at 306 West 29th St. North, La Tradicion at 1701 N. Broadway, Anahuac Tortilla Mexican Restaurant at 2792 S. Seneca and Tortilleria Rodriguez at 1859 N. Waco.

The stores all have their own tortilla-making machines in the back, where early each morning a crew of workers starts early making dough, pressing it and packaging tortillas for sale. Wichita’s tortillierias make corn, flour and wheat tortillas, and a big pile of them is surprisingly inexpensive. At many tortillas, customers can get a two-pound stack of warm corn tortillas wrapped in paper, for $2.50. Flour tortillas are about $2.50-$3 for a dozen.

In Mexico, tortillerias are everywhere. Mexican families use tortillas for almost every meal, and they drop by daily to pick up fresh batches from their neighborhood stores.

“It’s a daily thing,” said Esther Orona, who owns Tortilleria Los III Potrillos with her husband, Jesus. “They wait until the time they’re going to eat and go get some tortillas.”

The Oronas have been operating their tortilleria for a decade. Jesus comes from a family of tortilleria owners, who have businesses in Colorado and Nebraska, too.

Their giant store, which sits next door to Cortez Mexican Restaurant at 29th and Broadway, also sells groceries and serves to-go burritos, chrurros, pastries, prepared Mexican meats like barbacoa and carnitas, homemade tortilla chips, Mexican ice cream bars and more.

But the bulk of their business is tortillas. Every day, they turn 700 pounds of white flour and 300 pounds of masa flour into fresh tortillas. Flour tortilla production is more complicated and takes from early in the morning until about 1 p.m. The corn tortillas don’t take long, and the whole run is done in two hours.

Visitors to the shops can see the tortilla-making process. It involves mixing up dough, putting it into a machine that balls the dough, allowing the dough to rest and proof, then feeding each ball into a press that sends the flattened dough through an oven on a conveyer belt.

There’s nothing quite like eating a warm tortilla, fresh off the press. And cooks find that the fresh tortillas make their tacos and enchiladas taste even better.

“Our tortillas don’t have any preservatives,” Esther Orona said. “You can tell right away in the smell and in the taste.”

Wichita’s main tortillerias also sell their tortillas in Mexican grocery stores all over the north side, and they’re also available at both Juarez Bakery locations.

Some restaurants use fresh, Wichita-made tortillas, including District Taqueria at 917 E. Douglas, which makes its tacos with La Tradicion’s tortillas. But that practice is unusual because, without the preservatives found in mass-produced tortillas, they don’t last as long. Fresh tortillas must be used within a day or two or fried or baked into tostadas or chips.

Esther Orona said that many of her customers are local cooks who want fresh tortillas for their Mexican spreads. Many more are Mexico natives, happy to find a small comfort of home.

“A lot of our customers think it’s wonderful that we can do that,” she said. “It makes them feel like they’re home.”

Wichita tortillerias

Tortilleria Los III Potrillos, 306 W. 29th St. North, 316-831-0811: A Mexican grocery with prepared foods and sweets that specializes in flour, corn and wheat tortillas. Open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Thursdays.

La Tradicion, 1701 N. Broadway, 316-264-3148, www.latradicionks.com: Mexican restaurant and tortilleria specializing in corn and flour tortillas. It makes all the tortillas it uses in its restaurant, too. 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tortilleria Rodriguez, 1859 N. Waco, 316-267-6600: Small Mexican restaurant and tortilleria selling fresh corn and flour tortillas. 8 a.m. -7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.

Anahuac Tortilleria/Restaurant, 2792 S. Seneca, 316-303-9967: Mexican restaurant and tortilleria specializing in flour and corn tortillas. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.