La Tortilleria is a small operation with big ambitions: to create the most authentic tortillas in town. Nestled amongst the warehouses of Stubbs Street in Kensington, La Tortilleria is pumping out real tortillas and purports to be the only place in Melbourne – actually, the only place outside the US and Latin America – that’s doing so.
With Mexican-born Gerardo Lopez and his Australian partner Diana Hulls at the helm, it stands out as a quiet beacon of authentic Mexican food. Within weeks of arriving in Melbourne in 2009, Lopez found himself at a new Mexican restaurant. “All I thought was, ‘This is really good food, but it’s not my Mexican food’,” he says.
Lopez realised that it was the real tortillas that were missing. Believing that tortillas are the basis of good Mexican cuisine, he knew he was onto something. He shared the idea with his partner Diana Hulls in 2012 and she was immediately on board.
Hulls set out on a research trip to Mexico, where she spent three months working in tortillerias [authentic Mexican tortilla bakeries]. She worked for free and learned the entire craft and process, from sourcing the corn, to using the tortilla machine.
Her knowledge proved invaluable when designing what would become their own tortilla machine, which had to be modified for use back in Australia. But the duo quickly found that finding the best corn to make the best tortillas was the hardest part.
According to Lopez, “A lot of the corn we eat in Australia is imported and it’s already milled.” That means that most of the tortillas made in Australia are made with imported corn flour, which has a different consistency and is often packed with preservatives.
The couple spent six months speaking to farmers and testing different varieties of corn before finally finding the right source. “We’re very small, we’re not a multinational organisation, so a lot of people didn’t want to work with us, but Diana really took it on as her challenge and she found the right person and place in Queensland,” Lopez says.
“We want people to experience the real Mexico, sourced with Australian products,” he says of their tortillas, which are vegan, gluten and additive-free. Opening La Tortilleria has also given the couple the opportunity to meet the wider Mexican community. “Before we opened this place, we only knew about two Mexican people here and now we know hundreds because they all come in.”
Weekends are the busiest periods for La Tortilleria, when the place is crowded with Mexican families picking up their tortillas for the week by the kilo. “Some people have started to cry because our tortillas taste like home,” Lopez says.
When the tortilla machine is fired up, people watch as the lime-soaked grains become the dough, which is then crushed on a stone grinder and goes into the pressing machine, later emerging as a perfect tortilla.
Lopez describes the eatery as a “real, Mexican concept” and nothing too fancy. “You come in, have your tacos, have a couple of beers and then you pick up some fresh tortillas and then you’re going off to see friends.”
There are colourful and cosy rooms at the back, where diners can sit and enjoy tacos that don’t fall apart in their hands. There are also quesadillas and sopes, as well as some of the best guacamole on this side of the Pacific.
But at the end of the day, La Tortilleria is all about the tortilla, and they’re available in stacks (fresh or vacuum-packed) and by the half-kilo or kilo. As Lopez puts it: “Great tortillas make great Mexican taste better.” There’s no argument here.
72 Stubbs Street, Kensington
Wed to Fri
Sat & Sun
Retail Tortilla Enquiries: (03) 9376 5577
Wholesale Tortilla Enquiries: 0422 368 464 or email firstname.lastname@example.org