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Taste Test: Corn Tortillas

For Tacos, Simple Worked Best

Our favorites, from the top: third-place Ole, second-place Verole and the one the judges preferred for tacos, Trader Joe's brand.
Our favorites, from the top: third-place Ole, second-place Verole and the one the judges preferred for tacos, Trader Joe's brand. (By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What makes a good corn tortilla? "It's gotta taste like corn," says Joe Raffa, executive chef at Oyamel restaurant in Penn Quarter. "And there needs to be a little fluff to it. It can't be too tough, but it can't be too soft, either."

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Alfio Blangiardo, chef at Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan, has his own definition. "There need to be two sides to a tortilla," he said. "When you cook it, there's a little steam in between." That's what creates those little puffs when you rewarm a corn tortilla in a hot pan; when it's first cooked, the dough blows up like pita bread.

Blangiardo knows what he's talking about. He hails from Tehuacan, a city in the state of Puebla, Mexico, that he says was home to the first corn in the world. "I am the guy of tortillas," he says with a smile. "The tortilla man."

Both chefs make their own tortillas in their respected restaurants: Blangiardo's are from scratch, and Raffa's are "doctored" from masa dough made by Moctec in Landover. But unless a home cook has the technique down, store-bought tortillas might be the best option. With that in mind, we asked Raffa and Blangiardo to join us for a taste test of 10 locally available packaged brands. We were mostly disappointed with the results, although a few brands did make it to the top of the pack.

In addition to the two chefs, tasters included Food section staff members Jane Black, Leigh Lambert, Walter Nicholls and me. All tortillas were prepped with a light coating of nonstick cooking oil spray on each side and then were heated for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side in a nonstick skillet.

-- Joe Yonan

FAVORITES (in order of preference)

Trader Joe's

$1.49 for 12 at Trader Joe's locations

"Full flavor" with a "really nice texture," one taster said. "You can taste and feel the corn in this one." When the brands were revealed and labels examined, all appreciated that, unlike most of the others, these tortillas contain no additives or preservatives: just corn, lime and water.


$1.19 for 30 at Wegmans (also available at some Giant, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, Magruder's and Food Lion/Bloom stores)

Tasters liked the subtly sweet corn flavor and soft texture, with one describing this tortilla as "flaky and just sturdy enough to hold taco filling."

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