Torterilla la Mexicana in Longwood is about as bare bones as you get with a restaurant.
As we’ve been discovering recently, some of the better, more authentic Mexican food can be found being served in small grocery markets in corners set aside as makeshift cafes. Torterilla la Mexicana seems to have started that way. But now the market side of the business is all but vacant, and many of the store shelves look as though Longwood were under threat of a hurricane.
And the dry goods part of the operation hasn’t been downsized to build up the restaurant end. Three card tables with folding chairs comprise the dining room and are set up between the market’s checkout counter and the kitchen window, which is next to a wall with the menu hanging on it.
When I stopped in recently and entered the market, which is in a small strip of businesses, I wasn’t even sure the place was open for customers. And the two staff people looked at me as though perhaps I had wandered into the wrong place.
But when I asked if they were still serving lunch, they smiled and said of course. So I sat myself down at one of the tables and looked over the menu.
The woman who would be my server was tentative and didn’t know how to respond to some of my initial questions. She finally admitted that she was new on the job and didn’t yet know some of the items, but she was charming nonetheless and asked the unseen cook in the back when she was stumped.
As I looked over the menu board, I spotted a handwritten sign in the corner that said the restaurant Tacos al Pastor today. Actually, the sign looked like it had been there for many, many todays, but I remembered the al pastor tacos I had in Mexico not long ago and ordered one. I also got a Beef Gordita and an order of Chicken Enchiladas, which was served as a platter with rice and beans. The woman looked at me a little skeptically, but I assured her I was hungry.
The enchiladas turned out to be the best of the order. The three good-sized wraps were covered with spicy green sauce (I also had a choice of a less spicy red sauce) a decorative drizzle of sour cream sauce (a la creme fraiche, though in Spanish I suppose that would be crema fresca), some shredded lettuce and crumbles of cotija cheese. I found the spiciness of the salsa verde bright and piquant.
The taco al pastore was good, too, though it did not have the chunks of pineapple usually served with the roasted pork meat on the small corn tortilla. But I liked the bits of onion and the handful of fresh cilantro on top.
By the way, I’m not sure there’s a flour tortilla anywhere in the place, so if you’re looking for signs of authenticity, there’s that.
The gordita, which consists of a small masa cake that serves as a sort of pita-like container, was delicious and tasted as house-made as it gets. There was a lot of loosely ground meat stuffed inside. Eat a few of these and you’ll realize why the word gordita translates to chubby.
And all of this was incredibly affordable (apparently the savings on the furnishings have been passed along to the customer). The enchilada platter was $7.99. Tacos are a buck fifty and gorditas just under $3.
There are a few other Torterilla La Mexicanas listed throughout the area, and I have no idea if they are connected in any way. Nothing about this one suggests “budding chain” to me. But I hope the others offer as delightful a taste of Mexican cuisine as this one.
Torterilla la Mexicana in at 185 S. County Road 427, just south of State Road 434, Longwood. It is open for lunch and dinner. There is no website. The phone number is 407-636-6398.