January 18th, 2013 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (4)
Last week we featured Tulsa’s ten best dishes of 2012. It’s a list Tulsa can be proud of and each time I see the photos I get a little thrill. Well over 300 readers clicked the “like” button at the top of the page; that’s a new record for me. The restaurant I’m featuring this week wouldn’t make that list. But if ever I compiled a list of restaurants that are so cool that it’s worth driving several miles out of your way to see them even if you hated the food, this restaurant would be on that list for sure. And I don’t think you’d hate the food. The order we got was so huge I was certain we’d be carting away a huge sack of leftovers, but we just couldn’t stop eating and we ate just about every bit of the piles of meat in front of us.
The restaurant wouldn’t make this must-see list because of fancy decor.
The exterior is so undistinguished you could pass it a thousand times and barely notice. (And in fact I’d never have found it but for a tip from the chef at Mi Cocina.) But once you step through the drab and somewhat hidden door you are in another world. You feel far closer to Mexico City than to the gritty Tulsa strip mall just outside. There’s one lady who speaks English. When she saw us she came running out. Last Tuesday must have been her birthday; she was wearing a big sash with writing, the sort you see in Miss America contests. She was very surprised and a bit thrilled to find visitors who weren’t fluent in Spanish, and she patiently explained the menu options. First of all, there was barbacoa. That’s their specialty. And before I forget, their other specialty is tortillas. Have a peek behind the counter and you’ll see a tortilla factory!
Now the word barbacoa has all the excitement and pleasant connotations to Mexicans as the sight of a roadside sign that says BBQ has to us. “There’s an earthy element to so much of Mexico’s food,” writes Rick Bayless. “The brickish hues of dried chiles and all the moles made from them; the muted yellow, red or blue native corn that releases an elemental perfume… But the food that offers the most thoroughly enveloping earthy experience is without question barbacoa, because it draws you right into a pit dug from earth, heated with rocks set aglow by a roaring bonfire…. In the smoky steamy heat of this underground oven, the flavors of terroir fuse with those of fragrant leaves, smoky embers, and roasting meat.” (Bayless, “Mexico, One Plate at a Time”, page 293) I’m sure that Tortilleria Puebla didn’t have a pit dug outside somewhere west of Mingo. Well, fairly sure, because maybe they did. My guess is they used an oven somewhere in the factory. Still, the pound of barbacoa ($8) we ordered managed to convey the earthiness Bayless talks about.
More steamed than smoked but still delicious. We also got a half-pound of carnitas ($4). Carnitas is a dish as famous as barbacoa. It’s pork shoulder that has been cut into chunks, seasoned with thyme, garlic, bay leaf and other spices, and then either braised or roasted at a low temperature for up to twelve hours.
What we got was mild but nonetheless delicious. To go with this we got rice and beans. ($1.50 an order, what you see is about 3 orders worth.)
The garlic-infused rice was delicious. (Usually I hate Mexican rice.) And the beans had a fine rich flavor too. Included were of course tortillas. Lots of tortillas, fresh from the back of the store.
There were two salsas… hot and hotter. And then the birthday girl made our feast complete by bringing over a big big bowl filled with diced onions and slices of lime. So I put a heap of barbacoa on my tortilla and some of the green salsa and a big heap of onions, then squeezed on a lime, took a big bite and life was grand. Hey maybe I should have put this on my ten best dishes list.
Tortilleria de Puebla
3118 S Mingo Road
Open from early morning to around 8 PM every day of the year except closed on Christmas.
Tags: Mexican Food