Next-level bean and cheese burritos and tacos at Sonoratown in downtown L.A.
Name/concept: Sonoratown, named for the area in northern Mexico where co-owner Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez grew up. He and girlfriend Jen Feltham run the restaurant (their first, which opened at the end of May). The couple used to work as servers at Bäco Mercat, one of Josef Centeno’s four downtown Los Angeles restaurants.
Sonoratown is a small, colorful storefront with a single table outside and enough stools inside to accommodate about 12 taco fans. Framed photographs of Diaz-Rodriguez as boy and a map of Mexico serve as decoration on the walls. Behind the counter, you’ll find two large jugs of aguas frescas and a mesquite grill where Javier Campas, a taquero from northern Mexico, is preparing the tacos, chivichangas and bean and cheese burritos on the menu.
That woman in the back: She’s making tortillas all day, every day the restaurant is open. She stands just visible through a doorway into a back room, in front of a fan, rolling, pressing and cooking fresh flour tortillas on a press Campas brought back from Mexico.
“This area in Mexico is known for liking flour better than corn tortillas,” Feltham said on a recent visit. “We set out to find some in Boyle Heights or somewhere but everyone said it’s not possible to make the tortillas at that size and thinness. We’re using a special press that stays hot. I think that’s what makes the tortillas so thin.”
The tortilla color is far from the stark white disks you’ll find at grocery stores. And instead of being thick and bready, the tortillas here are incredibly thin and chewy.
What to order: Everything. Seriously. Try one of each of the six items on the menu and you may just ring up a $20 tab. And if you’re a fan of the humble bean and cheese burrito, order two. A freshly made flour tortilla is filled with pinto beans and Monterey Jack cheese — that’s it. It’s simple and addictive, the tortilla chewy with a couple grill marks, and the cheese perfectly melted. You can also dunk your burrito into the provided cups of red or green tomatillo salsas.
The chivichangas (also known as chimichangas) are made with the same flour tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, fire-roasted tomatoes and mesquite-grilled Anaheim peppers. The tortilla is a crisp golden brown and the filling a gooey mess of cheese and smokey peppers. It’s the frozen chimichanga your mom may have microwaved for you as a kid, only on steroids.
And if you’re in the mood for a crunchy, mini Mexican pizza, try the Lorenza. It’s an open-faced crispy corn tortilla topped with your choice of meat (try the carne asada or the chorizo, made by L.A.-based the Chori-man), melted Monterey jack, a smear of avocado sauce and some spicy red salsa.
Why you inhaled that taco so quickly: The carne asada, like almost everything at Sonoratown, is cooked on a mesquite grill. The steak is diced into small, well-seasoned pieces, each with edges just caramelized enough. And the grill gives the meat a distinct smokey flavor.
“There is a lot of ranch-style food in northern Mexico, and everyone uses mesquite wood charcoal,” said Feltham. “The flavor is totally different, and it has more texture.”
And all those tacos on the grill are made by a pro. Campas stands over the grill filling and flipping tacos with his bare hands, leading you to wonder if he’s actually human.
What you’re drinking: A jamaica agua fresca, made by soaking hibiscus flowers in water like a tea. “I can’t wait to make a big batch of this and add wine and fruit to it and make it like a sangria,” said Feltham.
What you can look forward to next time: Breakfast tacos and burritos, eventually. Hopefully sooner than later.
Info: 208 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, (310) 987-6994, www.sonoratownla.com/.
Fresh flour tortillas are my everything. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_
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