What makes these tortillas so special? It’s all in the fat

A tray of barbecue from Heritage Brewery & Barbecue in Oceanside
A tray of barbecue from Heritage Brewery & Barbecue in Oceanside. The trays come with sauce, pickles and beef fat flour tortillas.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

As a born-and-raised Angeleno, I often judge the success of a meal (or a date) by how long I’m willing to sit in traffic for it. Was that sandwich worth an hour on the 405 Freeway? Should I really contemplate dating someone who lives 58 minutes away outside of rush hour? I recently sat in traffic for 2 hours and 7 minutes (one way) to have dinner at Knife Pleat, Tony Esnault and Yassmin Sarmadi’s French restaurant at South Coast Plaza. It was the restaurant’s annual Nowruz dinner, a procession of traditional Iranian dishes based on Sarmadi’s mother’s recipes with Esnault’s thoughtful precision and influence. It was a meal worth all 7,620 seconds in the car.

If you call Los Angeles County home, this week’s recommendations will require some driving, for barbecue and tortillas in Oceanside and excellent bagels in Costa Mesa.

Tortillas and BBQ at Heritage Brewery and Barbecue

In much the same way that the San Juan Capistrano Heritage Barbecue is a pilgrimage site for Texas-style barbecue, the newer Oceanside location is a destination for barbecue accompanied by tortillas. You can order chef and co-owner Daniel Castillo’s same Creekstone prime brisket, smoked over California white oak for about 12 hours. And the kurobuta pork burnt ends, smoked, chilled, cubed, rubbed, smoked some more, glazed then smoked again. It’s a two-hour process that produces the equivalent of meat candy lacquered in a piloncillo, molasses and barbecue sauce glaze. And you can build your own metal barbecue tray with various sides. But in Oceanside, there are two beautifully blistered tortillas on each tray.


They’re made daily by Claudia Sauceda, who hand-patted the tortillas at Municipal Taco, the restaurant that occupied the space before it was Heritage Brewery.

“She had come by and said that’s what she used to do, make tortillas, and it was just like, ‘Boom, this is it,’ ” Castillo said.

Where to find the best brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sides in and around L.A.

After Castillo trims the briskets, he renders the beef fat for the tortillas and a host of other dishes at the restaurant.

“We basically use the tallow in all our recipes that call for any sort of fat,” Castillo said. “Even if we are baking something like cookies for banana pudding or some sort of cake for dessert, we use tallow.”

The tortillas are made with the tallow, Sonora flour from Tehachapi Grain Project and baking soda.

“A lot of people use lard or other fats and it just made the flavor pop,” he said.

It’s the kind of tortilla you can eat by the stack, dunked into Castilla’s salsa, his balsamic vinegar and horseradish ballasted barbecue sauce or simply plain. They are thicker than Alberto Bañuelos’ father José’s prized tortillas at Burritos Las Palma. Slightly less supple but just as pliable as Julia Guerrero’s stretchy works of art at Sonoratown. They puff up and rise, then blister, similar to the outstanding tortillas at HomeState. And that tallow does pop, giving the tortilla a distinct unctuousness that’s easy to obsess over. Chewy, flaky and rich, it’s an incredibly luxurious tortilla.

Sauceda makes about 100 tortillas a day during the week and about 200 to 250 a day on the weekends.

They are durable enough to support a heap of meat dressed with enough sauce that drippage is inevitable.

This week’s recommendations include bourekas in Sherman Oaks, pepperoni pizza with black garlic in Carson and lemon poppy seed pancakes in Echo Park.

As I sat by myself at a communal table at the bar on a recent visit, hunched over my tray of barbecue, I ate the tortillas bare, ripping them apart and marveling at the texture. They were too good not to.

Castilla said he’s toying around with a 50-50 tortilla that would incorporate the same Sonora flour combined with a Maseca organic corn flour, also from Tehachapi Grain Project.

“It’s going to be the most pliable, super soft corn tortilla you can get,” he said.

I suspect I’ll be making the drive out again for tortillas, very soon.

Bagels at Boil and Bake

The Don't Go Bacon My Heart bagel sandwich from Boil & Bake in Costa Mesa.
The Don’t Go Bacon My Heart bagel sandwich from Boil & Bake in Costa Mesa.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

After growing up in the bagel chain business in Orange County, the type of place with more than two-dozen bagels on offer, Carlos Perez decided to open a new kind of bagel shop.

“For a long time, bagels had a stigma of being a cheap thing you get at like a doughnut shop,” Perez said. “I knew I wanted to apply something a little more fine dining and focus more on the ingredients.”

First, he needed the perfect bagel. Perez spent more than a year developing his version of a hand-rolled, three-day fermented bagel (using Luna, a sourdough starter named after his girlfriend) that incorporates rye and whole wheat flour. Then he found chef Luke Bramm and opened Boil & Bake, a small bagel shop in a Costa Mesa shopping center in July 2022.

From classic New York-style to more experimental bagel shops, here’s where to get the best bagels in L.A.

Perez’s bagels are what you want when you crave a bagel: a crisp crust wrapped in tiny bubbles and a chewy middle that’s soft, not dense. They are good enough to eat on their own, or toasted with a little butter.

I like to think of Boil & Bake as the anti-bagel bagel shop. The name, void of the word “bagel,” was Perez’s way of signaling to customers that they should expect something very different. While some places prize themselves on the thinness of their lox, the slices you’ll find draped onto Perez’s bagels are gloriously thick. Bramm cures his own gravlax using a three-day process and a 50-50 solution that incorporates toasted juniper berry, dill and lemon zest. There’s enough lox to appreciate the fresh dill in the brine and just a whisper of citrus.

The dish names are reminiscent of the playful monikers you might find on the bottoms of bottles of nail polish. That’s My Jam incorporates a house-made sweet pepper jam and gremolata while Through The Garden piles on pickled green tomato, red onion, salted cucumber and radish, sprouts, capers, herbs, lemon and extra virgin olive oil. I promise there’s a bagel under there, somewhere.

My current favorite is the Don’t Go Bacon My Heart, which gleefully rejects the idea of crispy bacon in favor of thick slabs of Nueske’s Duroc pork. It eats like a hefty pork belly sandwich, layered onto a bagel of your choice, slathered with about half an inch of scallion cream cheese, a slice of pickled green tomato and a dribble of fermented onion sherry vinegar. Yes, it was worth the hour on the 405 ... and the five minutes on the 73 Freeway.

Where to eat now

Heritage BBQ & Beer Co., 2002 S. Coast Hwy, Oceanside,

Boil and Bake, 270 Bristol St. #114, Costa Mesa, (714) 494-9609,