AUSTIN, Texas — Any time there are hot and fresh tortillas around, it’s hard for Texans to turn away.
And the quintessential Texas tortilla might just be the ones you find at the quintessential Texas supermarket, H-E-B.
Why is that?
For one, it’s something we can collectively bond over, like our love for Whataburger, Buc-ee’s and Dr Pepper, or complaining about cedar allergies and traffic on Interstate Highway 35.
But also because you walked into H-E-B to pick up a few items and then – what’s that? Oh, hello there.
You may be partial to the classic corn tortilla, but flour and butter mixed together will make you weak.
At H-E-B’s tortilleria in East Austin, Arcelia Garcia makes hundreds of tortillas every day.
While you can find the tortillas at almost any H-E-B location, Garcia said the ones from the 2701 E. Seventh Street location are particularly well loved.
“Some customers say we’re the best ones,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the machine or what. They love them. They’re hot, delicious tortillas.”
The H-E-B tortillas – in butter, half and half, wheat and southwest varieties – are their own “genre” of tortilla, not necessarily classic Tex-Mex but definitely classic Texas. It’s Tex-Mex meets the American grocery store bakery.
It’s those beautiful fusions that brought us Tex-Mex creations like the migas taco. Yes, Texans love barbecue, but Tex-Mex is truly our go-to comfort food, so much so that the 65th Texas Legislature in 1977 made chili con carne the official dish of Texas – a nod to the state’s Mexican roots.
Garcia came to Texas from Tepic, Mexico, 33 years ago and has been making tortillas for 21 years. At home, she makes corn tortillas, like the type she grew up with.
“There we make more corn tortillas, to make tacos or sopes,” she said. “Mariscos, you know, seafood, it’s very delicious where I’m from. I think it’s the best – I was raised there so I can say that.”
In Texas, it all sounds good – flour or corn, migas or mariscos – because what unites this state in 2019 more than chili con carne is most certainly the taco.
“I love Austin,” said Garcia. “I feel like I’m from Texas, honestly. I’m from Mexico but I’m from Texas too.”
From the Sonoran Desert to the rainforests of Chiapas, the Mexican landscape is diverse, and the food reflects that.
“I’m from Tepic, Nayarit, so it’s 30 minutes to the ocean,” said Garcia. “San Blas is 30 minutes and you can go and buy fresh shrimp, fresh fish – everything.”
As the food scene grows in Central Texas, Tex-Mex has evolved from cheese-smothered combination plates to something more reflective of the diversity of those ingredients.
The flip side of this means many iconic Austin Tex-Mex restaurants are closing to make way for new developments.
But even as food trends change and evolve, Texas remains partial to its unique regional cuisine, with one staple – the tortilla, however you like it.