Jorge Aguilar will never forget the first time his tortilla dough successfully ballooned after hitting the griddle.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck?!’ Yo, that was so exciting!”
“Exciting” is perhaps not a word that immediately comes to mind when thinking about flour tortillas. The thin, flat, round pancake only has four ingredients — flour, water, salt and pork lard — and has traditionally taken a backseat to its corn counterpart in Mexican cuisine.
“A lot of people think flour tortillas are not from Mexico,” Aguilar says. “People assume it’s an American thing.”
Flour tortillas became prevalent in the Mexican culinary scene after the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500s, as the colonizers looked down on corn, according to The Houston Chronicle. Meanwhile, Jewish settlers escaping the Spanish Inquisition who landed in northern Mexico began making flour tortillas because corn is not kosher.
Regardless of the flour tortilla’s origins, Aguilar, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, has been turning New Yorkers on to the power of the tortilla via his Greenpoint tortilleria Border Town. Along the way, he’s earned a reputation for making one of the best flour tortillas in New York City.
It all started in late 2019 when Aguilar and Amanda Rosa, his partner and co-founder, moved from Las Vegas to Brooklyn to help open a new concept restaurant. Shortly after arriving, the pandemic intervened and shuttered plans for the eatery.
Suddenly out of a job and far from his family, Aguilar wanted a taste of home. So in 2020 he decided to try making flour tortillas from scratch.
“I wasn’t even thinking about selling or anything,” Aguilar says. “My family is not like a food [family]. I never grew up with my mom making food at home.” It was his sitter, Teresa, who used to make tortillas, he says. “Flour tortillas are kind of like the bread at home. We always had them at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Flour tortillas was the thing, still is the thing. So it was just me trying to make my own flour tortillas.”
What makes Aguilar’s tortillas balloon above the competition is the flour. His dad, who lives in Mexicali, Mexico, acquires flour from Sonora and brings it to Aguilar’s mother across the border in Calexico, California, where she then ships it to Brooklyn.
He had tried numerous flours available in the U.S. but none of them had the same texture that Sonoran flour offered. Aguilar also never reheats his tortillas. He wants people to try them as fresh as possible once they come off the griddle, or comal. “For me, it’s just the nostalgia of eating tortillas fresh off the comal,” Aguilar says. “I used to steal fresh tortillas from the comal and put some butter on it and eat it.”
After cracking the code on the tortilla — he didn’t perfect his recipe until last year — Aguilar started making tacos de guisado and selling them at Home Depots and car washes. Tacos de guisado are a rolled stir fry-style taco that could have refried beans, eggs and potatoes or dehydrated beef, among other options. They’re an extremely popular snack sold by vendors weaving through lines of cars waiting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and something Aguilar grew up eating, so it was a natural item to sell.
Over the next three years, Aguilar started hosting pop-ups at bars and restaurants across the borough — Pink Metal, Ore Bar, Variety Coffee — and they quickly snowballed into one of the most in-demand eats around. In fact, he’s become so popular, thanks in part to some recent viral TikToks (not least of which was a visit by the influential Righteous Eats team), that people have waited in line for three hours to try his tacos and burritos. Currently, Aguilar is offering his tacos de guisado and a limited amount of breakfast burritos every Sunday morning at The Commune in Bed-Stuy.
The viral burrito (Max Kalnitz)
On a recent Sunday we visited the chef at his Commune pop-up to try his viral breakfast burrito — he wasn’t serving tacos on this particular morning. The burrito featured refried beans, scrambled eggs, grilled jalapeñopeppers, shredded cheese and bacon wrapped in a warm tortilla.
From the first bite it was apparent that this is unlike any supermarket or mass produced tortilla. It’s stretchy, conforming perfectly to every bite without jeopardizing the burrito’s structure. Not once did it unwrap, nor did anything inside the burrito tumble out.
The taste is out of this world — it’s crazy that something with so few ingredients can boast such a complex flavor, but here we are. The pork lard caramelizes beautifully into pockets of charred perfection, not to mention the Sonoran flour giving it a unique mouthfeel.
The eggs, paired with a generous amount of melted cheese, are velvet pillows of ooey-gooey goodness. Perfect softly-scrambled. The grilled jalapeños give a nice amount of heat every few bites, while the refried beans ensure no shortage of nutty flavor. Be sure to grab some of Aguilar’s sauces to take your taco or burrito to another level — the salsa macha was our favorite, boasting a wonderful punch of nutty and smokey flavors.
Aguilar’s dream is to eventually open his own brick and mortar spot. He’s not there quite yet, but starting on January 4 he’ll be cheffing up tacos and tortillas every Thursday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Screen Door in Greenpoint.
For now, he’s simply thrilled that people are enjoying his little slice of home.
“I just want to show people my Mexican food,” Aguilar says. “I’m very happy that people love what I’m doing. They’re enjoying what I like to eat, you know? I’m just bringing a little thing of my hometown to them.”
Border Town’s tortillas are available by the half-dozen at $7 for six-inch and $9 for nine-inch tortillas. The store Big Night and the butcher shop Marlow & Daughters also stock the tortillas. His pop-up at The Commune occurs weekly on Sundays at 10 a.m, and runs until sold out.