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July 22, 2007

Tortilleria Sinaloa

Dominic Armato
I daresay this place is starting to feel like a home. Not home home, per se, but a comfy place where we know people and places and have begun to develop some routines.

One routine to which I've returned is dragging the little fellow around the city for lunches. Online information about Baltimore restaurants is scarce (from sources I trust, anyway... I will NOT be using Zagat to guide my Baltimore dining), which leads me to one of two conclusions. Either Baltimore's dining scene is somewhat subpar, or people aren't digging. I have to believe the latter, so it looks like the next two years are going to involve a lot of random crapshoot meals.

Of course, we're in a great neighborhood for writing about random crapshoot meals. I'm not, however, talking about Little Italy. While we are, indeed, surrounded on all sides by Baltimore's paesani, I'm declaring a total moratorium on our immediate 'hood. Let's just say that the folks who run the local food establishments are all my neighbors and writing anything about their food -- negative OR positive -- kinda seems like a recipe for disaster. Little Italy borders, however, on an impressive little pocket of small Mexican joints, which should take me at least a couple of months to survey. One that caught my eye right away was Tortilleria Sinaloa. I've been spoiled by Chicago's ample supply of wonderful, fresh tortillas and was thrilled to discover that a large local source is right around the corner. So I popped in for a couple of lunches last week.

Dominic Armato
It's a tiny little joint, with a massive tortilla machine in plain view just over the front counter. I haven't visited in the morning while this beast was running, but I can't imagine it's quiet. When the tortillas for the day have been produced, however, Sinaloa is a cute little place to drop in for lunch or an early dinner. There's enough seating for eight along the front window and one wall, provided those eight don't mind getting a little cozy. It's a counter service establishment, but the cheery folks who run the place will urge you to have a seat so they can bring out your meal along with a couple of salsas and lime wedges. The salsas are very no-nonsense, a red and green, both very potent, almost porridge-like in consistency and much less tart than I'm accustomed to. It's a minimal markerboard menu, featuring five or six taco selections that vary by the day, as well as a few soups and other random dishes. A small cooler by the register holds the typical taqueria libations -- Senorial, Jarritos, Mexican Coke.

Dominic Armato
Over my two visits, I sampled three of the available tacos, the res, pollo and carnitas. The tortillas were, as one might expect, really wonderful -- fresh, moist, light and still warm from that morning. The meats were all nicely, if minimally, seasoned and topped with the typical onion and cilantro. They came accompanied by a small cup of guacamole, but I preferred to leave them as-is.

Though I dug the tortillas, I was a little less enthused by the tacos, but don't take that to mean that I thought ill of them. The fillings were tender and moist and delicious all, but missing something. From what I can tell glancing over the counter, the precooked fillings are chopped and added to the warm tortillas without any further prep. I don't mean to suggest that holding taco fillings isn't perfectly kosher, but Sinaloa doesn't appear to do anything to refresh them. Perhaps I'm becoming a little too accustomed to late-night greasy taquerias, but I'd enjoy the tacos a lot more if both tortillas and fillings were kissed by the griddle before serving. That, and the carnitas seemed almost lean, at least as much as carnitas can, compared to some of the others I've sampled. I don't see this as a positive thing, but that's probably a matter of personal preference.

Dominic Armato
I didn't sample the soups (though I've heard their pozole is quite good) and the tamales that I've read they sometimes sell were nowhere to be found. Ceviche, however, was on the menu as a special. It's a seafood town and I love ceviche, so this seemed like a good direction to go. Sadly, the ceviche left an awful lot to be desired. I identified octopus and shrimp, though there were other seafoody bits of indeterminate origin, along with the requisite onion, tomato and cilantro. But it was mostly just watery and underseasoned. I found myself throwing in whatever I had on hand, which included some of the red salsa, a healthy squeeze of lime, the guacamole I left off the tacos and a dash of salt. Much improved, but still underwhelming. The ceviche did, however, give me a chance to sample Sinaloa's chips, which are really wonderful. They're thick and strong, but still very light, crisp and layered, almost like a fine pastry. Excellent, excellent chips. And even better, you don't have to order the ceviche to get them, as they're sold by the bag.

Dominic Armato
I can only assume that Sinaloa supplies some of the other local taquerias, so hopefully I won't have to venture far to find a place that marries these beauties with some more exciting fillings. When you get down to it, while it's a cute little place with some decent tacos, Sinaloa is all about the namesake tortillas. Wrapped in paper, warm and steaming, they're a beautiful thing. You can't buy less than the huge stack pictured here, but at $1.70 per kilo, you could wipe your counters with the leftovers and they'd still probably be cheaper than paper towels.

Tortilleria Sinaloa
1716 Eastern Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21231


I'm enjoying reading your take on some of my favorite places.

I love this place particularly and think their tortillas are wonderful. I also love their chicken tacos and the pozole, the one time I had it, was spectacular.

I'm also hoping to discover some new sources for Mexican food in Baltimore via your blog.

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