We've been trying to make our way to La Tortelleria for nearly a year now, since Claire and Lauren started raving about it. Something about Kensington felt very far away though, at least until we realised that the Upfield train line would get us within 500m or so of the restaurant. It's tucked into a very uninspiring industrial area - there's no way it's relying on passing traffic for its customers, people are seeking it out.
They're seeking it out for good reason - La Tortelleria promises Melbourne's most authentic tortilla experience, hand-grinding their own corn (a process called 'nixtamal') rather than using the finer, processed masa flour that most places use. They've go their own machinery pumping out hundreds of tortillas to serve in the cafe and to sell for people to take home and make their own tacos. They also sell a bunch of Mexican groceries - spices, sauces and the like.
It's pretty tiny - maybe seating for 30. We turned up on a Sunday for lunch and had no trouble getting a table (although by1pm it was more or less full). They take bookings though and it would be wise to call ahead if you were aiming for dinner or had a group for lunch.
The menu's pretty straightforward - there's a guacamole and corn chip dish ($6.90), a selection of quesadillas ($3.50-$4.50), some non-veg tacos, a tostadita de tinga ($4.70) and empanadas (dinner only, $5). There's also a share plate option ($40 for two people), which would be the way to go if you had the hunger for it.
We didn't, so we limited ourselves to the quesadillas and the tostadita de tinga. We ordered three of the four quesadillas (all veganised - although more on that in a jiffy): the frijoles (beans and white cheese, $4.50), chorizo (based on a spicy tofu, $4.50) and hongos (mushroom, $4.50). The tostadita de tinga is a hard tortilla base, topped with refried black beans, lettuce and crema, $4.50).
The tortillas are interesting - much chewier than the standard soft taco and with a lot more flavour. The fillings didn't really rock my world - they were really loaded down with 'cheese', overpowering the mushrooms, tofu-chorizo and beans. The tostadita de tinga fared a little better, with the crispy base and the light crema instead of the cheese letting the bean flavour shine through. We forgot to use the chipotle sauce until right at the end, so we might have made a key strategic mistake.
A note on the vegan options: we were both amazed at how melty and cheesy our vegan quesadillas were, so it wasn't that surprising when we were informed by Toby that the 'vegan' cheese that La Tortelleria is Mini Chol, which by many reports is not vegan. Tread carefully.
Our experience at La Tortelleria fell a bit short of the very high expectations that I had for it - the tortillas were excellent, but the fillings of the heavily cheesed quesadillas didn't measure up to the fresher and more varied offerings at places like El Chino, Touché Hombre or even The Reverence. We'll be back to grab some tortillas and maybe to try the chef's sampling plate and to taste the well-regarded flan, but I doubt we'll become regulars.
La Tortelleria has been given the thumbs up by Footscray Food Blog, melbourne gastronome, Chef John Smith, TO STAY OR TO GO?, veganopolous, The Glutton and The Lush, thehangrybitch, consider the sauce, The tiny gastronomer, Fika & Kuidaore, Jackie O, Tune Into Radio Carly and hungrycookie, while Eat And Be Merry For Tomorrow We Die(t) and Let's Get Fat Together weren't quite as impressed.
72 Stubbs St, Kensington
menu: 1, 2
Accessibility: Not good. The entry is up some stairs (see top photo), and things inside are narrow and quite crowded. You order at the table and pay at a high counter. There's a single unisex toilet.