Tortilla Quemada: Rise of ‘The Cantina’
Tortilla Quemada: Over the last decade we’ve seen many changes within the Bangkok food scene, non-more prevalent than the emergence of some spectacular Latin and Mexican cuisine establishments. We’ve gone from the uninspiring Tex-Mex of yesterday, with their overly sweet chili con carne and bland tacos to authentic flavours of real Latin fair.
Chief amongst these restaurants is the relatively new ‘Tortilla Quemada’ brainchild of Chef and proprietor, Colin Stevens. Stevens is a Hawaiian chef, who has amassed over 20 years of experience in the Thai F & B and is the restaurateur behind Bourbon and Barbecue mecca ‘Ash Kickers’ located in Phattankarn 30.
Colin began cooking at the tender age of fourteen years old, attended culinary school before going into the world of fine dining in Phuket and Bangkok. Chef Colin tells us he found the fine dining scene to be too stuffy and much prefers the more relaxed environment while cooking the food has a strong passion and affection for and more importantly wants to cook.
Since opening its doors (or window I should say) in June 2020, Tortilla Quemada which means burnt tortilla in English, is tucked away off Sukhumvit’s Soi 23 and has gone from small taqueria which started life as little more than a small kitchen and a couple of street side tables to what is now a funky Pueblo-style cantina with its neo-traditional wall murals, piñatas and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Alongside Colin is Manager and fellow Hawaiian Alex Seengoen who a big part of that welcoming friendly vibe.
It has also had its fair share of setbacks with constructions problems and of course the second lockdown. Despite all that they have been pumping out classic Mexican flavours like Tinga Asada, Pork carnitas and adobo to the eager Bangkokians craving their burrito fix.
The key to exceptional flavours has to come from quality produce and exceptional ingredients and this appears to be something of an ethos with Chef Colin, who has engaged local farmers in Chiang Mai and Phetchaburi to grow his herbs and various types of chili peppers including jalapeños, Habaneros, and Poblanos as well as having its own in-house fermentation and lacto-fermentation pickling program. As you may except all breads, tortillas, chips, and salsas are all made fresh in-house. So, without further ado let’s get stuck in.
Tortilla Quemada : Chips and Salsa
The first dish that we tried were the crisp fried tortilla chips with a selection of three of the Tortilla Quemada signature salsas: The mango, habanero, and charred pineapple salsa, the salsa roja and the salsa fresca. The fresh tortilla chips come to the table still warm from the fryer but not at all greasy. (aren’t chips just the perfect conveyance for the salsas?) Crisp and salty and begging to be loaded up with that spicy goodness.
I started with the charred pineapple, sweet, savoury and spicy. A simple concoction of mango, chili, onion, and garlic skillfully brought together to create a nice complexity of flavours from the caramelised char from the pineapple with the heat and spice of the chili and a little herbal freshness from the coriander. The sweet, spiciness of the salsa works so well with the salty corn chips.
The next salsa we dived into was the salsa fresca otherwise known as ‘Pico de Gallo’ or fresh salsa and is probable the style of salsa that you most have commonly seen in Mexican cuisine. It is traditionally made from chopped tomato, onion, and chili peppers, with salt, lime juice, and coriander. Fresh and flavourful while being slightly milder it still has a little bit of fiery heat, again a perfect match with the crispy corn chips. Chips and salsa make a great snack and ideal beer food (sorry I didn’t mention, they also have craft beer on tap).
The last of the trilogy of salsas was the roja, much more complex than the others but equally as tasty! Roja is a type of spicy red sauce used in Mexican cuisine made with red tomatoes ground with onion, garlic, chili, salt and pepper. This salsa has nice medium heat level with a robust flavour of roasted peppers that have a rich almost chocolate or cacao nibs taste coming from the smoked chipotle (smoke-dried ripe jalapeño).
Tortilla Quemada : Papas Y Chorizo
Another simple dish made well, in this case Chorizo (Mexican Sausage spiced with smoked paprika) and fried potatoes. Chunky cubed potato fried to a beautiful deep golden brown, seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper. The potatoes are topped with a heap of the heavily spiced chorizo sausage which has crisped up nicely but still nice and nice and moist. The addition of a couple of heaped spoonsful of thick sour cream that has a delightful mild acidic tartness that helps cuts through fat of the sausage as well creamy cooling quality that subdues some of the spices. Then finished with a good sprinkle of green onion to lends some colour and freshness to the dish. You could definitely order this on its own with a beer or a as a starter with friends.
Tacos: They aren’t just for Tuesdays
You can’t come to Tortilla Quemada and not have a taco or two, Colin and the crew have some amazing fillings for you to choose from like chicken chipotle, carne asada, carne tinga and if you’re lucky the lamb barbacoa (I’m always too late).
The first taco we had was the Pork Adobo, cuts ofmarinated pork belly that are rendered on the grill until all the flavour from the fat permeates the meat making it succulent and juicy and giving the surface that lovey sticky, chewing almost blackened caramelised pork fat. This gives you different flavours and textures from to pork and with a scattering of onion, jalapeño, coriander and a squeeze of lime add a little zing and freshness.
Served in a freshly pressed soft corn tortilla, and its once again time for the salsa (on this occasion the roasted tomato and beer salsa as well as the roasted habanero) to complete the ensemble. The combination of the crispy, charred, chewy, succulent pork is complimented the spice of the salsa with distinct roast flavour, the bite of the pickled onion and the herbaceous coriander while the lime cuts through the fatty pork.
For our second taco and one of my personal favourites and coincidently filling I probably order most in taco or burrito form is the Tinga Asada. A Mexican dish made with either shredded beef or chicken stewed in a tomato, onion and red chili sauce at Tortilla Quemada that means beef.
Again, served in a corn tortilla (although tostadas and burritos are available) a generous mound of tinga asada with roasted pumpkin and some if the in-house pickled shallots, carrot and cabbage and queso blanco. The tinga asada is heavily sauced without being watery and has a wonderful rich, almost smokey flavour which works so well in conjunction with smoked pumpkin. The pickled shallots and vegetables add a nice contrasting zing that cuts through the overall richness of the shredded beef. The crumbling of queso blanco brings another element to the taco. This cheese has a fresh, briny and slightly tangy flavour similar to a Greek feta but less salty. Do make sure you add the mango and charred pineapple salsa a fantastic taste sensation!
Tortilla Quemada : Mexican Plate
As with most of the dishes at Tortilla Quemada the Mexican plate is customisable giving you the ability to choose from the wide variety of meats, salsa, and vegetarian options available.
For our Mexican plate we choose Pork Carnitas. Carnitas are made by braising in the pork in its own fat or lard until crispy, tender and delicious. This is a lengthy process which take around five to six hours to cook. Carnitas which literally meaning “little meats” because you get pieces of tender meat and crispy chewy fatty meats all in one bite. The carnitas at Quemada are cooked for up to six hours and just falls apart and a great balance of fatty and savoury umami flavours.
To this we added the aromatic, soft and fluffy Mexican red rice with is cooked with tomatoes and spices as well as the frijoles refritos which are pinto beans that have been cooked twice. The beans have been seasoned with spices, onions and garlic and have a nice smooth and creamy mouthfeel topped with some pickled vegetable for a little extra texture and tangy bite. And last but by no means least on the side a dish of the Pico De Galo salsa for some added freshness.
Our last dish in our journey in to Mexican cuisine was the ‘Enchiladas Verde’. Soft corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of meat (we opted for the chicken chipotle), onions and cheese, then smothered in a tasty salsa verde and cheddar cheese. This is all atop of a bed of creamy guacamole and all put in the oven and baked until the cheddar is bubbling and golden. It’s then finished of with a liberal sprinkling of that made in-house, briny and tangy crumbly queso blanco.
As you cut into the enchilada it releases a tantalising aromatic aroma from the marinated chicken and the lovely sight of the melted cheddar cheese. The spiced chicken is moist and full of flavour it pairs excellently with the creamy guacamole, the gooey, sharp cheddar and the tangy, briny queso blanco. This is another comforting and satisfying dish that is great to share with friends.
The Burnt Tortilla
Tortilla Quemada is going to continue to grow and evolve as it has already begun to do. The addition of the cantina dine in area was never initially intended to be, but now offers a funky, cozy environment to enjoy a cold craft beer on tap, mock and cocktails and some fantastic mescals and tequilas with friends. Alongside some truly fantastic classic Mexican dishes like huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos and burrito as well as tostada, nachos, quesadillas and tortas. With these big bold, the convivial atmosphere and value for money it’s definitely going on my rapidly expanding (no, not my waistline) list of favourites.