Just when you thought we had remixed every available Mexican dish to create Americanized versions, meet the legendary tlayuda. Pronounced like the middle syllable in “A-tla-nta”, the tlayuda hails from the not-so-touristy, gastronomically rich region of Oaxaca (yes, that is where Samin Nosrat filmed the “acid” episode of her amazing program Salt, Fat, Heat, Acid). This new-to-us food obsession won’t be appearing on any drive-thru menu yet. In fact, it has only recently begun popping up on select menus around the country.
The tlayuda has been compared to a Mexican pizza, with its giant tortilla base and cornucopia of toppings. But unlike the flour and corn tortillas commonly used for tacos, flautas, quesadillas, and other Mexican dishes more widely known in America, tlayuda tortillas are difficult to come by outside their native Oaxaca.
According to Rick Bayless, anthropologist-turned-Mexican-chef, this extra large corn tortilla is made with a special flour that, thanks to higher starch levels, allows itself to be stretched much more than a regular corn tortilla. Replicating the process in the United States has proven to be difficult and the dearth of this particularly sturdy base to hold up to all its toppings, has made the tlayuda an infrequent offering even at the most authentic restaurants.
Easier than making a tlayuda tortilla from scratch is importing it. The tortillas are made in Oaxaca and dried on a comal in preparation for shipping. But how does that dried out disk get brought back to life? The first step is oleation: unrefined lard is typical, but any kind of fat will make the tortilla supple again as it warms. Then, it’s spread with a layer of beans and topped with a variety of tasty ingredients, such a grilled meats, crunchy cabbage, cheese, tomato, avocado cilantro, and more. And now that your mouth is set for this explosion of flavors, here are some of the places that specialize in tlayudas around the country. Go get yours!
Now that Chef Bayless has found a source for tortillas, he will be happy to serve you a vegetarian-based tlayuda at his Chicago Cervecería Cruz Blanca.
Southern California has no scarcity of excellent Mexican cuisine and the folks at Tlayuda L.A. don’t mess around. Click on their webpage and be greeted by a fresh-looking tlayuda. Evidently, they serve tacos, too.
If the thought of a tlayuda makes you want to dance, Tejate restaurant in Escondido, CA, will serve you one to the beat of a ranchera from their live mariachi band.
San Francisco might be a little further from Oaxaca than its southern neighbors, but that won’t stop the folks at the provocatively named Tacorgasmico from serving you a tlayuda that promises to make your whole body happy. (Please feel free to try it out and report back).
A paradise of ethnically-inflected cuisine, the Corona neighborhood of Queens features some of the best Latin food in the country. For a real deal tlayuda, head to Cienaga.
A strong indication that a restaurant might make you a tlayuda is that they specialize in Oaxacan food, such as Taquería La Oaxaceña in Atlanta.
So authentic they don’t even have a website, La Oaxaquena Bakery & Restaurant in Oklahoma City fires up tortillas daily. You can find them at 741 SW 29th St, Oklahoma City, OK 73109, (405) 635-0442.
Salt Lake City
Bringing original variations on the traditional tlayuda, La Oaxaqueña serves up this satisfying meal in Salt Lake City, along with tortas (sandwiches) and assorted aqua fresca.
Between its proximity to Mexico and its bustling culinary scene, Austin, Texas is happy to stay weird and produce these uncommon delicacies at Mi Sabor Oaxaqueño.
If tlayudas are the new tacos, then mezcal is definitely the new tequila. This smoky, artisanal liquor is what you’ll use to wash down those crispy tlayudas at Mezcalería Oaxaca in Seattle, a town known for supporting innovative and international food culture.
From Oaxaca to Seattle, Atlanta, and New York, good news travels far but perhaps not fast enough. We can only hope that this new kid on the menu will reach a restaurant near each of us soon (East coast! Midwest!) enough to satisfy our hunger and curiosity.