While Chinese-produced Mexican cuisine and menus certainly look original, the venue itself and the behind-the-scenes cooking process is very different, and the taste is also unique to Chinese-Mexican joints. Tortillas, for one, are often inauthentically made- an ironic fact as many of these restaurants have names like “Fresh Tortillas.” This is a trend worth looking at, as it has become so widespread even the forgotten borough of Staten Island has one to boast about!
When De Shi Zheng opened his first Fresco Tortilla in 1991, he brought a tortilla machine along with him. Rather than manually rolling out dough into a tortilla, the all-Chinese staff places the balls of dough into this machine which shapes the dough until it is perfectly rounded and flattened. Once it emerges from the machine, the tortilla is ready to be heated up, stuffed, and promptly served. These machines can create an astonishing number of 600 tortillas per hour! The tortilla poseurs, however, can be subtly found out from their taste: they are not as firm as Mexican tortillas, and have a just-too-soft, slightly chewy consistency. They are also a little on the bland side; a customer can tell this is just mass-produced cheap takeout without any of that special home cooking flavor. Even further, Fresh Tortilla cannot offer burritos on their menu due to the lack of size the machine dishes out. This is a tradeoff that must be expected, especially at such cheap menu prices. Revealingly, Fresco Tortilla only uses eight ingredients for their entire menu, a stark contrast from the usual complexity of native Mexican recipes with a uniquely rich flavor.
Fresh Tortillas in Staten Island had a large taco machine able to make bigger tortillas. They offer “giant” burritos on their menu that are wrapped in 12 inch tortillas. Chefs prepare balls of dough covered in flour, which they place in the machine. All they have to do is press a switch for the dough to flatten into this tortilla shape. The tortilla is then transported to a griddle for a few minutes.
The food also has a distinct greasy quality unique to Chinese food takeout. One customer who reviewed Fresh Tortillas in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, commented that:
“It smelled like Chinese food cooked in week-old peanut oil. I swear the tacos smelled like a pork fried eggroll. The taco salad smelled like pork fried lo-mein.”
An Investigative Comparison
Fresh Tortillas, located on New Dorp Lane in Staten Island, closely resembles a Chinese takeout joint. It recently underwent renovations in both size and decor.
The Chinese Restaurant Similarities
Red plastic benches lining the walls for the few who chose to sit and eat have been replaced with dark wood tables and chairs. A suspended menu spelled out in neon words is set into the wall over the counter, and — whoops! They didn’t quite get the spelling of “Quesadilla” right…
Some characteristically Chinese decorations, like this Maneki Neko, decorate the counter. There is a Chinese calendar hanging in the front of the kitchen where an all-Chinese staff of 6 are hard at work cooking and taking orders.
This melting pot of a counter consists of another Chinese Fortune Cat characteristic of Chinese restaurants, a cactus to represent the Mexican culture Fresh Tortillas promotes, and a seemingly irrelevant Italian man figurine generally seen in pizza shops and possibly representing your typical Staten Island Italian-American customer. Overall it paints a lovely picture.
When compared with a Chinese menu, Fresh Tortillas had a very similar layout. Every meal was listed under a general heading category.
Some Important Points…
- The two menus, as evident from the photos, also had a number identifying each order to the left.
- Another similarity was the sides and appetizers… Both had the same American cuisine to offer, like Chicken Wings and French Fries.
What Fresh Tortillas Did Authentically!
Fresh Tortillas offers hot sauce for the tacos on their tables and in to-go plastic soy sauce containers. This sauce brand, Yucateco, is manufactured in Mexico and makes for an excellent addition to a taco, fajita, burrito, quesadilla… you name it!
Ingredients are mostly basic mexican ones including:
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Grilled California Peppers
Some of the more sophisticated entrees include:
Pico Di Gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa made from chopped tomato, white onion, and chilis)
Chili Con Carne (chili)
Chorizo (pork sausage).
You get exactly what you pay for at TexMex restaurants like Fresh Tortillas. The food is not top-shelf Mexican cuisine, but it’s not so bad either. It is a nicely furnished, cheap place to stop by for a filling meal.
Soft-Shelled Chicken Tacos from Fresh Tortillas