In 2014, Gabriel Rodarte traveled to the Dallas area from his native San Luis Potosí, Mexico, to visit his daughter, Daniela, who was studying English at Forney High School. The plan was that she’d return home after graduating. During her stay, Daniela’s parents and siblings visited her and drove to Florida for a cousin’s quinceañera. On the way back, they stopped in Louisiana to visit more family. It was there that relatives told Gabriel that it was nearly impossible to find good tortillas in their part of the Bayou State. The closest thing, they lamented, were the bland, mass-produced discs piled high in a megamart’s Hispanic aisle—and those sold out quickly.
Rodarte, 45, a third-generation molinero-tortillero (miller–tortilla master), was disappointed to hear that. The discussion stayed with him on the drive back to Forney. Where could he open a tortilleria for people craving nixtamalized artisan tortillas made from scratch? North Texas felt like a natural fit, since in addition to his daughter, Rodarte’s in-laws had also immigrated to the area. He decided to sell one of his two tortillerias in San Luis Potosí and move to Dallas to establish another. The family relocated permanently in August 2014. About a year later, he opened Tortilleria La Potosina in southeast Dallas with his wife, Virginia Salazar, and his in-laws. Three years later, Rodarte left that business to open his own place. The project, Tortilleria Terrell, fulfilled a dream he’d inherited from his father. “He always wanted to have a business in the U.S.,” Rodarte told me.
The name Tortilleria Terrell is a bit misleading: This small strip-center shop, about forty minutes from central Dallas, offers not just freshly made tortillas but a counter-service restaurant menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A framed and faded photo of Gabriel’s father, Enrique, who learned the art of tortilla-making from his dad, hangs behind the cash register. While we spoke, Gabriel touched the frame and smiled. “He taught me everything, beginning when I was twelve years old,” Rodarte told me.
Tortilleria Terrell carries on the Rodarte artisan tradition with a staff of family members. Aside from Rodarte and his wife, his daughters, son, and brother Enrique Jr. all pitch in to run the shop. It’s also a fixture of the community, attracting a small but loyal crowd of locals. On my visit, a father and son were quietly enjoying tacos. Soon enough, I did as well.
My order of three tacos was served on thin, lightly textured tortillas. What they lacked in corn flavor and aroma, they made up for in elasticity and strength. Overall, the tortillas were reminiscent of H-E-B’s fifty-fifty corn-and-flour tortillas. Inside, the carnitas were mild in taste. The chicharrones, which came stewed in a tomatillo-based salsa verde, were easy on the salsa. I could have added more of the same seed-speckled mild salsa the protein was cooked in, but instead went with a dousing of the creamy and hot salsa verde, which lit up the pork-skin filling. The beef barbacoa shimmered in small tumbling threads. The meat was rich and addictive and made even better with a squirt of lime, raw onions, and cilantro to add acid and brightness.
Tacos aren’t the only dishes on the menu. Among other listed options are enchiladas huasteca, a complex dish of chile-soaked fried tortillas filled with queso fresco, then rolled to resemble taquitos. The enchiladas are traditionally served with plenty of sides and toppings, including chopped dried salt beef; chicken cooked in onions; sardines; and refried beans. It’s an edible homage to Salazar’s native Huasteca region of San Luis Potosí. Sadly, the enchiladas weren’t available during my visit. Other items include more classic noshes, such as gorditas, tamales, and burritos. Menudo is available as a weekends-only treat.
I relished my meal while admiring a mural that depicts Mesoamerican iconography, including the Mayan god of wildlife, Yum Kaax. He is identified in the painting as the god of corn, a common misattribution. There are also ears of corn and grinding stones used as part of a molino (milling machine). The deity mix-up doesn’t detract from the point of the mural, emphasizing the 3,500-year-old tortilla-making tradition that Tortilleria Terrell is part of.
The other spaces are more functional rather than splashy. Three rooms are dedicated to the expert craft that is the business’s focus: preparing masa, the cornmeal dough from which tortillas are made. Immediately inside the door is the counter and a refrigerated display case featuring corn and flour tortillas, salsas, and queso fresco. Various hard candies, such as de la Rosa marzipan, for impulse buying, as well as cards dropped off by local businesses, are scattered atop flat surfaces. To the right of the counter is a dining room, and toward the rear of the building are the Mexican-imported tortilladoras (tortilla machines): one for corn tortillas and a smaller one for flour.
The larger machine’s creaky conveyor belt, which steadily rolls out cooked discs of corn tortillas, is fed nixtamalized masa from a large, shiny funnel-capped metal tower that rises above the rest of the industrial appliance. The tortilladora partially blocks a semi-transparent PVC curtain, which leads to a room holding the nixtamalization tanks and molino. Nixtamalization is time-consuming and tedious, but Rodarte is proud to do things the hard way: “Tortillas are my passion.” Indeed, the man knows every part of the process and every part of the mechanical apparatuses. When he first moved to Texas, Rodarte traveled to surrounding states to repair other shops’ tortilla machines, sharpening the grooves in the lava stone grinders that are the heart of a molino.
That expertise and passion is paying off, as the family now aims to expand. “This is difficult work with long hours, but there are several properties we’re looking at for our next location,” says Virginia Salazar.
And to think I almost missed Tortilleria Terrell altogether. The stop at the Rodartes’ shop wasn’t a scheduled visit on that day’s drive from Dallas to East Texas. Instead, Tortilleria Terrell was a business I stumbled upon during a review of my research and the planned itinerary the morning of my trip. I just happened to check Google Maps for possible stops along the way to our destination. Eating at Tortilleria Terrell was impulsive. It was almost instinctive, as if something were beckoning me there. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.