La Mesa Tortillas and Tamales

Southern
La Mesa Tortillas and Tamales

By Kathy Montgomery | Photograph by Steven Meckler

“Success is simple,” Arnold Glasow famously said. “Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” Add “in the right place,” and you’d have Jerry Aguilar’s recipe for success.

Jerry started La Mesa Tortillas and Tamales in 1996 because he couldn’t find good tortillas in his neighborhood on the east side of Tucson. “Most of the tortilla shops are on [the] south side, west side and central part of town,” he says. “I was commuting once a week to buy tortillas. And I figured, There’s got to be a need out here.

His wife, Geri, wasn’t so sure. But she drew up a logo anyway: a simple drawing of a saguaro and a dove against a backdrop of a mesa. When Jerry took her to see a potential location at Broadway Boulevard and Pantano Road, they found a mural with the same design on the wall.

The Aguilars took it as a good sign, and it was: The restaurant became so successful, they’ve since opened two other locations — one at Pima Street and Alvernon Way, the other at Orange Grove and River roads — that are run by their children.

The restaurants are similar: unpretentious storefronts, with a few modest tables and a limited menu intended to complement the tortillas. There are tacos, burros, quesadillas and nachos; the Orange Grove location also serves breakfast burritos.

“It’s very simple recipes,” Aguilar says. “It’s red chile, green chile, rice and beans. Over the years, we’ve added chicken. It’s all very tasty, made fresh.” 

Of course, the tortillas — flour, corn, whole wheat and jalapeño — are the star attraction. Made in-house every day, with no additives or preservatives, the tortillas are hand-stretched, cooked on a griddle and bagged hot. Readers of the Arizona Daily Star have voted them Tucson’s best tortillas multiple times. 

The Aguilars also supply many local restaurants and ship their tortillas all over the country. And Jerry is working on plans to ship La Mesa’s tamales, which are available in the restaurants year-round. The Aguilars begin taking holiday orders October 1 and often have to stop by December 1. Over the 2018 holiday season, La Mesa sold more than 24,000 tamales.

“A lot of families didn’t carry on the [Christmas] tradition of making tamales,” Jerry says. “But they carried on the tradition of eating tamales, which is good for me.”

The right thing. The right way. The right time. Simple.

La Mesa Tortillas and Tamales is located at 7823 E. Broadway Boulevard (original location) in Tucson. For more information, call 520-298-5966 or visit lamesatortillas.com.