The joys of fresh-made tortillas

From the mild to the fiery, Tortilla Maker knocks out amazing Mexican staples.

  • Name + address: Tortilla Maker, 2003 St. Joseph Blvd.

  • Type of food: Mexican tortillas-salsas

  • Salsas: $7.50-$18

  • Tortillas/Chips: $5.50-$20

  • Wheelchair accessibility: Yes

  • Website:

For lovers of Mexican food, Aug. 16 was a very happy day. Ottawa’s first and only dedicated tortilleria, Tortilla Maker, opened its doors and the smiles on the faces of the Jimenez-Bucur family told the story.

Tortilla Maker was years in the planning and stepping inside the cheery sunflower yellow space I was welcomed by the warmth of the people and the toasty aromas of corn masa being baked. It reminded me a little of the aromas that come from my coffee roaster: sweet and nutty but less acrid than roasting coffee.

Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Founder Miguel plumbed the depths of his family history to create something unique on Ottawa’s food landscape. Given the number of customers the first few days, people were clearly ready for the experience of a shop dedicated to making the freshest tortillas, corn chips and salsas. Yes, this is the kind of take-home food we all were looking for.

Miguel explained that their method involves a traditional process called nixtamalization (a compound of “ashes” and “dough”) to create their tortillas. Thousands of years earlier Indigenous peoples discovered that using ashes in their ground corn dough improved the flavour and consistency of tortillas.

Nowadays, food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide) is added to achieve the same effect. “Our artisan corn tortillas are gluten-free, salt-free, made from 100 percent white organic corn and we have no added preservatives, additives or artificial flavours,” Miguel said.

Tortilla making machinery. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

The corn is first boiled together with small amounts of lime and it’s a matter of experience and keen observation to know when the corn is ready to rest. It then sits for five hours after which it’s rinsed.

Tortilla Maker uses actual mill stones to grind the corn into a masa paste. The large machine taking centre stage at their shop was brought in from Mexico and can produce 80 kilos of tortillas every hour.

It’s an all-in-one mechanism that flattens the dough into rounds and then flash-bakes each tortilla within 35 seconds. The rounds are carried along a conveyor belt and once baked, are dropped into a receptacle at the far end.

I’ve not had either tortillas or corn chips quite like this. The flavour of sweet toasted corn was almost floral and suffused the olfactory senses in a potent and warming way.

One Mexican customer, as he bit into a tortilla, was heard muttering under his breath, “Finally.”

Salsas Carlota. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Bound to tradition, Miguel took the salsa recipes of his great-grandmother Carlota and created a range that will be new to many customers. These are not grocery store salsas and the heat on some of these is eye-popping. They currently have nine different salsas on offer.

The green salsa Tacuba for example is made with tomatillos, zucchini and serrano peppers and is classified as “hot” on their scale. True enough but be careful to not leave too much on your corn chip when dipping. I made that mistake so you don’t have to.

If, like me, you’ve always wondered about the popularity of something as unpleasant as chipotle flavour, it’s because you’ve always had bad examples of it. At least that’s what I learned eating Carlota’s chipotle salsa. Here the smoke character was delicate allowing the other ingredients to do their work of pleasing your palate. The chipotle acted as a subtle foundation rather than an overpowering top note.

A favourite was the mild salsa Popotla which Diodora recommended would also work well as a pasta sauce, was loaded with umami because of the tomato and the addition of chicken bouillon. The surprising difference here however: they make their own chicken bouillon on site.

Finally, the guacamole. Best guac ever. It’s hard to imagine it getting any fresher. This was a coarser version with pieces of the ingredients left cubed and whole. Tomato, sweet onion, jalapeno peppers and avocado were all distinct and not pureed into paste.

I did get the occasional mouthful of jalapenos and it was a little too much of an accumulation after a while so it was sour cream to the rescue. FYI: the guacamole was classified as medium and they don’t make a milder version.

If you are someone who’s felt jaded by what passes for some forms of Mexican food, you’ll feel reanimated by the food at Tortilla Maker. I know I’ll be banging on about them endlessly, boring friends and acquaintances into eye-glazing stupors. Until that Tacuba salsa hits their lips.

The Jimenez-Bucur family has set an entirely new standard for these Mexican staples and it’s Ottawa that can proudly boast of this world class business.

Suggested stories

  • A Mexican food shop and restaurant that makes for fun and a delicious outing.

  • The food is golden at this Mexican ByWard Market restaurant.

  • This Rideau St. Mexican eatery is a top destination for tacos.