The matchup: set. The invites: made. The main: seafood, thin-crust pizzas, maybe both combined. And the snack: The one thing from Los Angeles that makes an appearance at nearly every 'Big Game' Sunday — not that we are bitter — tortilla chips.
Much like the lore behind other popular Mexican foods, the exact point of origin for tortilla chips can be disputed. However, much of the credit for their rise to national popularly is given to Rebecca Webb Carranza, who in the 1940s began mass-producing them at her family's tortilleria in the Los Angeles neighborhood of West Adams. Since then, while others have tried to elevate the tortilla triangle in sometimes frightening ways, we've found the best tortilla chips in L.A. share similar roots.
On the industrial edge of Westchester, Maria's Tortillas is a small Mexican café and contract tortilleria making masa, tortillas and tortilla chips for various local restaurants. However, Maria's does sell its items to the public, including tortilla chips with deep corn flavor. Unlike most commercially made tortilla chips, the taste of which can best be described as cardboard, Maria's Tortillas' chips start with tortillas made with a coarsely ground masa. You can see the bits of corn, smell it and even feel it on the rough texture of the chip.
This coarseness and earthy taste makes these chips ideal with traditional and spicy salsas. Even the thinnest and spicest salsa rojas and verdes cling to these craggy chips, and the whisper of corn sweetness adds depth to the salsa's heat. With guacamole, the earthiness of the corn brings balance to the richness. Creamy avocado, bright red onion, spicy roasted chiles and then the addition of crunch and flavor from the tortilla chip exemplifies all that is good in Mexican food.
While the tortilleria Carranza founded has long since closed, there are still many Mexican food institutions in L.A. And a list of those would not be complete without including the one-stop game-day shop on the Eastside, Los Cinco Puntos. Los Cinco Puntos is a market with cold beers, a cocina dishing out pick your part meat by the kilo and a tortilleria supplying handmade tortillas and ultra-thin tortilla chips.
Los Cinco Puntos' tortilla chips are less like fried tortillas and more like savory buñuelos. The surface of the chip reveals that they are mainly composed of crisp little air pockets, which, as science explains, makes the chips not only incredibly light but also quite rigid. These chips are best for salsas and dips that can stand on their own: a spicy-sweet mango salsa or a molten queso dip. By delivering a burst of crunch with each bite and then melding with the dip, eating these invariably quickly leads to the need for another bowl of dip or more of these very chips.
If there is one testament to the popularity of the tortilla chip, it's the wide variety available at your neighborhood grocery store. Stone-ground, baked, with flax seeds. While it would be easy to scoff at all the supposed industrialized offerings at the supermarket, if we did, we would be missing out on the best thick chip, Casa Sanchez Gruesos.
Although they can be found at a variety of retailers in the Southland, from BevMo! to Whole Foods, Casa Sanchez tortilla chips hail from one of the oldest tortillerias in San Francisco. The companyy also makes several varieties of tortilla chips, but it is the thick and crispy Gruesos that always make our game-day spread because what's on TV isn't the only super thing going on. Super creamy and thick dips like black bean, spinach or blue cheese are no match for flaky crackers or airy baguette rounds. Casa Sanchez' chips are fried to the point where one would think they might have gone too far. But instead the toasted flavor is a great match for any dip and their thickness cuts through any number of layer dip that might cross its path.
Further, while eating a chip from San Francisco might be the ultimate way for Angelenos to show they have no skin in the game, it can also be seen as a sign of confidence. After all, we're already home to those other football champions.
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