New Mexican restaurant hits the grill in NE Albuquerque

Jan. 7—Flour. Baking powder. Lard. Water. Salt.

Just five ingredients go into making the tortillas at newly-opened New Mexican restaurant Tortilla Kitchen. But according to co-owner Mike Montoya, it's the technique that turns tortilla-making into an art.

"Making homemade tortillas is like a lost art," Montoya said. " ... I will tell you there's an art in how those ingredients are applied."

Tortillas are in both the name and the heart of the restaurant at 6550 Holly NE. Instead of making a stack of tortillas in the morning, co-owner Gloria Montoya said, tortillas are made-to-order and come to the table in a tortilla warmer.

"We never have leftover tortillas," Gloria Montoya said.

Besides being served in the restaurant and incorporated into meals like enchiladas, burritos and street tacos, their tortillas are for sale by the dozen.

They're made in an open kitchen located in the dining room, so customers can see the cooking process. Mike Montoya was inspired by Española restaurant El Paragua, which has a similar concept.

"You can smell it, you can watch it, you know, it's just right there in front of you," Mike Montoya said. "Everybody who comes in, their expression is the same as it was for me when I saw that in the restaurant."

Growing up, Mike Montoya said that tortillas never hit the plate — they would be grabbed almost straight off the skillet and buttered.

The tortilla recipe, along with menu items, belongs to Gloria Montoya. But her husband, a former firefighter, is also quite the cook, she said.

"I always call him a show-off — he cooks good," Gloria Montoya said. "If you've ever gone to Smith's, you'll see a truckload of firemen shopping for groceries, because when they're off, they cook. That's what they do."

Cooking was something that Mike Montoya wanted to keep up in retirement.

"In the firehouse, we all cook, we all share meals together," Mike Montoya said. "We all enjoy that family kind of atmosphere, so I wanted to keep doing that after my retirement."

Family was another motivating factor in opening the restaurant, Mike Montoya said. Besides several family members working in the restaurant, he wants to pass on the culture of food to his and Gloria's 11 grandchildren.

"Those are some of the things we learned from our grandparents and our parents," Mike Montoya said. "I want to extend it to our grandkids. I want them to walk in — and I want other people's kids to walk in — and see it."

The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day.