How can Pilsen be Pilsen without a tortillería? The oldest tortillería in Pilsen is El Popocatepetl on 21st Street. It was established in 1958 as El Popocatepetl by Ernesto Avina. Before that it operated under a different owner.
I spoke with Avinas’s grandson, Julian Rodriguez. Julian can be found on certain days taking orders at the register and serving you hot, fresh tortillas with a friendly demeanor. Julian is the general manager and software technician among many other things at El Popocatepetl. “I do a little bit of everything. [I’m] kind of more involved with the software end of everything, but I’m also not afraid of doing deliveries,” Julian said.
There are three generations of family running the business. The current company president and vice-president are Mexican women, Elizabeth and Yvonne Avina.
Why do I love “El Popo”? They have the best “tortilla caliente,” in other words, the best hot, fresh tortilla! Julian mentioned how they only use local ingredients in their tortillas. The corn for the dough comes from southern Illinois. There is nothing like hitting up El Popo for tortillas calientes “en papel.” As soon as you get them, you want to take one and make a taco, and you want to eat it with mole or other delicious food waiting for you at home.
I also love it because of the memories that it brings up for me. The other day I was eating some tacos with El Popo tortillas. As I bit into my taco, I was like this reminds me of someone. Then I thought of my father. Yep, we’ve been eating tortillas from El Popo for so long that I remembered eight-year-old me being in the kitchen with my father making tacos. Years later, the quality and recipe haven’t changed.
I told Julian how sad I was when I came to the realization that there are only two tortillerías in Pilsen remaining. He understood my pain. “Access to fresh food that is affordable and nutritious is very important. Obviously tortillas in a Mexican community are synonymous; they go hand in hand,” he said.
Having fresh affordable food in the community is important for Julian and El Popo. This is why they pride themselves on their tortillas and other tortilla products. This is why they have donated to food pantries and food drives. Even during the pandemic they did not raise their prices. They’ve also sponsored events like Día del Niño and have given scholarships to students. They care about the community. This is why I love El Popo.
I want local fresh food that reminds me of my culture and I will never stop going to El Popo. If you are in Pilsen, support El Popocatepetl Tortillería! Get your tortillas calientes en papel, fresh masa for tamales, crispy chips, tostadas and more!
Lastly, don’t forget to take a picture of their huge beautiful Mexican mural painted by Manny and Brenda Macias.
El Popocatepetl Tortilleria, 1854 W. 21st St. Monday–Saturday, 7am–3pm; Sunday, 7am–1pm. (312) 421-6143. elpopotortillas.com