Herndon, Virginia’s Tortilla Factory Re-Visited

3 Nov

Herndon, Virginia — the neighboring community to my hometown of Reston. I attended Herndon High School (there was no high school in Reston at that time). As kids, we would ride our Schwinn bikes (yes, with the banana seats) into Herndon to buy 7-Eleven Slurpees and purchase a few packs of baseball cards. Over the years Reston’s growth has exploded. It now boasts more office space than the state capital of Richmond. Herndon has grown a bit too. But it still retains some of its Mayberry-like charm. The Ice House Cafe has long been a fixture on the Herndon dining scene. So has Venus Pizza. But you can’t talk Herndon and dining traditions and not talk about The Tortilla Factory.

The Tortilla Factory has hung around for several decades now. In the mid to late 1970’s, it was thought by some to be a hippie outpost. I guess it truly was. Matter of fact, it still has something of a “granola” vibe. They even grow their own peppers (see above) out front of the restaurant. As I recall, they started out by making tortillas and tortilla chips — and they continue to make really good ones. Stop by and pick up a large bag of chips sometime. The salsa is mui bueno too.

Original menu board (above) – can you believe those prices???

Chips are sold by the bag – get ’em while they’re fresh. So good!

These glistening amber beauties didn’t stand a chance. Crunch!!!

Tortilla Factory Salsa – unchanged thru the decades. A real treat.

Specials were tempting, but I was determined to order a classic

Brother Bill broke down and ordered a frosty cold margarita

Machaca Beef has long been my favorite Tortilla Factory ingredient. It can typically be found here in a variety of incarnations. The Machaca Enchilada caught my eye on this recent return visit. It was served with the traditional Spanish rice and black beans (both were serviceable). The two substantial enchiladas (fashioned with flour tortilllas) came topped with cheese, pico de gallo, and a verde (“green” for you Gringos & Gringas) sauce. The sauce was disappointing … far too slimey in texture and lacking in the usual tart punch. I quickly solved that problem by peeling back the tortillas to reveal the signature shredded beef, prepared with cilantro, onion, tomato, and green chiles.  To my relief, it was just as good as I remembered. Tender, spiced just right — delicious. Ahhhh, the memories came flooding back. Past dinners with old friends. Long ago family visits with my parents and now fully-grown brothers. Good times! 

So, contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote, I guess you can go home again. It was far from a perfect meal. Flaws did present themselves. But the company (my brothers, Mark & Bill) was good and the old surroundings comforting. The framed black & white Pancho Villa images and “Day of the Dead” figures dangling from the restaurant’s walls apparently unmoved for decades. Chips – check! Salsa – check! Prompt servicecheck!  Perfectly seasoned beef – check! And enough good memories to fill my emotional fuel tank until my next visit (whenever that might be).

Each time I return home (which happens about once every 2 to 4 years) I observe dramatic changes. In the urban landscape. In the people. In the pace. In the traffic. The more things change, the more the Tortilla Factory manages to remain the same. And, frankly, I like it that way. So go ahead and change your verde sauce recipe if you want, Tortilla Factory. But leave everything else just the way it is — and has been for my entire adult life. This factory not only churns out tortillas. For me, and many other longtime fans, they have manufactured lasting memories that linger long after that last sinful bite of their amazing Bill’s Butter Walnut Cake fades from your palate.

THE TORTILLA FACTORY – 648 Elden St., Herndon, VA

(703) 471-1156; www.thetortillafactory.com

***Open for lunch and dinner; 7 days a week***

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