Today, Esperanza Arevalo sells popular mesquite tortillas to a devoted clientele at farmers’ markets throughout Tucson. But she started at the corner of Ajo Way and Highway 85, standing alongside her father under the Tucson sun.
“It was just after 9/11,” Arevalo said. “When I lost my job, and my dad and I started selling tortillas.” They made flour tortillas in those days, until one day a University of Arizona ethnobiologist, Gary Nabhan, came to their table with a life-changing question. “He stopped to buy flour tortillas,” said Arevalo. “And he asked us if we could make him some mesquite tortillas. My dad said ‘We’ll try and see what we can do.’”
“Mesquite is very unique,” she continued. “It’s native to this region, and we have lost touch with so many native things. People have tried to make tortillas from mesquite flour, but it’s so hard, and they have often forgotten the formula.” Arevalo’s father, Javier, invented a mesquite recipe, and the family started making tortillas for Nabhan. “It just took off,” she said. Her father founded Tortilleria Arevalo, which specializes in mesquite tortillas. They use mesquite flour from Peru because it’s smoother than wild Sonoran mesquite.
“We mix in wheat flour and olive oil. It’s high-protein and high-fiber—great for people who are diabetic,” said Arevalo. She also makes a gluten-free mesquite tortilla, as well as two different kinds of mesquite cookies. “The gluten-free, chocolate chip walnut cookies are best,” she said. Arevalo’s favorite mesquite meal is a tostada with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, avocados, and salt and pepper.
“It’s an art, to make a mesquite tortilla,” Arevalo said. “If you don’t feel like making them, they don’t come out right. The mesquite flour is gooey, and you have to put in just the right amount of oil. It has to be just perfect.” The tortillas change with the weather, too, she said. “If it’s very moist, or very cold, you’re going to be in trouble making them. It’s funny, but it’s true.”
Since her father developed cancer, Arevalo runs her family’s business with help of friends and family. “My dad, my mom, and I used to work long hours. Now that I have help it’s not as heavy.” She still makes mesquite tortillas for Nabhan. “He is a very nice man and a good friend.”
Arevalo awakens at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to begin baking. It takes her about five hours to prepare 40 packages of mesquite tortillas in the commercial kitchen she uses in Three Points, “in the middle of nowhere!” she said, laughing. “I have a window there, and the beautiful rising sun,” she said. “It makes everything good for the market.”
You can find Tortilleria Arevalo at Trail Dust Town Farmers’ Market, Fridays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Oro Valley Farmers’ Market, Saturday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., and Rillito Park, Sundays 8 a.m. – noon. Arevalo’s tortillas are also for sale at New Life Health Center, with two locations on Speedway Boulevard and Broadway Boulevard, and Aqua Vita at Country Club and Glenn.