Orlando is full of hidden treasures, and my latest discovery is Tortilleria El Progreso (https://www.tortilleriaelprogreso.com/), nestled in a nondescript strip shopping center in the shadow of a Home Depot, along a busy, industrial stretch of East Colonial Drive, west of the 417 and east of Semoran Boulevard. It is a bustling Mexican restaurant and a full Mexican grocery store with a butcher shop, a bakery, an ice cream counter, and more. This is real Mexican food, authentic and pure — the kind of place that makes its own tortillas, chips, and everything else from scratch. The menu is huge, the service is friendly, the prices are cheap, the portions are large, and the colorful, welcoming dining room with hand-painted chairs makes you feel transported away from Orlando, to a vacation destination south of the border.
I went for lunch with a professional colleague who trusts my restaurant-choosing judgment and was kind enough to treat. We started out with complimentary chips and salsa, and we could tell the chips were fresh, made from actual tortillas not long before our arrival:
Whenever I see tortas on a menu, I go for it. If there’s one thing I love more than a good taco, it’s a good sandwich, and tortas are the best of both worlds: Mexican ingredients on a soft bolillo or telera roll, with meat, a schmear of refried beans, avocado, shredded lettuce, tomato, onions, sometimes peppers, and a dab of mayo or sour cream. I got a barbacoa torta, with tender, oven-braised beef. It even came with unexpected fries, but the fries weren’t anything special, and I didn’t dare fill up on them.
But I couldn’t visit a new Mexican restaurant and not sample two of my favorite meats, so I got a chorizo (spicy crumbled sausage) taco on a flour tortilla and an al pastor (marinated pork) taco on a corn tortilla, so I could try both kinds of tortillas too. All the tacos came simply garnished with diced raw onions and chopped cilantro, with lime wedges on the side. I am pleased to say everything was delicious.
My colleague ordered three tacos: shredded chicken and sauteed beef, hold the onions.
We were also offered a choice of red or green salsas for the table, so of course I asked for both. The green tomatillo salsa was medium-spicy, and the red had quite a bit of heat. These were homemade as well:
We also decided to try a side order of the Mexican rice, which was soft, fluffy, even a little buttery. I have a rice cooker at home because my rice never comes out right from a pot, but I still never get it as perfect as all the restaurant rice I enjoy. I stirred a little of the salsas into the rice, to make a good thing even better.
I was overjoyed to see aguas frescas on the menu, which is one of my tests for how authentic and good a Mexican restaurant is going to be. These refreshing drinks are sweet, but not as sweet as high fructose corn syrup-laden sodas, they aren’t carbonated, and they’re ideal for cutting the heat of spicy Mexican food. I ordered a piña agua fresca because I will always try anything pineappley, and I recommended another one of my favorites to my colleague: horchata, which is a sweet rice milk flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. I didn’t snap photos of those, but they were both terrific.
I can’t wait to return to Tortilleria El Progreso and try some more menu items, including some of those other aguas frescas, and some of the paletas (popsicles) and helados (ice creams) in the big case at the front of the restaurant. It looked like the market side had bolillo rolls in the bakery section for tortas, fresh tortillas, sodas, snacks, and other groceries worth exploring. I love grocery shopping at new places almost as much as I love trying new restaurants, so I will definitely be back to this newly-discovered hidden treasure that plenty of other people surely already knew about.