Give a guy a Las Tortugas franchise, and what does he do? If you're JuanCarlos Wong, you keep it for a few months before concluding that you can do your own thing -- and do it better.
Wong, who opened a Las Tortugas outlet earlier this year in June at 810 East 88th Avenue, in Thornton, in the same strip mall that houses a Rancho Liborio mercado, gave up the franchise in October and changed the name to Teleras, a name that reflects the oval, flat, soft-crusted Mexican bread used throughout Mexico to make tortas, which is exactly what Wong is doing at his diminutive strorefront.
"We have much more of a variety here than when it was Los Tortugas, and we're using different ingredients, including all of our own seasonings," says Wong, who was born in Laredo, Texas and raised in Mexico City by parents who've owned restaurants their entire lives. "I was almost born in a restaurant," jokes Wong, who attended the University of Colorado, Boulder and worked in the mortgage business until it tanked and Wong decided to follow in his parent's footsteps.
His chalkboard menu includes nearly twenty tortas, including the la mamalona, which comes heaped with breaded steak, hot dogs, pork chops, ham, chorizo, chicken, Oaxacan cheese, pineapple, frijoles refritos, avocado, onions, tomatoes, a smear of chipotle mayonnaise and whatever else you want lobbed between the two slices of bread. "The way we makes our tortas is authentic. We don't make the Americanized versions. We cook them like they do in Mexico City," insists Wong.
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And it's the la poblano torta, nubs of impossibly tender chicken slicked with a terrifically smoky mole, that, he says, really separates his joint from the competition. "I think we're making the only mole torta in Colorado, and the recipe is straight from Puebla," he notes. "We have a woman who comes in and makes it for us, and that's all she knows how to do -- mole."
Wong also points out that nothing -- not one ingredient in his kitchen -- is previously frozen, and aside from the beans and pickled jalapenos, nothing comes from a can. "Nearly everything is fresh, and while we've been using canned refried beans, that's about to change. We're going to start making them from scratch," says Wong.
The restaurant, currently open for lunch and dinner, will soon add a breakfast menu, and, hopes Wong, liquor. (Until that happens, the housemade aguas frescas are fantastic.) In addition, Wong says that he's already lined up a second location in Plaza Fiesta, a reconstruction project at Federal Boulevard and Evans. "By this time next year, we should definitely have a second location up and running, and possibly a third." And starting in December, Wong will start hustling tamale tortas.
In the meantime, the oint offering a few killer deals: on weekdays, if you buy two tortas, you get one free, and on weekends, it's buy-one, get-one free."We're doing what we can to get people through the door. We want people to know that we're making authentic recipes here," says Wong.