La Mano

Bon Appétit's love letter to H-E-B tortillas spotlights San Antonio's best-kept secret

Bon Appétit's letter to H-E-B tortillas spotlights San Antonio secret

H-E-B flour tortillas
H-E-B's flour tortillas are the subject of a lengthy love letter by Bon Appétit. Photo courtesy of H-E-B

On Thursday, February 13, Bon Appétit published an essay heralding H-E-B's flour tortillas. The response to this surprising recognition by writer Alex Beggs has become a bit of a social media phenomenon, one that is still reverberating across the state.

Before BA's missive, however, tortilla lovers and H-E-B shoppers have long agreed upon the excellence of this product. As a native San Antonian growing up on the South Side, I would overhear conversations between family matriarchs over coffee:

"¡Salieron sabrosas estas tortillas!" (These tortillas came out great!), an early morning visitor would exclaim.

"Son de H-E-B," (They’re from H-E-B), my grandmother would reply.

Upon hearing this, her guest's penciled-in eyebrow would invariably arch, reflecting a growing consensus in our neighborhood that H-E-B hadn’t merely replicated a recipe — it had captured what had taken our ancestors generations to perfect. 

In later decades, while modern mothers began balancing family with full-time jobs, H-E-B was waiting to deliver what mattered most to San Antonio families: hot-off-the-comal flour tortillas. However, not all grandmothers were willing to be so easily replaced. And despite her willingness to buy H-E-B tortillas, my grandmother was one of these purists.

To her, authenticity was everything, and the phrase “store-bought” was an almost vulgar term. Making tortillas by hand was a matter of self-respect. After the completion of a batch of tortillas, which was always a sight to see, my grandmother would sit down and say under her breath, “Ahora me puedo sentar con honra." (Now I can sit down with honor.)

In the Mexican American culture, at least the one that I was born into, women who were able to make perfect tortillas, according to elders like my grandmother, had la mano. My mom has it. My sister has it. My aunt, quite famously, does not.

Having la mano meant that a woman was able to make delicious tortillas, a necessary ingredient to landing a husband in those days. In fact, when a man would see a beautiful woman, he'd comment on her beauty then almost immediately ask, “But does she make tortillas?” (If you are Latinx from South Texas, feel free to ask your grandparents for confirmation.)

Though San Antonians have known it for years, Bon Appétit's essay is further proof that H-E-B has earned the loyalty of its base through hard work and years of research. Just like the way a visit to New York City should always include a visit to H&H Bagels, a trip to Texas may now not be complete without a visit to H-E-B for the chance to try these glorious treats.

And here is the genius of what H-E-B has done: I, a local from the barrio who grew up eating my grandmother’s tortillas every day, can't always tell the difference.

This is unsettling, but also a reason to rejoice. When it comes to tortillas, H-E-B certainly has, dare I say, la mano.