Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana is a revelation. As owner Pepe Magallanes is justifiably proud to tell you, you won’t find Mexican food like this anywhere else in Memphis. Maybe not even anywhere else in the US. This is not what we used to think of when we thought of Mexican food, but for the Squirrel Squad, Las Tortugas is our gold standard for the best. While the food is undeniably fabulous, it’s Pepe Magallanes and his passion for quality that sets the Las Tortugas experience so far apart from anything else.
Las Tortugas has been a success from the moment it opened its doors nearly four years ago. Pepe attributes part of that success to changes in Memphians.
People in Memphis are becoming more cosmopolitan in their tastes, their tastes in travel and their tastes in food.
Las Tortugas succeeds in what I’ve always felt should be the goal of every restaurant. When you’re eating their food, you completely forget about everything else. The setting fades to the background, and you’re able to truly savor the experience of the food. The flavors take you by surprise, and you find yourself thinking, “this is what this dish is supposed to taste like.” Every time we think we’ve found a favorite dish, we find another wonderful combination that blows us away. A great meal should take you on a journey, and when you’re eating this food, you’re in Mexico. A small Mexican restaurant that brags about serving street food located in a strip mall in one of the least ethnic parts of Memphis is not where you would expect to have this experience, but Pepe has a theory about food that seems to be proving true.
None of this that you see here comes from a can. None of this comes from a jar. All of this food was in the market this morning. People love this food because your body craves it. Your body craves fresh food.
This is incredible food. The humble sandwich becomes something extraordinary with a base of bread made fresh in-house everyday. The tacos are equally delicious. While the menu offerings can be served in either sandwich or taco form, the daily specials of each offering tend to be specifically one or the other. We’ve fallen in love with the chicken mole tacos that have been a repeating special, and we were more than happy to pay $20 for a lobster tortuga. It was worth every penny. We paired it with ribeye carne asada to make what we call Mexican surf and turf.
The elote con mayonesa y cotija seems to be an incongruous combination (corn with mayonnaise and cheese), but it melts in your mouth and is one of the most addictive things I’ve ever eaten. The chilindrina is the perfect appetizer. The lightly pork flavored flour crisp is topped with fresh guacamole, lettuce, and Pepe’s fresh lime cucumber pickles (another addictive flavor) all drizzled with hot sauce.
If I absolutely had to choose a favorite thing from Las Tortugas, it would have to be the drinks. The agua de sandia is like drinking the heart of a perfect summer watermelon. The agua de melon is the essence of cantaloupe. The tesote is an addictively sweet and citrus tea. The limonada is the perfect limeade. Of course, there’s always authentic Mexican Coca-Cola made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. We’ve never tried the flan on the menu because the drinks are a perfect answer to an sweet craving.
Like the authentic Coca Cola, Las Tortugas is truly authentic. Pepe explains:
This is upscale Mexican food. You can find food like this anywhere in Mexico City, but this is upscale because of the fresh ingredients. When you are in Mexico City, ask your concierge. Ask your cabbie about the best torteria, the best taqueria. They will take you to the good places.
Las Tortugas is the good place. Pepe proves that upscale doesn’t have to mean fancy food. Quality ingredients combined with great care in preparation provide wonderful food without any pretension whatsoever. Yes, it’s more expensive than you may expect a Mexican restaurant or a deli to be, but there are reasons for that, and it’s worth every penny. Order anything on the menu, and you won’t be disappointed.
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
1215 S. Germantown Rd.
Germantown, TN 38138