Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana

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.

Three and a half Acorns
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
1215 S. Germantown Rd.
Germantown, TN 38138
(901) 751-1200

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9 thoughts on “Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana

  • March 20, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    I’m lucky enough to live just a couple of miles from this place–close enough to pick up a sandwich on the way home from work. My favorites are the spicy pork and chorizo sandwiches, though their fish tacos are delightful.

    I try to go out of my way to introduce this place to friends. And to make things even better, it’s right beside the Cordova Greenway, so you can take a nice walk or bike ride along the Wolf River without having to fight traffic.

    I ate there when the place first opened, and it’s been amazing to watch Pepe’s enthusiasm and attention to quality remain constant over the years.

  • March 21, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    We had elote con mayonesa y cotija while in Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatan a few years back from a street vender & it blew us away, we loved it & it was the perfect afternoon snack too.

    And they say not to eat food from street venders….well they don’t know what they are missing.

    We are going to have to try this joint out for sure.

  • March 22, 2007 at 6:22 am

    “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. “

    Oh My God! I love this stuff. I haven’t had it in years, but like C said, we had it in mexico a while back and fell in love with it. Why can’t they have corn and mayonnaise vendors here instead of hot dog carts?

  • March 27, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    right on. i really wish it was in midtown.

  • April 7, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Please don’t tell anyone else about this place. I try going at off-peak times, and I still can’t find a place to sit. I always have to sit at the bar, which is usually dirty, but I quickly forget as soon as I get the food. Pepe needs to expand. He needs to open a sit-down restaurant too.

  • July 11, 2007 at 7:59 am

    Late entry here but I I finally made it to this place yesterday. Now I want to start at the top of the menu and work my way through it.

    I was literally GROANING it was so good.

    And for a foodie, talking with Senor Pepe is worth the trip.

  • September 7, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Finally went to this place yesterday. I had seen it but knew nothing about it. It’s easy to pass by before you realize you missed your turn (coming from Germantown), but this time I pulled a U-ey near Lowes and I’m glad I did. It’s my new fave place for lunch! The fish tacos blew me away and the fruit drinks are out of this world. Fresh food really does make all the difference…

  • October 1, 2007 at 9:17 am

    I’ve lived in Memphis for two years, and it took a friend of mine from Orange County (he visits here on business frequently) to introduce me to Las Tortugas.

    From the Fish Tacos to the Tilapia/Red Snapper on fresh torta, and from the elote con mayonesa y cotija to the fruit drinks and tesote tea — it’s all made with this passion father and son, Pepe and Jonathan, pour into everything they do. A two-minute visit with either of them, and the enthusiasm is contagious — and justifiably so.

    And there’s so much of their menu I haven’t tried yet. Yes, it’s a bit pricier than you might expect, but get over it — quickly. This is no taco/burrito joint (I’m not sure there’s even a burrito on the menu). This is all about what you would get in Mexico City — and what you’re paying for are fresh, high-quality ingredients. Check it out.

  • June 17, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    This is an amazing place, and the food really is authentically Mexican, not Tex-Mex. I like getting things to go since the restaurant is always crowded and noisy. The aguas frescas are excellent- I don't understand why you can get these fresh fruit drinks all over Mexico, but restaurants here only offer Coke and iced tea.

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