The best tortillas this side of the border aren’t from your favorite food truck or taco cart — they’re coming out of the back of a pharmacy in Old Town Albuquerque
By Ellen Ranta Olson • Photography by Minesh Bacrania
Duck into Duran Central Pharmacy on any given day, and you’re likely to find two different crowds. The first is what you’d expect in a local drugstore: people picking up prescriptions. The other is unique to this Old Town ABQ mainstay and is made up of hungry locals and tourists alike, clamoring for a bowl of green chile stew with a side of just-made tortillas.
But Duran’s wasn’t always a dining destination, says owner Mona Ghattas. The now-award-winning food was initially just a happy accident.
“The pharmacy was opened in 1942 by a man named Pete Duran. My father bought it in 1965 after working there as a pharmacist and kept the name. There was a soda fountain in the back, but more and more, people wanted something to eat,” she says.
So Ghattas’ father, a chemist by trade, began experimenting with different dishes and learned quickly that his New Mexican food was the most popular. “It was his first endeavor with food, but the way his brain worked with compounding medications translated into cooking.”
While Duran’s is well-known for its green and red chile (blended in-house with sun-dried New Mexico chiles), it’s the hand rolled tortillas that have their own cult-like following.
And for good reason — these aren’t your typical store-bought, paper-thin wraps masquerading as a tortilla. The tortilla at Duran’s is thick and fluffy with the perfect blend of darkened char spots and bright white floury goodness. They’re made to order on an actual cast-iron comal and shaped by hand using a rolling pin before being slathered with butter. The one nontraditional twist? Duran’s doesn’t use any lard in their tortillas, so they’re vegetarian-friendly.
It’s how they’ve been doing it since the ’60s, and Ghattas doesn’t expect that to change any time soon. “We really don’t change the menu too often, because, as they say: If it’s not broken, why fix it?”