For the next few months, chef Jorge Aguilar’s Border Town, a roving pop-up, has settled down and taken over the Screen Door, a Greenpoint ice cream shop that’s closed for a winter recess. The Screen Door’s owner Kate Covey says in its five years in operation, Border Town is the first pop-up she’s handed the keys over to during the off-season.
Aguilar is known for his paper-thin handmade flour tortillas — once a rarity in New York City, though more and more places like Yellow Rose and Santa Fe BK are increasingly doing flour tortillas justice. If you hold them up, you can see the light through Aguilar’s, like an edible, doughy sheer curtain. With every tortilla Aguilar presses out, the process is almost like screen printing, each the same final image, but distinguished by its ink blots, or in this case charred bits from the flat top and finger pressure, that makes every order a one-of-a-kind.
At the Screen Door, Aguilar is making several types of breakfast tacos, otherwise known as tacos de guisados ($5 each). There’s a bean and cheese, puerco en salsa verde, and potatoes and scrambled eggs with onions and peppers (huevos a la Mexicana). The menu will change a bit daily, he says.
There are no seats at the Screen Door, so each — like at King David Tacos — gets wrapped up like a sleeping bag in rolled tinfoil, for breakfast on the go. Border Town’s are made to order. It’s a distinction worth making, not only because it’s part of what makes them so good, but it also feels, at the moment, somewhat unsustainable with the type of crowds he’s drawn, ever since the social media platform Righteous Eats profiled him. Up until now, Border Town’s coveted flour tortillas were mainly available at a once-a-week pop-up at a Clinton Hill coffee shop called Commune, where some customers waited up to two hours.
Aguilar’s Border Town business is his first time cooking Mexican food professionally. And while flour tortillas aren’t something his mom made him, he learned a bit from his babysitter growing up, who sold them on the side. Previously, he and his partner Amanda Rosa, moved to New York in 2019 to help a Vegas restaurant group open a Carroll Gardens Peruvian restaurant that never ended up panning out.
The pandemic hit, and Aguilar had the time and fire in his belly to start playing around with making Sonora-style tortillas, where his family is from, a recipe he experimented with again and again until he felt comfortable sharing them. “At first they weren’t getting that ballooning look,” he said. When they did, he felt like he had found their final form.
Aguilar makes tortillas with lard (though there’s a vegetarian option with avocado oil available), using flour sourced by his father in Sonora, which requires coordination with his mother, who lives in California, to cross the border for them and then ship them over to Aguilar here in Brooklyn. (Aguilar was born in Mexicali in the northern Mexican Baja California region.)
In addition to Commune, previously, Border Town held events at various bars in the city like Ore Bar in East Williamsburg and ran burrito deliveries via its Instagram (Aguilar says he might explore bringing back IG burritos back down the line). The tortillas themselves have been for sale at Greenpoint’s Big Night and Williamsburg’s Marlow & Daughters, for those who want to get their hands on them to make them with their preferred fillings.
The lines, at least in its first week, have followed him to Greenpoint. Aguilar says he dreams of opening his own spot to build the brand.
In the meantime, he’s at the Screen Door, at 145 Driggs Avenue, at Russell Street, Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m. until sold out (and they have been). On Sundays, he plans to continue at Commune. Catch Border Town on Instagram for the latest specials and hours.