Legend has it that during the Spanish Civil War, Basque General Tomás Zumalacárregui visited a farmhouse and demanded the woman of the house cook him something quickly. In a panic, she combined egg, potato, and onion, the only food she had. Zumalacárregui liked it so much, he brought the recipe back with him and taught his forces the filling and quickly-prepped technique.
Just like that Tortilla Española, sometimes called tortilla de patatas, was born. The Spanish omelette traveled through kitchen after kitchen, across continent, and has now become somewhat of a fancy dish despite its humble beginnings.
To make it, chefs first prep the ingredients, cook the eggs, potato and onion, and then fry them in oil. The finished product emerges brightly colored and cake-shaped. It's then served hot and by the slice.
We visited two Valley restaurants that make their own Tortilla Española to see whose take on the dish fares better.
In this corner: Vovomeena
The Setting: Located in a small shopping center filled with chains such as Chipotle and Jersey Mike’s, Vovomeena can be recognized by the sweet mural of a married couple that graces the side of the restaurant. The spot is named for owner DJ Fernandes' grandmother, and he pays respect by creating fusion dishes that offer diners a variety of flavors.
Despite its small location, Vovomeena runs a smooth operation. The counter-style ordering system allows ample time to peruse the menu and make the difficult decision of which dish to try.
The Good: We ordered the Tortilla Española with a side of bacon and a cup of Vovomeena’s famous coffee. The smoky bacon paired well with the peppery flavor of arugula that accompanies the dish. The omelet itself rested on a bed of roasted tomatoes and was visibly packed with potatoes and onion. Despite the dense appearance, it was impossibly light and airy.
The Bad: We’re fully aware that the traditional dish is typically comprised of only three ingredients, but the tortilla Española at Vovomeena could have had a little more flavor. The brava sauce, as it is labelled on the menu, is delicious, but not enough to carry the omelet. Something so soft and airy needs flavor to balance the plain consistency. Had the potatoes or onions been grilled with a little more spice, we might not have needed to add hot sauce to ours. It was also a little pricey, ringing up at $12.
In this corner: Alo Cafe
The Setting: Alo Cafe is the definition of quaint. Like Vovomeena it's a bit hidden, but this time in a historic neighborhood near Old Town Scottsdale. The smell of fresh pastries and the sounds of Valerie June softly filled the room during our visit. Guests have the option of sitting outside; trees and umbrellas provide necessary cover and add to the atmosphere of Eurostyle dining.
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The Good: Alo’s Tortilla Española comes as hearty portion, with only one artistically-cut strawberry to accompany it. It’s really all you need though, as the dish is dense and filling. The chef came out and explained that though he doesn’t usually recommend ketchup, the restaurant's homemade curry ketchup pairs well with the potatoes in the omelet. And he’s right. The spicy ketchup was the perfect addition to the eggs, potatoes, and onions. Sweet, spicy, and salty all mixed together in perfect harmony. Paired with a cold brew coffee, the total was about $9.
The Bad: There are no sides that come with the Tortilla Española aside from a piece of fruit, but the dish doesn't necessarily need one. It's so heavy that one slice filled us up. It was a little salty, however.
The Winner: Because there are so few components to this dish, each individual ingredient of the tortilla must contribute its own flavor and aroma. Though Vovomeena's was tasty, Alo Cafe’s was simpler, and ultimately the better of the two. Vovomeena's relied too much on the sauce and side dishes, while the omelet itself was too soft and lacked a punch. Alo's stood on its own and proved why this dish has stood the test of time.