Tortas in La Capital

The torta, Mexico’s version of the sandwich is the quintessential comida capitalina – fast food that is both European and truly Mexican. According to legend, they were invented at the turn of the 20th century by one Sr. Armando, an Italian immigrant, as his riff on the Italian pannino, adapting it to available ingredients and the locals’ penchant for avocado and chili. His family restaurant still exists, although I find their tortas insipid – perhaps Don Armando took the recipes with him to the grave. Prepared by a specialist called a tortero, a soft roll called a bolillo or telera is filled with a wide range of ingredients, popular choices being milanesa (pounded and fried meat), pierna (roast pork) choriqueso (cheese and sausage), bacalao, (salt cod) and pavo (turkey) but the variety is endless. A shmeer of refried beans is applied then the garnishes which can include tomato, onion, avocado, lettuce and, of course, chili jalapeño or chipotle. Pambazos filled with chorizo and potato, dunked in salsa and fried are a bit on the heavy side. Even weightier are tortas of tamales – starch-on-starch, but delicious according to our friend Stan.
While typically “Defeño”, i.e. of the capital, tortas are now found all over the country and one of my favorite places to eat them is at Tortitlán in San Miguel de Allende. In Puebla, tortas are called “cemitas” and are larger and sometimes filled with jellied pig’s feet or tongue, while all over Guadalajara tortas ahogadas, “drowned” in salsa and served with a spoon are de rigeur.

In the Big Taco, I recommend:

Tortas Poblanas, Ayuntamiento 25, (near Mercado San Juan) Centro, is a tiny storefront that serves simple tortas of freshly baked pierna (roast pork) or pavo (turkey).

La Texcocana
Independencia 8-A, near Balderas and the Museo de Arte Popular, Centro
Branch: Hamburgo 281, between Toledo and Sevilla, Zona Rosa
These are small bars with stools that serve only tortas and have been doing so since 1935. They offer a very unusual sardine torta, queso fresco with avocado (a good vegetarian option), and tortas of bacalao and carnitas.

Don Polo (1958)
Felix Cuevas 86 (near Av. Coyoacán) Colonia Del Valle
Open daily 7AM – 11:30PM
A beloved institution in Del Valle, this huge place serves great tortas de pavo or pierna amongst others, accompanied by licuados made with your choice of fresh fruit. There is counter as well as take-out service.

Tortas El Cuadrilátero
Luis Moya 73, near Ayuntamiento, Centro
Open daily 10AM – 7PM
Owned by a retired wrestler named El Super Astro, this fonda specializing in tortas is decorated with lucha libre paraphernalia such as masks, photos and prizes. The torta “Gladiador” weighs a kilo; order it at your own risk. Other options are more reasonably sized, but are also large enough to share.

La Barraca Valenciana
Centenario 91, 2 blocks up from the main plaza, Coyoacán
This modest tortería, with a Spanish/Argentine influence, serves some unusual vegetarian choices of mushroom or eggplant tortas, as well as the house special, chopped calamar, dressed with chimchurri, the typical Argentine parsley, garlic and olive oil sauce.

El Pialadero de Guadalajara
Hamburgo no. 332
Tel. 5211- 7708
Open daily from 9 AM – 7:30 PM
Here you can sample the famous Tapatio torta ahogada.

Tortas Been
Inside the pasaje at República del Salvador 152, a few blocks east of the Zócalo
This strange pasaje features stalls selling middle eastern foods and folkloric costumes. Quien sabe.... The torta stand smack in the middle has great tortas of pavo and pierna. Here, you pay first, then order.

Tortas de Bacalao Lagunilla
Comonfort, near Reforma, Centro
Open Sundays only
As you enter the antiques section of the Lagunilla flea market, is this legendary stand offering tortas of bacalao and cochinita pibil. Accompanied by an horchata de coco from the stand nearby, they are exquisite!

Tortas La Castellana
Av. Revolución #1309, corner of Corregidora, one block from Metro Barranca del Muerto, Colonia Guadalupe Inn
In business since 1946


Guadalajara,Guadalajara….Regional cuisine from the land of Tequila

A torta ahogada

The western state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, is associated with things quintessentially Mexican. Tequila, mariachi, charros, and folk dance (“el jarabe Tapatio”, better known as the Mexican hat dance) all claim their origins here. Its cooking, too, is based on the things that make Mexican food distinctive: chilies, corn, beans, tomatoes, pork and seafood. It’s cuisine is not as varied that in as states such as Puebla or Oaxaca, but what’s good can be great.
Standout dishes from the interior of this state are meat-based. Bírria, a spicy, soupy stew usually made with lamb or goat is popular, as is hominy-based pozole. The coast is known for its lemony ceviches and fish tacos, sometimes made with smoked marlin. Tapatios, as Jalisco residents are known, are proud of their culture and cooking, and at El Pialadero de Guadalajara, you can find out why.
This family-run business is one of the few places in the city devoted exclusively to comida tapatia. The name ‘pialadero’ refers to a ‘pial’, a lasso used on old haciendas to tie up animals by their legs. This simple, homey place is done in country style, outfitted with “equipal” leather chairs inside and out, and ambient ranchera (mariachi) music. There are outdoor tables and chairs as well, if you can handle the noisy traffic.
Cowboy hat clad founder Aarón García González, from Guadalajara, brings down many ingredients (and recipes) from his home town. A wise choice for an appetizer is the ceviche (your choice of fish or shrimp), tart and refreshing. An order of crispy tacos dorados, golden deep-fried tortillas filled with barbacoa (roast lamb) also make a filling starter, good for sharing.
The star of the show, however, is the exquisite torta ahogada (‘drowned sandwich’)– and I would crawl on my hands and knees for one. It sounds simple: a crusty roll, here called a birote, is filled with succulent carnitas (pork cooked in its own fat), then bathed in a rich, piquant sauce of tomato and chile de arbol. First timers look quizzically at the floating sandwich, wondering whether to eat it with a fork and knife, spoon, or their hands. Then the waiter offers a plastic glove, answering the question. While you may choose to be polite and eat with your fork and knife, you’ll be missing out on the essential tactile experience of chomping down on the dripping mess, the juices happily blending into a fragrant meaty pleasure that beats the best American burger you can remember.
The salsa is nothing less than perfect – prickly and tart. The birotes, which the owner told me cannot be baked properly here in el D.F., are imported from Guadalajara. Although drowning in sauce, they retain a bit of crustiness--another secret to success. Washed down with horchata, served in a traditional ceramic cup, or a local Estrella beer, this is an essential Tapatio experience.
The hearty and filling pozole tapatio is similar to other regional pozoles but a bit meatier, and served with shredded cabbage, tostadas, chopped onion, and crema. The birria tastes similar, so I suggest ordering one or the other but not both. A good choice for the less carnivorous is the tacos de marlin, or the shrimps done however you please – al mojo de ajo, with garlic and toasted chile is always a satisfying choice. The torta ahogada also comes in a version made with shrimp.
And for dessert, don’t forget to try the dulce Jericallas, Guadalajara’s rich answer to flan.
As the nostalgic song goes, “Ay Jalisco, no te rajes….”

El Pialadero de Guadalajara
Hamburgo no. 332
Tel. 5211- 7708
Open daily from 9 AM – 7:30 PM

A new, larger branch offering the same menu, has opened in Santa Fe:
Lateral Autopista México - Toluca 1235
Tel. 2591-0371
Same hours