Los Angeles has always had many great Jalisco-style tortas ahogadas—the carnitas-stuffed hard roll, called pan salado, or birote, drowned in a hot-as-hell runny salsa and made with a regional chile de arbol called chile Yahualica, named after the town where they come from. Today, we have serious Mexico City-style sandwich makers, their skills honed on the streets of Mexico’s street food-centric capital; a few cemita poblana vendors we can finally celebrate and some fine contributions from our pocho chefs. Here are the best places in Los Angeles to get your Mexican torta fix.
The Pueblan cemita poblana relies on the combination of a sesame seed cemita roll, lots of Oaxacan cheese and the flavors of papalo, fresh avocado, hot or cold meats (usually a milanesa) moistened by a spread of refried beans and a little spice from chipotles in adobo (a marinade) or pickled jalapeños. The best is found at the Los Poblanos truck in Boyle Heights, right in the heart of Cemita Row, with a locally made cemita-style roll; fresh, ample Oaxacan cheese with the right amount of saltiness and quality ingredients down to the excellent milanesa. Other notable stops are Cemitero Poblano, which make the best rolls in town and Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla, a great late-night cemita poblana option that also used the fine roll from Cemitero Poblano.
• Cemitero Poblano, 510 S. Lorena St., Boyle Heights, (323) 264-2973
• Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla, E. Olypic Blvd., just west of Esperanza St., Los Angeles Tuesday-Sunday, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
• Los Poblanos, Whittier Blvd. west of Spence, Boyle Heights, (323) 268-2209
While the three most popular traditional Mexican tortas have firmly taken hold in L.A., a big surprise has come from our homegrown pocho chefs, like Ricardo Diaz (Bizarra Capital, Colonia Publica, Colonia Taco Lounge), who started Cook’s Tortas back in 2008. Although Diaz is no longer a part of the original SGV torta shop, you can still enjoy tortas like the Zacatecana, a messy chorizo sandwich served with a side of potato salad or sweet potato “Tech” fries. What could be more Mexican-American? Any night chef Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos puts a torta on his menu at his truck in the Arts District, you can count on indulgences like his open-faced fried duck egg torta topped with sea urchin, arugula and broccolini flowers.
From East L.A. to Huntington Park you can choose from innumerable tortas ahogadas, like the magnificent version at Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara, with homemade birote, tasty carnitas and a deliciously tangy chile Yahualica salsa that’s prepared as hot as you can stand. You can also get a fine torta ahogada at the Boyle Heights based weekend torta cart, Tony’s Tortas Ahogadas , and at Tortas Ahogadas Ameca, for great tortas and a full menu of traditional Mexican fonda (regional mom and pop) fare.
•Tony’s Tortas Ahogadas, E. 4th St. just west of Camulos St., Boyle Heights (weekends only)
•Tortas Ahogadas Ameca, 747 S. Atlantic Bl., East LA, (323) 268-6636
•Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara, 6042 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park, (323) 587-3115
Torta Chilanga, or Mexico City-Style Torta
For years we endured store bought telera rolls inexpertly assembled at Mexican restaurants and torta shops until Super Tortas D.F., El Monje Loco and Tortas Gigantes El Chilango showed up—three stands that have seasoned Mexican sandwich makers trained in Mexico City. All three torteros (torta makers) have quality bread made to their specifications, and to sit back and watch your super-sized torta gigante or cubana with various combinations of cold cuts, vegetables, cheeses, cooked meats refried beans and a touch of mayo carefully constructed by street food masters is a special treat. For one of the new style of tortas made popular on the streets of Mexico City by La Esquina del Chilaquil is the one and only torta de chilaquil filled with a milanesa covered in red and green chilaquiles from Torta Company by Jimmy and Andrew Shaw, and one of the best places to get a pambazo, a chile guajillo soaked roll that’s blistered on a flat top and filled with fried potatoes and chorizo, lettuce and Mexican cream these days is at Tacos D.F.
•Super Tortas D.F., E. 41st St. just off the southwestern corner of E. 41st St. and S. Central Ave., South L.A.
•Tacos D.F., 3342 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, (323) 564-3221
•Torta Company, 735 S. Figueroa St., Downtown LA, (213) 438-6782
•Tortas Gigantes El Chilango, Slauson at Holmes, Florence-Firestone, 323-483-2047
•Tortas Gigantes El Monje Loco, 3130 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-407-2953