By now, my affections for a Mexican torta are no mystery. I spent my recent trip to Mexico face-first in sandwiches stuffed with slowly cooked cochinita pibil, a swine so divine I came home pounds heavier. But unlike my love life, when it comes to tortas, I’m hardly a monogamous man.
When I traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, several years back, I spent my eves eating the city’s specialty, the torta ahogada. The “drowned sandwich” consists of a torpedo-like length of bread filled with crispy, fat-edged pork and submerged in a red lagoon of chile-spiked sauce. Despite the bath the crusty bread refuses to disintegrate, becoming as chewy and tender as its carnivorous core—a messy, counterintuitive pleasure.
Back in New York, I’ve failed to source a stellar torta ahogada or one packed with supple cochinita pibil. But recently, at a bodega in south Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, I discovered several offbeat tortas to sate my cravings for the Mexican sandwich. At first blush, Puebla Mini Market is a dime-a-dozen convenience store. For sale are cigarettes and sodas, toilet paper and processed snacks. Head to the shop’s rear, however, and you’ll meet a grill and a menu offering more than 30 of the most madcap tortas to ever escape a kitchen. The Española doble unites a hot dog with ham, bacon, a fried egg and a couple of kinds of cheese, while the Cubana is composed of breaded beef, ham, sausage and cheese. The Hawaiian takes a turn for the tropical with piquant pork, cheese, ham and heaps of sweet pineapple. Each torta is griddled warm and crisp, and comes equipped with tomato, avocado, refried beans, onions and pickled jalapeños. The sandwiches are gut bombs of the highest order, and I have two favorites that may become yours too.
For starters, there’s the chile relleno. Cheese-stuffed, deep-fried poblano peppers are paired with more cheese and finished with all the fixings. What reads like a gooey, cholesterol-filled disaster is creamy, balanced and crunchy, with a zippy kick that cuts the richness. Then there’s the torta de la casa. Consider it a call to arms for carnivores. The house special comes stacked with four kinds of piggy goodness: spicy carne enchilada, crisp carnitas, chewy bacon and salty ham. It’s a mountain of meat bound together by beans, stringy cheese and crusty bread. It’s imposing, equal parts threat and a challenge, the shape and weight of a brick. The first time I ate it, I stretched my jaw wide, as if I were at the dentist’s office. My incisors tore through the layered flesh, cheese and jalapeños, the assembled sum so much richer, greasier and grander than its parts.
It was a proper pig-out, a torta so good that, if but for a day, I stopped daydreaming about booking a flight back to Mexico.
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