If you’ve never tasted an authentic Torta Mexicana, you’ll be pleased to know that the Mission is a mecca. We are not talking about the much abused, overused and misconstrued Cubano sandwich (this is another story, but the Cubano as it is known in New York City, which has a huge actual immigrant population of guess who?…. Cubans! is not even similar to the mountain of meats and who knows what that they make here with the same name) There are actually 3 neighborhood eateries which feature this Mexican specialty item, a 4th if you count That’s It Market in Mission at 22nd, but they are more famous as having the world’s largest Cubano, with a 5th in the Upper Mission (at Geneva).
Order your Torta Mexicana con todo (with everything) and you’ll usually get a schmear of well-fried beans, although not all of the locations below include these with the “regular” sandwich, pickled jalapeños, queso fresco (although you can usually choose between swiss and jack, or American cheeses, this is the most authentic way to serve up a torta, con queso fresco), lettuce, tomato, onions and avocado. Sometimes, there is an extra charge for the avocado, but its defintely an integral part of any torta. Here’s a quick run-down of how a Torta de Milanese de Pollo ( A Mexican breaded chicken culet made using thin-sliced chicken breast- you can usually choose Milanese de Res, beef, as well- but as the cuts of beef used vary, testing the chicken sandwich gave us a more consistent basis for comparison):
- La Torta Gorda– 24th & Bryant. The Torta de Milanese de Pollo $5.45 junior, $7.75, regular. Includes well-fried beans (misnamed refried beans on the menu , see Using Leftovers a la Mexicana Part II: beans). While the bread used was hefty and had just the right amount of crunch, the actual breaded chicken cutlet (see Mexican cooking secrets: milanesa) did not. It was soggy and tasteless.
- Las Tortas Picudas– 24th & Harrison. The Torta de Milanese de Pollo $6.95 but con todo which really just means they add the requisite avocado, its $7.65. Really good chicken cutlet, and generous; great bread, if not as gorda (fat, which in this case means “generous”) as La Torta Gorda and overall an excellent sandwich. By the way, their Aguas Frescas are not as wonderful as their tortas. Since for some, this is an introduction to these delicious and refreshing Mexican fruit-based drinks, take a look at Too Hot? Think Mexican: Aguas frescas… for tips on the difference between what they serve here and the real thing.
- Tortas El Primo– 21st and Folsom. The Milanesa de Pollo was sold out (so at least its popular) so the torta tested was grilled chicken, which is not offered elsewhere. A generous portion of thin-sliced dark meat, well-flavored, naturally jucier than chicken breast, less calories since its grilled and not breaded; and, its put on the panini grill before it goes into the sandwich. And, the combination without the breading has less of a tendency to get soggy with the dressings added. Overall, a tasty sandwich, with a choice of a crunchy or soft roll. $6.95.
- Boos Voni- 5170 Misson above Geneva. Maybe its better because its actually a restaurant kitchen that happens to produce tortas along with many other Mexican specialties, maybe its more expensive because its better, or just because its bigger (2 people could certainly share one of their Tortas de Milanesa de Pollo for lunch with 2 delicious aguas frescas), $8.75 for the torta which includes well-fried beans and avocado, along with all the rest and its the best of the group. Flavorful, not greasy, not mushy and the bread roll is perfectly grilled. Writers choice! and worth the trip “uptown”.
Once you’ve taste tested a few of these venues, why not try this at home. Get your bread rolls from King’s Bakery on Mission and 25th, follow the milanesa recipe, add your well-fried beans , pick-up your queso fresco at Chico’s Produce on 24th and Alabama and you’re ready to torta! If you are inviting friends, try your hand at a delightful agua fresca… melon is always a nice surprise for the uninitiated, and presto, Amuerco Mexicano!.