A Tale of Two Tortas

Sometimes the torta you get represents the chef that served it to you. Two mighty fine tortas over the past month provide two different tales.

In early December, I was intrigued by La Casita Chilanga, a torta-only place in Redwood City with great reviews, so I forced the wife to come along. Above the door was a comic: “La competencia es buena pero: nosotros somos mas chingones” or “The competition is good, but we are more badass.” A couple men patrolled the grill. The entire building could fit in an average living room. Comics and posters stared down at us from the walls. A family took up one of two table tops and was happily noshing on their various tortas. It wasn’t an unfriendly place, but we took our tortas to go. No reason to huddle on the two-top that was in between the door and the line for the register.

The torta was great. La Cubana had “iamon, pierna, milanesa, queso blanco y salchicha ham, pork leg, breaded steak and sausage” as the sign said, and it was an explosion of meat and crunchy grilled flat bread. The jalapenos were plentiful, the heat was on. Maybe the tomatoes weren’t as fresh as they could have been, and this Californian would have liked more vegetables — more avocado at least. But this was a real man’s torta. A masculine heaping of meat and spice and crunch. Predictably, my wife didn’t quite finish hers and said she’d like it to have been lighter fare. Not to say, of course, that this is only for men — let’s separate masculine here from any actual biological meaning, especially since my wife is a strong woman who can handle more spice than I can — only that this was a real, big, punch in the mouth kind of sandwich. That’s okay to say, right? Oh boy.

More recently, I was dropping my wife off at Stanford and spotted the taco truck that we’d once hired to serve a party of ours.

Mia’s taco truck has excellent tacos and is easiest found near the Stanford Business School every day around one. Mia is a fun person — she’s very affable, remembers your name, and discusses life with a refreshing blend of honesty and optimism. The food is fresh and ready to go. There’s no place to sit, obviously, but she wraps it to go with a smile.

My torta was, perhaps, the opposite of the Chilanga torta. Heavy on the vegetables, with fresh, beautiful colors in abundance, there wasn’t a ton of meat, and the bread was a lighter, airier white bread instead of a traditional flat bread. Still, it made for a satisfying and fresh lunch, and you couldn’t help but be in a good mood after talking to Mia for a couple minutes while waiting.

Somehow, this ended up into a masculine/feminine dichotomy, but sexism is not the point. Instead, the two descriptors help tell the story of these two tortas. One was heavy and spicy and in your face — the other was lighter, easier, and smilier.

These seem like two different ways to suss a torta. As with yin and yang could they better in tandem? Why not take the crunchier grilled flat bread and abundance of meat and spice, and add in more of the fresher vegetables?

Perhaps the sandwich would get overloaded — we are all a mix of the masculine and the feminine, and none of us can take just the best of each. Right?

About enosarris

I write. About baseball, mostly, but also about the anthropology of sports, travel, cooking and sometimes music. But yeah, baseball mostly.
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2 Responses to A Tale of Two Tortas

  1. Pete says:

    I think the risk you run is not one of overload but of nullification. Sandwiches, as we all know, are delicate things. Balance is a difficult thing to attain, and harmony even trickier. You might assemble things in reasonable proportion, only to find that they mask each other, rather than highlighting. The heat gets lost in moist tomatoes, or vegetables buried beneath overpowering savory flavor. The first torta described here reminds me of the el Rey at Los Reyes de la Torta in Phoenix, a monster of a sandwich. In truth I prefer tortas to be a bit more simple. sometimes the best thing to do is ask the guitarist to turn it down a bit, lest it be too difficult to hear the tambourine.

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