To call a torta a Mexican sandwich is like calling a Po’Boy a New Orleans hero or a Danbury Grinder a sub: it just misses the whole point. Like its Po’Boy, Grinder and storied Philly Cheesesteak cousins, tortas are more than just slices of meat stuck between two slabs of bread. The very bread itself (like the crusty birote in the Torta Ahogada) can define this hearty luncheon offering. So can the type of meat – which can be anything from chicken Milanesa to chorizo, or even an entire pork chop (without the bone, usually). Then there is the choice of sauces, like the creamy chipotle that makes a common torta a Torta Gema. Packed and garnished with everything from avocados to tomatoes, a torta can resemble a tower, a formidable grilled, toasted, broiled or otherwise heated castle keep of meat, cheese, vegetables and sauces. Here are five of the top places to go in Connecticut to try the torta tower treat; good luck storming the castillo.
850 S Colony Road
Wallingford, CT 06492
Pedro Roman misses a lot of things about his hometown of Mexico City, but tortas were something he could recreate even in white-bread Wallingford. Thus was born Taqueria Mexico, where Roman has been serving up the tasty towering tortas for 27 years. Bargain priced at a mere five dollars, Taqueria’s tortas are a tempting treat requiring both hands to hold. This is torta in its most basic form: mayonnaise, beans, tomato, avocado and choice of meat (or not, as he has many vegetarian customers). As the little restaurant’s motto goes, this is “genuine comfort food at the most affordable prices.”
Iguanas Ranas Taquería
574 Main St
Middletown, CT 06457
At Iguanas Ranas Taqueria in Middletown, the tortas, like all of its “authentic” Mexican food, is served as they say “con saber casero” – which basically means “homestyle.” Here, the tortas are like the ones your mother made, if your mother came from Mexico, that is. Students at Wesleyan gladly walk the few blocks to Iguanas Ranas for these homestyle meals. The tortas are served on a long roll and come with grilled chicken or steak, breaded beef or pork loin, chorizo or cheese – or any combination of two for a dollar extra. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, refried beans and the creamy chipotle mayo are included at no extra charge. For another $1.50, Iguanas will add a cup of Arbol or Verde sauce on the side, either for dipping into or slathering on, depending on just how messy an experience you want.
548 Naugatuck Ave
Milford, CT 06460
Tortas from a pizza parlor? Yes, if that pizza parlor is Milford Pizza and Mexican Food. This is, however, not your typical torta. It is, as employees say with a smile, an “innovative fusion” of Mexican and Italian cuisines. The resulting “Mexitalian” torta is a bold combination of Old and New World tastes. Its 11 variations on the classic torta include some with beef tongue, lamb, breaded, regular or salted beef, ham, sausage, pork (spicy or regular) and breaded or grilled chicken. Toppings are the usual mix to which is added jalapenos at no extra charge (just in case you need a little extra spice to heat up the chipotle mayo).
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340 Main St
West Haven, CT 06516
Not many diners serve Mexican food, and few serve it well – but the Four Burritos in West Haven is the exception to that rule. This place serves the same 11 types of tortas that Milford Pizza and Mexican Food offers, but then add a 12th: a torta with a fried fish filet. Beans, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, peppers and avocado are of course standard, with extra helpings of jalapenos, cheese or avocado available for 50 cents to a dollar. Four Burritos may look like the standard American diner but once inside, as the owners boast, “we’ll take you back to Puebla!”
7 Apace Place
Tortas from a truck? Tortas are street food and food trucks are all the rage these days. In Riverside, that rage on the road is called El Charrito. Despite its cramped quarters, El Charrito serves up tortas with any one of seven meats, fish or shrimp – and will even toss on some pineapple. Seriously, this place makes a pork and pineapple taco or torta called the Al Pastor which is to this national dish what Hawaiian pizza is to, well, pizza. The cook, Carlos, a former chef at the General Electric cafeteria, and his wife Alex have become foodie experts and their bright yellow truck with the grinning cartoon cowboy has even been featured on The Learning Channel.
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