Tortas, for the uninitiated, are Mexican sandwiches built on a fluffy bun (a bolillo or pan talera) and stacked several layers deep with marinated meat, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and finished with a swipe of mayo, cilantro sprigs, pickled jalapenos and the occasional addition of pico de gallo. A thin layer of refried beans is also an option. If the sandwich is covered in sauce, it’s ahogada, one of my favorite ways to eat a torta. ( Find it at Taqueria El Rinconsito on 72nd Avenue.)
Two taquerias serving tortas blipped onto my radar recently. One is the recently opened Cazuelas, in the former home of Tacos Guaymas where South Tacoma Way and state Route 512 intersect. The other is Taqueria El Antojo, a Pierce County-based chain of taquerias. Here’s a look at tortas at both.
(Tip: For torta fans, add these shops to your list: Tortas Locas, a place with impossibly huge tortas on South Tacoma Way and Zocalo, a bakery and torta shop in Tacoma’s Lincoln District, right next door to my favorite place for tortas in Tacoma, La Fondita.)
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TAQUERIA EL ANTOJO
Location visited for this review: 3801 E. McKinley Ave., Tacoma; 253-475-0375 (Find other locations at elantojo.com)
For now, Taqueria El Antojo has a buy-in-bulk deal on tortas — buy three milanesa de pollo (breaded chicken cutlets) torta sandwiches for $10. There was no way I was stuffing three of those down my gullet, so I stuck with one at a still-reasonable $5.95. Milanesa is a Latin keyword for a breaded cutlet, and that’s exactly what showed up in a crunchy breading. The chicken cutlet was on a grilled soft roll — fresh and pillowy — with lettuce, tomato, pico, mayo, cilantro and chunky rings of pickled jalapenos. A flavor bonus came in the form of a drizzle of chipotle sauce.
The combination of the cutlet and veggies created that perfect intersection of crunch-to-cool texture I’m after in a sandwich. It was messy enough to require a few extra napkins, but not the kind of sandwich that spilled everywhere. A torta asada ($6.05) was tasty with a substantial layer of tender, grilled steak.
Taqueria El Antojo has a secret weapon — an outstanding self-serve salsa bar with warm tortilla chips and several salsas, including a smoky chipotle, vinegary red, kicky verde and a cabbage pico.
CAZUELAS MEXICAN FOOD
Where: 10105 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-983-1805 or cazuelaswa.com
Like its predecessor Tacos Guaymas, Cazuelas Mexican Food is a casual taqueria meant for fast dining.
The deep torta sandwich menu, with a list of nine (including fish and milanesa cutlets), is an attribute. Few places have as many choices. All tortas are priced $5.99.
The restaurant only had been about a month by my visit, so I’m cutting its kitchen some slack on the somewhat sloppy execution of their tortas. Fillings spilled everywhere, the sandwich was tricky to hold because of its construction with a big helping of runny refried beans. I prefer more crunch and less mush in my torta, but ultimately, these sandwiches were achieving exactly what they set out to be — huge sandwiches for very hungry diners.
A carnitas torta was fine, but not the tender, fall-apart pork shoulder I’ve come to expect of that dish. This was more like chopped pork. Shredded beef was exactly as it sounded, and a heavy serving of it. The chorizo was the best of the three sandwiches, with a grilled bun stuffed with crumbled chorizo sausage cooked with green peppers.