Tortas in La Capital
The torta, Mexico’s version of the sandwich is the quintessential comida capitalina – fast food that is both European and truly Mexican. According to legend, they were invented at the turn of the 20th century by one Sr. Armando, an Italian immigrant, as his riff on the Italian pannino, adapting it to available ingredients and the locals’ penchant for avocado and chili. His family restaurant still exists, although I find their tortas insipid – perhaps Don Armando took the recipes with him to the grave. Prepared by a specialist called a tortero, a soft roll called abolillo or telera is filled with a wide range of ingredients, popular choices being milanesa (pounded and fried meat), pierna (roast pork) choriqueso (cheese and sausage), bacalao, (salt cod) and pavo (turkey) but the variety is endless. A shmeer of refried beans is applied then the garnishes which can include tomato, onion, avocado, lettuce and, of course, chili jalapeño or chipotle. Pambazos filled with chorizo and potato, dunked in salsa and fried are a bit on the heavy side. Even weightier are tortas of tamales – starch-on-starch, but delicious according to our friend Stan.
While typically “Defeño”, i.e. of the capital, tortas are now found all over the country and one of my favorite places to eat them is at Tortitlán in San Miguel de Allende. In Puebla, tortas are called “cemitas” and are larger and sometimes filled with jellied pig’s feet or tongue, while all over Guadalajara tortas ahogadas, “drowned” in salsa and served with a spoon are de rigeur.
In the Big Taco, I recommend:
Ayuntamiento 25, (near Mercado San Juan) Centro
A tiny storefront that serves simple tortas of freshly baked pierna (roast pork) or pavo (turkey).
Independencia 8-A, near Balderas and the Museo de Arte Popular, Centro
Branch: Hamburgo 281, between Toledo and Sevilla, Zona Rosa
These are small bars with stools that serve only tortas and have been doing so since 1935. They offer a very unusual sardine torta, queso fresco with avocado (a good vegetarian option), and tortas of bacalao and carnitas.
Don Polo (1958)
Felix Cuevas 86 (near Av. Coyoacán) Colonia Del Valle
Open daily 7AM – 11:30PM
A beloved institution in Del Valle, this huge place serves great tortas de pavo or pierna amongst others,accompanied by licuados made with your choice of fresh fruit. There is counter as well as take-out service.
Tortas El Cuadrilátero
Luis Moya 73, near Ayuntamiento, Centro
Open daily 10AM – 7PM
Owned by a retired wrestler named El Super Astro, this fonda specializing in tortas is decorated with lucha libre paraphernalia such as masks, photos and prizes. The torta “Gladiador” weighs a kilo; order it at your own risk. Other options are more reasonably sized, but are also large enough to share.
La Barraca Valenciana
Centenario 91, 2 blocks up from the main plaza, Coyoacán
This modest tortería, with a Spanish/Argentine influence, serves some unusual vegetarian choices of mushroom or eggplant tortas, as well as the house special, chopped calamar, dressed with chimchurri, the typical Argentine parsley, garlic and olive oil sauce.
El Pialadero de Guadalajara
Hamburgo no. 332
Tel. 5211- 7708
Open daily from 9 AM – 7:30 PM
Here you can sample the famous Tapatio torta ahogada.
Inside the pasaje at República del Salvador 152, a few blocks east of the Zócalo
This strange pasaje features stalls selling middle eastern foods and folkloric costumes. Quien sabe.... The torta stand smack in the middle has great tortas of pavo and pierna. Here, you pay first, then order.
Tortas de Bacalao Lagunilla
Comonfort, near Reforma, Centro
Open Sundays only
As you enter the antiques section of the Lagunilla flea market, is this legendary stand offering tortas of bacalao and cochinita pibil. Accompanied by an horchata de coco from the stand nearby, they are exquisite!
Tortas La Castellana
Av. Revolución #1309, corner of Corregidora, one block from Metro Barranca del Muerto, Colonia Guadalupe Inn
In business since 1946
Córdoba 132, corner of Guanajuato, colonia Roma
This is a small Pueblan restaurant that offers exquisite cemitas, Pueblas version of the torta.
UPDATED JULY 2018
pelon May 25, 2009 I've gathered from several of your excellent blog entries that you've discovered my neighborhood has one of the best collection of small eateries in the DF. To make it easy I tell people I live in Barrio Chino but more precisely I live across from Tortas El Cuadrilátero. I'm surprised you included it in your list. You didn't mention that the Gladiator is free if you can finish it in 15 minutes (buena suerte!), but I find all the food there, including the tortas, less than mediocre. I admit that the place is popular with Mexican tourists. I would, however, like to recommend a small torta/tamale/atol stand on the northeast corner of Parque Alameda between the park and Bellas Artes, right next to the Parisian sponsored Bellas Artes Metro entrance. It's a family operated puesto that is open generally from 7-10AM, a little later on weekends. They cook out of what looks like a giant Jamaican steel drum. The deep fried tamales are magnificent but the pièce de résistance is the breakfast sandwich: refried beans spread over one half a telera (flat sandwich roll), mayo on the other with optional jalapeños. In the huge steel drum the sister prepares scrambled eggs with serrano ham and onions. The resulting torta is magnificent. I recommend the deep fried tamales as well.