Ask Mr. Gold 

Thursday, Apr 22 2004

QUESTION: Where can I find the best tortas? I thought this would be a basic question answered many times over but after extensive Internet research, I have yet to find an answer. In particular, I’m looking for a saucy pork-based torta.

—Brenda Hsueh

ANSWER: We may not be Torta Town quite yet, but it may already be easier to find a great torta (or Mexican sandwich) in Los Angeles than it is to find a truly fine burrito. The signature tortas at the El Gallo Giro chain are pretty wonderful, slap-ups of beans, avocado, jalapeño chiles, rubbery white cheese and carnitas, sliced pork or fried beef smushed together on a soft, sweet roll — those few bites in the middle of the sandwich where all the ingredients come together are sublime. I like the tortas made with the chipotle-tinged shredded beef called tinga, which taste something like a sophisticated Mexican Sloppy Joe.

Stands selling tortas ahogadas, Guadalajara-style dipped sandwiches, and cemitas, Puebla-style sandwiches on seeded buns, are popping up all over East L.A. On the Westside, the two branches of Taqueria Sanchez prepare formidable tortas, especially the ones made with pork loin. But the sentimental favorite is still probably the venerable Super Tortas, a paradise of grilled meat and purple Formica tucked into a tiny strip center near MacArthur Park, whose tortas are built on feather-light French rolls crisped at the edges, barely substantial enough to stand up under the thick lashings of mayonnaise and guacamole. Marred neither by the earthy smear of beans common to most great tortas, nor with an amount of chile that might bother an Iowan grandmother, Super Tortas are graciously overstuffed with grilled slices of rib-eye steak, garlicky grilled pork, or a rather eggy version of machaca, the northern Mexican dish of dried beef sautéed with onion. When it comes to tortas, as with so many other things, too much can be barely enough. 360 S. Alvarado St., (213) 413-7953; also at 1253 Vine St., (323) 469-8912.

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