Monterey Park may seem an unlikely locale for a top-notch torta shop, but Cook's Tortas, with its diverse and clever roster of sandwiches, has made itself a home amid the dim sum houses and dumpling shops of the San Gabriel Valley. Located in what was once the site of Aloha Cafe (now situated in Little Tokyo), Cook's Tortas boasts extraordinary variety. Like Heraclitus and his river, you could revisit Cook's and never eat the same torta twice.
Confronted immediately by a massive blackboard menu that covers an entire wall, you're guaranteed to grow more intrigued -- and hungry. Favorites at Cook's Tortas include the Bacalao wherein the titular ingredient, dried and intensely salted cod, is reconstituted as a pungent stew of peppers, olives and potatoes. There are also standards like the Milanesa, beefsteak that's pounded flat, breaded and fried, and its opposite, the Ahogada, shredded, slow-cooked pork adorned with pickled onions and a bun that's coated a with a chili-spiked jus. (The menu lists one of the ingredients as "extra napkins." Take the hint.)
Our two favorites are the Pambaso and the Cubana. The former is spicy housemade chorizo coated in a sweetly bitter red sauce and the latter is a trio of meats -- chicken breast, ham and bacon -- layered with gooey melted cheese.
Each torta at Cook's is served on a doughy, rectangular bun with a have a nice crust on the outside with a soft, chewy center. Good bread is the foundation of any good torta. One of the pleasures of Cook's is choosing for yourself, what goes inside.
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Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.