Shoehorned into a former Hawaiian barbecue place, near where Monterey Park runs smack into East L.A., Cook’s is a new paradigm of an Eastside restaurant, a spare, modern tortas café, with the chalkboard menu, the sleek pastries and the Illy espresso much more common in Westside coffeehouses than in elbow-in-the-salsa taquerías. There are house-made aguas frescas here, fresh juice-based drinks and infusions, notably an agua of watermelon, lime and mint. Side dishes include chunky new-potato salad and a Caprese made with Mexican queso fresco instead of mozzarella cheese. The shortlist of desserts features “great-great-grandmother’s corn cake,” which shares some of the flavors of the millet muffins Alice Waters makes at Café Fanny up in Berkeley. But Cook’s revolves around its updated tortas, made with crisp, dense bread baked at the café and featuring such oddball fillings as grilled vegetables with pesto, smoked salmon with cream cheese, and salt cod with roasted peppers, as well as the more traditional tortas made with the breaded, fried beef called milanesa; with delicate beef tongue and jalapeños; or an almost classic pambazo with chorizo and potatoes. The fad at Mexican lunch counters these days is for the torta ahogada, a Guadalajara-style torta drowned in chile sauce, and Cook’s version is almost surreally spicy, stuffed with heroic quantities of roasted pork and painted on both sides with a vivid red sauce. I’ll take the manly Cook’s ahogada over the usual sogged-out takeout models every time. 1944 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (323) 278-3536.
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