As OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano once quipped about the cemita, "Calling this meal a sandwich is like calling a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado a car." Indeed, a cemita poblano is a imposing, battle tank of a creation. For years my go-to was Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita #1, a sedate little shop in Boyle Heights, where on weekends the tables are packed with families sharing paper-wrapped sandwiches and bobbing their heads to the accordion-driven music blaring out of an old jukebox. After a recent cemita poblano crawl, though (an endeavor not to be taken lightly -- it's sort of the inverse of running a marathon), I think I've found a new favorite.
Los Poblanos Cemitas is a flashy graphic-wrapped trailer that recently started parking outside of a small mini-mall in the evenings, using the space between the shuttered storefronts as a dining area with plastic chairs and a few folding tables. The owner, who stands outside chatting with customers, probably will recommend the pierna, quarter-inch-thick slices of roasted pork leg stained deep red by a fiery marinade. If you're a fan of Cuban roast pork, this should excite your taste buds even further.
The classic Milanese isn't a bad idea, either -- well-seasoned sheets of beef pounded thin as butcher paper and fried to a handsome golden brown. Jellied cow's foot and slippery squares of pickled pigskin are available for more adventurous eaters.
There is, of course, much more: huge chunks of buttery avocado, salty strings of Oaxacan cheese interwoven like cobwebs, plump stewed chipotle peppers, plus a handful of papalo, a seasonal herb that tastes both peppery and licorice-y and is considered by cemita connoisseurs to be a mark of true Pueblan authenticity. All this is encased inside a split cemita roll, a type of bread that exists entirely in its own category: buttery and fluffy inside like brioche, but with a firm, crunchy, sesame-studded shell. All this, a hearty yet elegant sandwich larger than your head, will cost you only $5 -- a slap in the face to every footlong/value meal-slinging fast food restaurant in the country.
You could also try the oft-overlooked sibling of Pueblan street food, a rolled tortilla assemblage known as the taco Arabe, a thick, steaming flour tortilla stuffed with rough bits of pork and sauteed onions stewed in an ultra-spicy, cumin-laden sauce (a relic of Iraqi immigration into Puebla in the 1930s). There are house-made aguas frescas too, lined up in big colorful jugs -- and, in a mark of true Mexican street-food etiquette, the stand's proprietor refuses to take your money until you've finished your meal.