Before the blistering chile toreado tacos at Guisados, before the vibrant shrimp aguachiles at Dorados Ceviche Bar, there was Cook's Tortas, the original jewel in the East L.A. empire that chef Ricardo Diaz helped forge over the years. Inside Cook's, your attention is immediately diverted to a wall scrawled with chalk, listing a dozen or so hefty tortas, all served on soft, flour-dusted ciabatta rolls baked daily. They range from the classic — breaded steak Milanesa and a hot sauce–drenched pork ahogada — to the inventive — a bouncy shrimp po' boy spread with avocado-onion mayo or basil pesto chicken topped with crunchy marinated cucumber. The molcajete, made with charred steak, gooey queso asado, chile de arbol salsa and a swipe of refried beans, evokes the smoky flavors of a Boyle Heights barbecue. The soothing cucumber-lime agua fresca, shockingly green in color, pairs with just about everything. 1944 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park. (323) 278-3536,

—Garrett Snyder

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