When Elyan Zamora and her family came to the United States from Mexico 28 years ago, they were in search of a better economic future. Zamora and her mother, Elvira, had a dream of sharing their recipes with the city of Los Angeles, which resulted in the opening of their gourmet Mexican sandwich shop, Cook’s Tortas.
“With all due respect to the taco and street food, there’s a lot more to Mexican cuisine,” Zamora tells L.A. Weekly in the kitchen of their fast casual shop nestled in between fast-food chains on Atlantic Blvd. in Monterey Park.
“A lot” is an understatement – the family-run oasis offers a variety of 27 different types of tortas on telera bread which is baked on site every day from a recipe developed by Elvira, Zamora and husband Edgar Cortázar. There are also a variety of side salads that include a delightful pineapple orange coconut and pastries baked in house. It’s worth it just to drop in and pick up a bag of their flaky sweet empanadas that come in strawberry cheese, Nutella cheese and dulce de leche.
Choose from the list of tortas to go painted on the wall, which includes everything from smoked salmon, cream cheese, pico de gallo and capers to a Milanese and Cajun fish. Top sellers include the Bombero, a generous stuffing of grilled beef, roasted red pepper sauce and avocado as well as personal favorite the shrimp po’boy, a saucy combination of battered shrimp, avocado, lettuce and red onion remoulade.
There are vegetarian options, as well as al pastor, lengua, carne asada and molcajete for purists. Also worth a try is the #50 ranchito with grilled beef, chorizo, cactus salad, black beans, spicy guacamole and queso fresco.
“My mom grew up in a family with not a lot of money,” says Zamora. “They didn’t even have a fridge. So everything was always fresh because we shopped daily, a tradition we keep here. We get our produce every day, salads are made to order, our marinades and chorizo are all made in house as well as the bread.
When the torta shop opened 13 years ago, Elvira was baking all the bread and they were over the moon when they sold 20 tortas on opening day. Pre-pandemic, the norm grew to 500 per day.
“Telera is a very dry, thick bread. We wanted the juices and the sauces to soak into the bread, so we developed a recipe for an artisan bread with a starter which takes about two hours from start to finish. We played around with shapes to help keep the contents inside. One of the main reasons people come to Cook’s is the bread. The guys get here at 4:30 a.m. to start the day. We refresh the starter every day so that the flavor and consistency are always the same.”
Another very special menu item is Great Grandmother’s Corn Cake, a family recipe and homage to her mother, who worked as a housekeeper in Colonia Roma and discovered uncommon ingredients and techniques from her employers. In a quirky twist of fate, her father is singer-songwriter Antojio Zamora, whose ZACAZONAPAN appeared on the soundtrack of the Academy Award winning film Roma.
“We did it by all the rules,” says husband and partner Cortázar. “We want to give an image of Latin America and we’re here to make things right in a great way. People think Mexican food is just tacos and street food. We want to show the gourmet side of this cuisine with a fresh and creative twist. The beauty of the food business is seeing somebody bite into one of our tortas and watch the look of joy on their faces.”