As a concept for a fast food chain, it's pretty amazing the torta hasn't already been widely commodified. With all the appeal of a sandwich but much of the allure of a burrito, in many ways the torta is a perfect candidate for the drive-thru, or at least the food court. But tortas have thus far remained mainly the purview of small family shops.
You can see the world-domination ambitions behind the Torta Company, the new project from Jimmy and Andrew Shaw. The brothers, who since 2002 have grown their Loteria Grill from one to six locations, have opened the first outpost of the Torta Company at Taste, the food court inside the Fig at 7th shopping center downtown. The Torta Company, which is adjacent to the newest Loteria Grill, began serving to the public last week.
There are 12 tortas on offer, ranging from the more classic (a breaded chicken cutlet) to the more Americanized (a tuna melt). There are two vegetarian tortas, a poblano-and-cheese version and an oyster mushroom tinga. Ahead of opening, press reports promised variations such as batter-fried snapper in a Veracruz tomato sauce, and turkey in mole. No such tortas currently appear on the menu – there's less of that and more spins on the cheesesteak.
There are three breakfast options, though it's unclear what times of day they'll be available. When I asked, a server said: “They're supposed to only be for morning but today we served them all day, so I'm not sure.” You can see the full menu here.
A lot of focus has obviously been put on the bread, which is baked in-house. Crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, the rectangular buns are definitely a step up from what you'd get at your average taco truck. But the interior of the sandwiches lack that smoosh and crunch that many of us love about a torta. While my pulled pork sandwich promised tomato, avocado, black beans and onion, I missed the pickled vegetables, jalapeño and generous avocado delivered by the best tortas. Both the beans and avocado were more like a thin smear of spread rather than assertive ingredients. The pork, however, was juicy and flavorful.
No doubt because of the bread-baking and the quality of ingredients, these tortas are a little on the pricey side. The tuna melt costs $6.95, but many others are closer to $9 or $10.
Will these be the tortas that make the leap, which turn this staple of Mexican snackage into a full-blown American phenomenon? We'll have to wait and see, but it certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to have these sandwiches available at a drive-thru near you.