Hidden in Plain Sight is a series in which we take a new look at an established restaurant. In our lust for newness and our obsession with "bests," the fantastic unsung places that make up the bulk of our city's dining sometimes get overlooked. Here we aim to acknowledge, examine and (often) celebrate those places.
On a recent rainy Saturday, it was hard to decide which of East L.A.'s culinary riches might best warm our bones. In the end, we went for glorious, chile-fueled pain over straightforward comfort, and stopped into Taqueria Ameca for a torta ahogada.
Taqueria Ameca is a small slot of a restaurant on Atlantic Boulevard. Its walls are covered in posters and photos of the Mexican state of Jalisco, home of Ameca's owners and home to the torta ahogada. Drowned in a thin, ferociously spicy salsa and topped with pickled onions, the torta ahogada is perhaps the messiest, most gratifying of all sandwiches.
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The tortas are not the only reason to stop at Taqueria Ameca, which also serves fantastic tacos dorados, crispy deep-fried tacos covered in shredded lettuce, crema, onions and cheese. But on this chilly weekend day, the torta ahogada won out, its fiery sloppy soul calling out from the garish photos covering the tabletops.
Stuffed with carnitas and served on a sturdy pan salado, or birote de Guadalajara (like a hard baguette), the drowned sandwich is impossible to approach any other way than with gusto and abandon - and a fistful of napkins. The stinging sauce covers your hands and face and warms your soul. Sweat drips from your brow. You are fortified, ready to face whatever wind or rain or heat L.A. has in store for you.