A couple weeks ago, a brand-new Mexican corner store opened in my neighborhood, in what used to be a dicey double-paned bulletproof glass spot where you could buy questionable banh mi along with vanilla blunt wraps. They gutted the whole place and though I was hoping to find a taco counter in the back, with no hot food license instead we got sandwiches. Not exactly hoagies or authentic tortas or gourmet "artisan" sandwiches but an awesome combination of all of the above.
First up is the torta: it's "Mexican" ham and queso fresco and fresh slices of avocado on a bakery fresh Sarcones roll slathered in chipotle mayonnaise. How's that for Mexican-Italian South Philly fusion? It's got the flavors of a simple authentic torta but is built like an Italian hoagie with the textures and freshness you get from shredded iceberg and thinly sliced tomato in a way that makes me think the dude behind the counter makes both well. Awesome.
Next up is the Italian on good seeded bread with mild provolone and standard Italian meats—not the finest prosciutto and sopressata you've ever had, but well balanced nonetheless and definitely a million times better than your average corner store Italian hoagie. The only glaring error here was the mayonnaise. In Philadelphia putting mayo on an Italian hoagie is worse than ketchup on a hot dog.
The Roast Lamb sandwich gets stuffed with sliced lamb that their buddy in the Italian Market roasts for them a couple times a week. Expecting something along the lines of a Barbacoa Hoagie, I was at first a little dissapointed by this "gourmet" sandwich on sundried tomato bread with arugula, roasted red peppers and some sort of aioli. But you know what? The lamb was ridiculously tender and flavorful, and insane for only $4.50. (All of their sandwich prices hover around $5.) Next time I'll ask for it on a seeded hoagie roll.
They also have your standard Mexican corner store products: chorizo, produce, chips, and Mexican coke for something like $1.25 (take that New York) along with La Colombe coffee served in a styrofoam cup. If they made eggs in the morning, I might eat here three meals a day.
El Soto Grocery
1649 S. 15th St Philadelphia, PA 19145 (map)