A Sandwich A Day: Torta Ahogada from Cook's Tortas in Los Angeles
Ah, the torta, the unloved afterthought on many Mexican menus. It's not hard to understand why; the tortilla is a spectacular mechanism for getting meat and cheese into your maw. Why even bother branching out into full-on bread territory at a Mexican place? Shouldn't you leave that stuff to the red sauce Italians or those insufferable New Englanders who won't stop talking about clam chowders and bread bowls? Under normal circumstances, yes. But there's nothing normal about the torta ahogada at Cook's Tortas just east of Los Angeles proper in Monterey Park.
Weighing in just shy of "a baby" on the scale, the torta ahogada ($6.95) is less a sandwich and more of an afternoon killer. The bread is thick but airy, with a similar density to a traditional ciabatta, minus all that heavy chewing. After being buttered and tossed for a moment on the flat top, you get this sort of crunchy, chewy, soft roll. Which, of course, is immediately doused with a thin red chile de arbol sauce. No matter, there are plenty of porky ingredients overflowing from inside to keep this monster's form.
Just what kind of pork, you ask? The slowly simmered kind, of course. Really, is there any other? Hulking bites of soft, slightly salty pig are piled high, after receiving their own splash of salsa. No worries about construction here; this is a knife and fork affair from the start. Pickled onions cut through all the fattiness with some pungency, but they ultimately wither in the face of the salsa, salt, bread, and pork. Toss on a few avocados (because, why not) to cool down the palate, and you've got yourself one serious reason for a siesta.
At under $8, any of the tortas listed on the extensive chalkboard would be worth a moment in the spotlight. The cubano, with ham, chicken, bacon, and cheese is a popular option, as is the more traditional milanesa, a breaded and fried steak topped with jalapeños and slathered with mayo. But for the real deal, here and anywhere else fine tortas are lovingly assembled, take a shot at the ahogada. When the menu lists "extra napkins" as an integral part of your lunch choice, you know you've found the right meal.