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A Sandwich A Day: The Pambazo from Metro Balderas in Los Angeles

In this great nation of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year—so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around the country. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. —The Mgmt.

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[Photograph: Farley Elliott]

"What's in a name? That which we call a sandwich
By any other name would taste as great."

Granted, those aren't the exact words Shakespeare used when penning Romeo and Juliet, but then again he never had the pambazo from Metro Balderas in Los Angeles, either. It's just as likely that you've never heard the term pambazo before now, and even less probable that you've tasted the popular Mexican sandwich yourself. So let's fill you (and William Shakespeare) in on the details.

Pambazos are exceptionally popular in Mexico City as workaday sandwiches that help keep the middle class fed. Street vendors line the avenues during the week and crowd the markets on weekends, hawking the pepper-dripped sandwiches to anyone with a stomach and a few dollars. The finished product itself is startlingly simple: a sturdy white loaf is submerged in a red guajillo pepper sauce and then grilled to form a protective crust over the moist, pepper-infused interior. Inside the split bread is a steaming pile of potatoes and chorizo that have been mixed and mashed together, then fried into submission. Toss in a handful of shredded lettuce, some thin crema and queso fresco, and you've got yourself a sonnet-worthy sandwich.

At Metro Balderas, just east of downtown Los Angeles in Highland Park, the pambazo ($3.75) is a rare treat. It's not often, even in L.A., that such a Mexico City delight shows up, and the version here does not disappoint. The bread at Metro Balderas is far from robust; instead, it holds together well enough to grab with two hands, but bite down and the white bread immediately begins to melt in your mouth. The goopy crema and bountiful cheese certainly help to wash down any larger bites, while the shredded lettuce gives a bit of textural contrast to the pambazo. The chorizo and potatoes, for its part, is fried thin (think milanesa, but without all of that surface crunch), with just the edges curling up and cracking. The rest of the pork and potato pile is warm, soft, and inviting, with a hint of salt and the light heat from a few dabs of salsa.

Naturally, the pambazo can be a bit of a starchy beast when overdone. But at Metro Balderas, the balance of cheese, crema, potato, chorizo and bread combine to form a balanced sandwich that's actually much more approachable than it may read on the menu. And the best part, that guajillo-soaked soft roll, is airy and perfectly grilled enough to stand in for any other sandwich bread option you could name. The pambazo may be the little-seen understudy to the popular torta in most Mexican restaurants, but at Metro Balderas it's a featured player—and it shines in the role.

Metro Balderas

5305 North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles CA 90042 (map)
323-478-8383; open daily 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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