Why This Recipe Works
- Compressing the bread while griddling it helps create a sandwhich that's just a little easier to get your mouth around (though it's still plenty big and messy).
- Warming the sandwich in the oven helps simulate the warming effect that happens when the cemita vendors wrap the sandwich in paper and foil, trapping heat from the warm meat filling and softening the shredded cheese.
Cemitas are a type of Mexcian sandwich that originally hails from the State of Puebla, but they've taken on a life of their own in New York City. This recipe creates a cemita sandwich as served in the restaurants and taco trucks of New York, in particular along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights. These are gently warmed sandwiches served on a griddled sesame bun with taco-meat fillings of your choice, avocado, lettuce, tomato, chipotles, refried beans, mayo, and queso Oaxaca, a Mexican string cheese, that's hand-shredded into hairlike strands. Papalo, a floral Mexican herb, adds its own special flavor. This is a cemita con todo—with the works.
Roosevelt Avenue-Style Cemita Sandwiches Recipe
- 4 homemade or store-bought cemita buns (see note), sesame-seed buns, or brioche buns, halved
- 6 tablespoons warm Refried Beans
- 2 cups warm pork carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, carne adovada, or other taco filling
- Canola or vegetable oil, for greasing
- 2 ripe medium Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and sliced
- 1/2 cup shredded iceberg lettuce from 1 small head
- 8 thin tomato slices from 2 medium tomatoes
- 12 raw onion rings (about 1/4 inch thick)
- 20 leaves papalo (see note), or fresh cilantro leaves
- 4 chipotle chiles from 1 (7-ounce) can whole chipotle chiles in adobo
- 1 cup shredded Queso Oaxaca from 1 (14-ounce) ball of cheese (see note), or low-moisture fresh mozzarella or string cheese
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 2 cast-iron skillets or 1 large griddle over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Rub with oil using a paper towel and toast cut surfaces of buns, pressing down with a sturdy spatula to compress. Set aside.
Spread refried beans on bottom buns. Top with meat of choice. Arrange avocado on top of meat.
Top avocado with lettuce, tomato, onion, and papalo. Tear each chipotle into pieces and arrange on top of papalo. Mound cheese strands on top.
Smear top buns with mayonnaise and close sandwiches. Set on baking sheet and transfer to oven until just warmed through and cheese is just starting to soften throughout, about 3 minutes. Serve.
Two 12-inch cast iron skillets or one large griddle
Cemita buns, papalo, and Queso Oaxaca can be found at well-stocked Mexican and Latin American bakeries and grocers. Queso Oaxaca should be shredded by hand into very thin strands, just like string cheese.