One More International Sandwich: A Cemita from Poco Torteria

Yesterday, we brought you a list of hard-to-find sandwiches in Denver that hail from all over the globe. Most of these sandwiches are unique in the city — unless you know of more than one place to find a St. Paul sandwich (a collision of white bread and American-Chinese egg foo young) or a rou jia mo (a street-food specialty of Xi'an, China).  Mexico's contribution to this list was the cemita, a more compact version of a torta made on sesame-seed bread that's a specialty of the city of Puebla. Pueblan immigrants have toted their beloved sandwich to Chicago, Los Angeles and even New York City, but the cemita is still hard to find in Denver, in part because Pueblan bakeries are also a rarity here.

The Hornet does a fine job, despite skirting around tradition with a more burger-style bun (which comes surprisingly close to the proper texture), but at least the sesame seeds are in place and the Mexican herb called pápalo is used when in season. But there's another sandwich shop in town doing an equally tasty — and equally non-traditional — cemita, right inside the super-hot Avanti Food & Beverage hall. Poco Torteria, from chef/restaurateur Kevin Morrison (whose Pinche Taquerias rose to fame for their intriguingly tinkered-with tacos) manages to capture the market-stall munchability of an authentic cemita while deviating from the recipe with non-standard bread and fillings.

Like all of the sandwiches at Poco, this one starts on a crusty pan Frances from Denver's own City Bakery, which makes it about twice the size of a Pueblan cemita — and about twice as hard to eat. The breaded and fried cutlet is pounded nearly tortilla-thin, as it should be, but the meat used is chicken instead of beef (the more typical choice for a milanesa, as the cutlet is called in Spanish). It's a good, crunchy cutlet with flecks of herbs visible in the coating.

There's also a thin layer of ham, a common element in both cemitas and tortas, but stretchy, melty cheese is replaced with pimento cheese, a staple of the Deep South — although not as far south as Puebla. Finished off with tomato and lettuce, Poco's take on the cemita is a monster of a sandwich worth seeking out — even if native Poblanos might not recognize it as something inspired by the food of their city. 

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation

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