American sandwich-makers have come a long way. Now that serious, heavyweight chefs have begun muscling in on the action (see my review of Masterpiece Delicatessen, page 51), a boy of eclectic appetites can easily score a Cuban, a banh mi, a beef on weck, a Croque Monsieur, a panini or almost any other kind of international down-home sandwich.
The one thing our own born-and-bred sandwich artists haven't yet managed to co-opt: the torta. I've seen attempts made, but they've all been failures. And I am firmly of the belief that this failing lies not in the American cook's inability to translate a recipe, or even the spirit of a dish, but simply in their unwillingness to make something as messy, ugly and downright chaotic as a proper torta must be. It's a culinary-culture thing. American restaurants, for so long deprived of anything like a canon to call their own, prospered by taking foods from everyone else's home countries and making them pretty. Design — that's the thing we had in spades back in the dark days. And one thing a torta can never be is designed.
For a true south-of-the-border torta, go to Tacos D.F. Everything at this smallish strip-mall Mexican operation is wonderful: The tacos are killer, the gorditas things of beauty, the entire menu a greatest-hits list of everything I love, nothing I don't, and even a few things I don't recognize (Mexican consomme?). But the best item on the menu is the torta: messy, dripping, delicious, and offered in several variations. There's the extreme-sports version of a sandwich — the Cubano — that comes as a big stack of ham and pounded, breaded, fried steak, avocados, lettuce and sauce with a hot dog in the middle. There's the D.F., served "combinación que usted quiera" — basically a you-call-it sandwich of whatever's available in the back. There's a steak Milanese and one that has to do with the leg of something (according to the hand-drawn picture on the wall, it could be a lamb). But the one I love — the one I dropped in for just a few days ago — is the jamón: sliced ham stacked on a grilled and lardy Mexican sandwich roll with chopped lettuce, avocado and a wet slurry of a sauce involving smoky-hot chipotles and some sort of lubricant that might be mayonnaise but also might not. I've never asked and, frankly, I don't want to know — because somehow knowing everything that goes into my sandwich's construction would kill the magic for me.
2020 South Parker Road, Aurora
And anyway, if it ever becomes an issue, I can always go back and check the shirt I was wearing. Swear to God, half of that damn sandwich ended up there. But the rest of it — the part I actually managed to get into my mouth — still stands as the best torta in town.
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