Dining

The Torta, Deconstructed

An inside look at one of Mexico's favorite street foods.

August 2009

As Mexican food migrated to the United States, one of its fundamental dishes was largely left behind. South of the border, the torta, a sandwich of meat, beans, avocado, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and mayo on a crusty, white roll, is as common as the taco. Until recently, finding this monstrous sandwich in Denver required an insider tip and a foreign-language dictionary. But, just over a year ago, Las Tortas (5307 Leetsdale Drive, 303-379-7269) opened, and it—along with a few other restaurants, like Glendale's El Coyotito #3—is making the Mexican sandwich more accessible. Here, the elements of the perfect torta, layer by layer.

Bread Mexican bolillos (crusty, white, oblong rolls with a soft crumb) and teleras (softer, French, roll-style buns) are the most common breads for tortas. In the United States, hoagies are also used.

Mayonnaise Creamy, traditional mayo is the torta standard, but some vendors, like Las Tortas, also butter the bread.

Vegetables Like the protein options, the veggie toppings vary from location to location. Tomato and thick slices of avocado are standards, but you'll also find jalapeños (sometimes fresh, other times pickled), onions, or poblano chiles.

Adobado (optional): Some torta makers (mostly in Guadalajara) smother their dish burrito-style with this spicy red-chile sauce.

Queso Fresco This mild, crumbly white cheese is often the last ingredient sprinkled inside the sandwich.

Meat Depending on the region of Mexico, the torta's meat options differ. In the state of Jalisco, you might simply find chicken and steak. But travel north or south and Mexicans add chorizo, carnitas (fried pork), al pastor (marinated pork), or milanesa (breaded, fried veal cutlets) to the sandwich.

Beans Salted, refried beans are to a torta what cream cheese is to a lox and bagel sandwich. The smear of beans anchors all the other toppings.