Mexican food doesn’t get a tremendous amount of respect. Whether or not it gets the respect it deserves is a matter for another site, I suppose. Something about its ubiquity and its ability to remain tasty while suffering in quality, though, has led to it assuming a place in American cuisine where nobody is expecting much. I think that’s too bad. I eat a fair number of tortas, probably more than any other particular type of sandwich, and I’m hoping that one of these days one of them is going to really knock my socks off. What I have long suspected is that there is a sandwich out there that is as transcendent an experience as the bánh mì at Saigon Bánh Mì. That there is a torta out there that is genuinely sublime, something that when I find it will forever influence my greater sandwich worldview. I had a great, great sandwich at Los Reyes de la Torta, but the very fact that I’m writing this suggests that it didn’t have quite the impact that it could have. You might be wondering what makes me so certain that sandwich is out there, and I’ll admit that for a while it was just an idle thought, something I would consider from time to time but never really embraced. But when I sat down to eat the Torta Milanesa from Adelita’s Taqueria, I knew my search had begun in earnest.
It isn’t a particularly great sandwich. It’s an above average torta, better than La Victoria, but not as good as Los Reyes. What jumped out at me here, though, was the milanesa. The milanesa, cousin to the Italian cotoletta and the German schnitzel, is a thin slice of beef spiced, dipped in egg, dredged in breadcrumbs and shallow fried. That last step was the downfall of this particular torta, as the milanesa had been fried well before it ended up on my sandwich. By the time it got to me the coating was a bit damp and well detached from the beef in places. In spite of that the beef was tender and the whole thing hinted at what could have been. A crunchy coating on a tender piece of beef, creamy avocado, just the right salsa…it could have been something really special, had it been well executed. I finished the sandwich a bit disappointed, but now certain that there is a torta out there, a transcendent torta just waiting for me. So I went looking elsewhere.
My first thought was to try Mexico Bakery No 2, the downtown location of the place that serves what might be the best torta in the south bay. My previous experience with them was downright delicious, a chorizo torta that was that wonderful kind of greasy. If anyone had mastered the milanesa, I figured, it had to be them.
The torta milanesa from Mexico Bakery is considerably more elaborate than the one from Adelita’s. Where Adelita’s brought simple lettuce / tomato / avocado accompaniments, Mexico Bakery provides those things plus a couple slices of soft cheese and a healthy dose of pickled jalapeños. It’s very different than the sandwich at Adelita’s, and very good. They had a bit of a heavy hand with the jalapeños, but a small adjustment evened things out. When consuming the second half of the sandwich I swapped out about half the jalapeños and put in their place a good dose of tomatillo salsa, and that really made things sing. This was a very good sandwich, but ultimately it is not the end of my search. It suffered from the same thing that derailed the earlier torta, namely that the milanesa itself was not freshly fried. Fresher than Adelita’s, but not cripsy or showing any other hallmarks of the genuinely fresh. If it isn’t fresh, there isn’t a whole lot that can save it. It speaks to the quality of Mexico Bakery that the sandwich was so good in spite of that, but ultimately fried food on a sandwich is pass/fail. This sandwich didn’t pass.
So the search continues. There’s a torta milanesa out there, one that’s really, really good. One day I’m going to find it, and on that day I’m going to eat it.