Chopped Beef Torta – Los Reyes de la Torta, N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ

Picture in your head a restaurant called “Frank’s Eats.” Across the street, picture “Le Bistro.” Without any further information, you already know a lot about each of these establishments. You already know quite a few of the things on each menu, you know how the lighting will differ, and you can probably guess how likely you are to leave each establishment with heartburn. My point here is that the name of a restaurant says a lot. While in Phoenix not too long ago I was looking for a place to grab a sandwich and came upon the listing for Los Reyes de la Torta. The Torta Kings. This wasn’t a signal of the menu or the cleanliness, this was a signal of attitude. This was a restaurant founded by two or more individuals with such faith in the quality of their food that from day one they announced themselves as the reigning sandwich sovereigns of Phoenix. This is, to say the least, a bold claim.

While I have not eaten every torta in Phoenix there was nothing at Los Reyes de la Torta to lead me to believe they were not all that they claimed to be. The chopped beef torta was piled high with grilled steak, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapenos and avocado. The flavors produced a fine harmony, and a wide, soft telera kept everything under control. I admire the kind of people who run Los Reyes de la Torta. They do something, they do it very well, and they aren’t afraid to let you know about it.

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Steak Sandwich – Original Hamburger Works, North 15th Avenue Phoenix, AZ

Steak Sandwich at Original Hamburger Works, Phoenix, AZ

When I ordered the steak sandwich at the Original Hamburger Works, I was asked how I wanted the steak cooked. I was a bit surprised at this, as a steak sandwich is usually a cheap cut that has been minced beyond recognition, so never mind how you’d like it cooked. I figured aiming for rare was my best bet, as it was likely to be overdone no matter what. However, the fact that it was in fact a full piece of meat turned out to be one of the least interesting things about this sandwich.

The sandwich you see above is exactly the sandwich I received. There is nothing hiding under the bun, no grilled onions, no cheese, no aoli or salad greens, just a steak. It would be easy to be upset about this, to deride the lack of artistry, the withered imagination that puts forth the absolute minimum required to make a sandwich and ceases all effort. It would be easy, but it is not what I did. I sat there and I ate my steak sandwich and I wondered what it was like to eat sandwiches 150 years ago, to know them in such simple forms and only in such simple forms. It must have really been something, and I am grateful this incredibly basic sandwich gave me a small window into that very different time.