While we have spent most of our time here discovering, lauding, and celebrating tacos, the Mexican sandwich in its many varieties has always been a true part of the taco lifestyle. LA’s “Torta Belt”, which you can see on the map below, roughly encircles downtown, with most of the heavy hitters located east of the river. Please enjoy this list of the best ones in town, along with some luscious, mouth-watering photos. They are presented in no particular order. – Ed.
Primera Taza – Lonche de Lomo
The lonche de lomo (pork loin sandwich) at this Boyle Heights coffee shop serves as a bold reminder that using authentic, quality ingredients truly does makes a world of difference–especially in the realm of sandwiches. And while the thinly sliced adobo-marinated pork loin, avocado, smoky chile sauce, pickled jalapeño, red onion, tomato and crema all work together harmoniously in both texture and flavor, it’s the authentic birote salado, a Mexican sourdough roll, with a thick, crunchy exterior and perfectly chewy interior, that makes this sandwich extra special. When I first bit into this celestial amalgamation of flavors, time stood still, and I became joyfully aware that the lonche de lomo was my spirit animal.
I follow Primera Taza’s Instagram handle religiously, waiting for co-owner Chuy Tovar to announce when his wife, Rosalinda Hernandez, is preparing these specialty lonches. Be forewarned, these unique sandwiches sell out quickly, as people in the know seem to willingly drop whatever they’re doing just to get their lonche fix. Also, just recently added, is an equally mind-altering lonche de panela, which uses fresh panela — a whole different experience in itself. Stop in at this unpretentious coffee house that emits strong, inspiring vibes and truly embodies the creative spirit of Boyle Heights.
Note: Pair these lonches with an amazing cup of café de olla, made using only traditional, top-quality ingredients, (e.g. cinnamon, cloves, piloncillo and of course, Mexican coffee) and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported straight to Guadalajara, Jalisco.
1850 1/2 E 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90033 IG: @primerataza
Corazón y Miel – Torta Clásico
Chef Eddie Ruiz’s version of the classic torta (de asada) represents what the ever-evolving Alta California movement is all about. The LA-born chef takes the typically standard, unassuming steak sandwich, and elevates it to new heights by producing expert-level flavor profiles, comprised of creamy refried beans topped with caramelized fois onions, savory grilled skirt steak (brushed with a house-made mop sauce), buttery avocado, spicy Anaheim chile, queso fresco, and raw, crisp onions. Each of these components are strategically layered and come together brilliantly like a synchronized mosh pit of contrasting flavors and textures, contained inside a warm, toasted bolillo. The way the natural steak juices drip onto the tender, caramelized fois onions and converge with the frijoles for a brief moment just before being consumed, is not even a little funny. Don’t be surprised when your salivary glands start to go crazy before this torta even reaches your table–it’s perfectly normal.
Note: Pair this torta with a light, refreshing beer like La Sirena, a Czech pilsener from Agua Mala Brewing (in Ensenada), or any one of barman Robin Chopra’s recommended cocktails.
There’s a limited amount of these special tortas available on Tuesdays only. #TortaTuesday
6626 Atlantic Ave, Bell, CA 90201 IG: @CorazonyMiel
B.S. Taqueria – Beet Milanesa Torta
Never thought I’d include a beet torta on a ‘Best of anything’ list. However, it’s the brilliantly prepared beets by Chef Ray Garcia that changed my whole perspective on this often underappreciated root vegetable. The crispy, breaded (milanesa-style)
514 W 7th St. Los Angeles, CA 90014 – www.bstaqueria.com IG: @bstaqueria
The pan frances (French-style bread) alone, which is made in-house everyday, is worth heading over to Chef Gilbert Cetina Jr.’s Yucatecan restaurant located inside Mercado La Paloma, an indoor marketplace near USC. Add citrusy, mesquite-grilled pork shoulder, black beans, roasted red onion, tomato and avocado, and you’ll wonder why it took you this long to find such a unique and satisfying torta. If you’re more in the mood for insanely tender, stewy, sour orange-marinated pork cooked in banana leaves, be sure to also try the chef’s Cochinita Pibil torta. Or get both…
3655 S Grand Ave. Ste C6 Los Angeles, CA 90007 – www.chichenitzarestaurant.
Guerrilla Tacos – Breakfast Torta (Jambon with egg)
Just when you think you can predict what Chef Wes Avila might serve next out of his Guerrilla Tacos truck, he pitches a Kershaw-style, knee-buckling curve ball (in the shape of a jambon torta) right through the pick-up window. A breakfast torta hardly sounds like anything extraordinary, but just one bite will make you pause for a moment, take a second bite, then have you keep thinking to yourself that you just can’t get enough. A buttery a croissant is used to enshroud the insane-on-its-own jambon, aged cheddar, fried egg, heirloom tomato, aioli, avocado and chile morita, and is another prime example of what Alta California cuisine is all about, which is taking a classic dish that many of us here in LA grew up eating, like huevos con jamón (eggs with ham), and refining it by combining classic European cooking techniques with the use of fresh, quality ingredients. I’m almost glad the chef doesn’t serve this every day or even every weekend. It simply forces one to appreciate this torta that much more when it’s only available periodically. Try any one of Chef Avila’s tortas, you won’t be disappointed.
Note: If you’ve got kids or know of adults that are picky eaters who don’t think they like vegetables, and you aren’t trying to take them to any type of sit-down restaurant where all they’ll do is order a lemonade and play on their phones, get rid of them…Well, maybe not the kids, but take them to this amazing food truck and show them how delicious vegetables can be. They’ll soon be diving like assholes to save a porcini mushroom-dusted potato from hitting the ground. These things matter.
826 E 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90013 (outside of Blacktop Coffee) www.guerrillatacos.com IG: @guerrillatacos
Carnitas El Momo – Torta de Carnitas (mixta)
This torta is pretty simple in that it only consists of a soft jalapeño roll stuffed with the best carnitas in LA–and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. When visiting Carnitas El Momo’s weekend location on 61st and Avalon, and aren’t quite in the mood for tacos for some strange, inexplicable reason, ask if they have any bolillos available. The mixta torta, a mix of pork shoulder, skin and hog maw, will make you appreciate these artisanal carnitas in a whole new way. If they aren’t carrying any bolillos that day, order a pound or three of carnitas to-go, and pick up a few rolls from a nearby panadería (bakery). Or, you can B.Y.O. Bolillo, and Juan “Billy” Acosta, son of carnitas master, Romulo “Momo” Acosta, will assemble one for you on the spot.
6000 Avalon Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90003 (Outside H.Q. Avalon Studios) IG: @CarnitasElMomo
Las Molenderas – Torta (de mole de chipotle)
If you’re looking for different ways to enjoy some of the best mole in L.A., head over to Las Molenderas in Boyle Heights. This almost hidden restaurant offers an amazing mole torta, which will change your outlook on breakfast sandwiches forever. The mole of your choice, traditional mole poblano or spicy chipotle mole, is combined with tender, shredded chicken, then stuffed inside a huge mole-schmeared telera roll along with panela cheese and sliced raw onion. Do yourself a favor and be sure to add a huevo estrellado (fried egg) to this already rich, flavorful sandwich of destiny.
Note: If you’ve got a healthy appetite or are into this thing called sharing, try their mole fries that come topped with melted cheese. I have food writer, Valentina Silva, of Eastside Foodbites and L.A. Taco, to name a few, to thank for this find.
2635 Whittier Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90023
Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara – Torta Ahogada (with carnitas)
Always trust your server/hostess when they warn you that their version of extra spicy, means hell-fire spicy. Or don’t. Just be aware that your eyeballs may begin to sweat profusely, and have you looking like a Garbage Pail Kid with a melted face. Having said that, you’ll still be able to enjoy the ever-present flavors of the tender, pork carnitas underneath that intense chile de árbol heat. The pickled red onion helps balance the heat out a bit. Actually, no it doesn’t. Not even a little bit, but it does looks nice. If you’re not into temporary hearing loss, order the torta ahogada soaked in the tomato-based sauce only, and ask for the torturous salsa on the side. I appreciate how the thick, hard-crusted sourdough bolillo absorbs so much of that thin, runny orange/red-hued sauce, yet manages to hold together nicely until the very last bite. Go order one…along with an extra large horchata.
6042 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park, CA 90255
Super Tortas D.F. – Torta Cubana
I’d visit this stand just to watch everyone inside the torta trailer, located on Central Ave. and 41st Pl., turn out these monster, Mexico City-style sandwiches. They’ve got an efficient system that runs like clockwork, with one person taking orders, another prepping huge telera rolls with fresh avocado, tomato and onion, and a third person frying the milanesa (breaded steak). The final and most important step in the process involves a fourth person, a master tortero behind the grill, building and finishing off three or four tortas simultaneously, which always has me mentally headbanging to this symphony of construction. As much as I’m a fan of expert-level sandwich building, I come here for the Cubana (Mexico City-style Cuban torta), a work of art that doesn’t only look and sound good, it’s simply delicious. It has everything you could ever want in a torta, such as: milanesa, ham, hot dog weiners, pork leg, a chorizo omelette, several different types of cheese, tomato, avocado and pickled jalapeños, which cut through the richness of the meats and cheeses nicely. These tortas aren’t a joke. Go get one.
1098 E 41st St, Los Angeles, CA 90011 (Thursday-Sunday nights)
Los Poblanos – Cemita de Milanesa
Finding an all-around proper cemita in L.A. was a more difficult task than I would’ve ever imagined. Sure, there are several places that ‘specialize’ in cemitas, but when I’d visit these trucks or small restaurants, I’d be quite disappointed, most often due to the fact that the cemita rolls were either hard and stale or the milanesa (breaded beef) was extra dry and stringy. Luckily, I came across food writer, Bill Esparza’s (Los Angeles Magazine) cemitas piece, which offered some much needed guidance. I immediately shot over to Los Poblanos, a food truck that truly specializes in making legit cemitas, which is parked on Whittier Blvd. in Boyle Heights. For once, I was actually able to taste the quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese) and was happy to bite into a lightly toasted, yet still soft, cemita roll. The milanesa was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and the avocado and chipotle peppers added the perfect finishing touches to this Pubelan delicacy. I’m just glad to finally know of a place that dishes out such a well-balanced sandwiches that uses quality ingredients.
3520 Whittier Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90023
Handle with care. A pambazo stands out from other tortas in that its bread is dipped in guajillo-chile sauce, grilled on the flat-top and stuffed with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, cotija cheese and crema. Some places offer the option to add beef milanesa (breaded steak) or grilled chicken, but I recommend sticking with the original chorizo y papas version. Ditch the fork and knife and use the wrapper, that comes with this sandwich, to your advantage. It’s all in the wrist.
1859 E 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90033
El Sinaloense – Torta de Pierna
The torta de pierna (pork leg) served at this Sinaloan restaurant in Huntington Park isn’t enormous in size, but it is big in delicious achiote and orange-marinated pork flavor. The juices from the tender, succulent pork quickly seep into a lightly toasted telera roll and the creamy avocado, tomato, lettuce and pickled red onion add the perfect finishing touches to this killer sandwich. A pickled jalapeno or two on the side don’t hurt either.
7601 State Street. Huntington Park, CA 90255
Yuca’s – Cochinita Pibil Torta
Yuca’s offers a torta with delicious Yucatan-style citrus-marinated pork that’s stuffed inside a sweet, toasted telera roll, along with sliced avocado, lettuce and refried beans. The stewed pork is so tender that you could almost bypass chewing all together and simply inhale each bite–almost. It’s the perfect sandwich to pick up whenever you’re in the East Hollywood area. Be sure to enjoy it with a side of pickled jalapenos and carrots — as well as their killer chips and fresh guacamole.
4666 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027 & 2056 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027 www.yucasla.com IG: @yucasLA
Cook’s Tortas – Ranchito Torta
It’s all about the handmade bread at Cook’s Torta’s in Monterey Park. The rolls, which are made in-house daily, have a soft and airy, yet chewy consistency, similar to that of a classic ciabatta, with an added sourdough kick. Although there are several tasty options to choose from, one of my favorites is the ‘Ranchito’ torta, which comes with grilled skirt steak, dry-aged chorizo, nopalitos, spicy serrano-guacamole and queso fresco. While enjoying your torta, which goes great with a Mexican coke, examine the huge chalk board menu on the wall, and try to determine what you’ll order on your next visit.
1944 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754 www.cookstortas.com IG: CooksTortas
Wendy’s Tortas – Torta de Pierna y Lomo
I thoroughly enjoyed this torta with both shredded pork leg and pork loin at this small Sinaloan torta shop in Lincoln Heights. The kind gentelman who took my order recommended I try the pierna y lomo torta, who stated that it’s their best-seller. I expected the leg meat to be shredded, but was surprised to see that the pork loin meat was also pulled apart. It didn’t matter, the combination of both white and dark meat worked quite well sandwiched between the classic telera roll. This panini-style grilled torta’s crunchy exterior offers some nice textural contrast to the tender, stewy pork meat and creamy avocado on the inside. A side of pickled jalapeños, onions and carrots are a must for this sandwich.
2603 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90031
La Cocina – Gorditas
La Cocina, located inside El Mercado de Los Angeles (a.k.a El Mercadito) in Boyle Heights, offers killer gorditas, which are thick, handmade, Blu-ray-sized corn maza discs, cooked on a flat-top grill, then stuffed with beans, salsa, lettuce and your choice of several different types of meat options including: carnitas, chorizo, chicharrón, buche, tr
Note: Their spicy salsa is also served separately so that you can control the amount of heat you want. Also, be sure to serve yourself the obligatory pickled onion, jalapeño and carrot trifecta.
3425 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90063