Swill Magazine Issue 5 - Out Now

The food that binds a city, the torta comes in many guises. No matter the filling (fresh cheese, a whole pork chop, sauteed calamari) or setting (a shop run by an ex-el Cellar de Can Roca chef, the back of a supermarket), these sandwiches all start with Mexico City’s official torta bread: telera

WORDS BY PEDRO REYES

Great tortas of Mexico City
Tortas Armando

Tortas ArmandoRío Nazas 64, Cuauhtémoc

This is where it all started. Tortas Armando has been around since 1892. According to legend, a hungry-and-poor eleven-year-old kid by the name of Armando Martínez Centurion, in an act of desperation, grabbed some bread and filled it with food to sell outside his home. Workers and students from the neighbourhood were his first customers. They instantly loved it. Today, he is recognised as the inventor of torta as we know it, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Playwright, poet and Mexico City’s official chronicler Salvador Novo and writer Artemio Del Valle Arizpe have both written broadly about the way Martinez Centurian prepared his tortas. One by one, he’d carefully spread avocado across the telera with simple ingredients such as ham, sardines, roast pork loin, and slices of pork brawn. This classic restaurant with heartwarming service has been making it the same way ever since. When Don Armando died, every newspaper of note covered the event, telling the story of a humble man who gave the world one of Mexico’s most endearing and beloved meals. His legacy lives on.

Tortas Don Polo
Félix Cuevas 86, Del Valle

Founded in 1956 by Leopoldo “Polo” Sánchez, Tortas Don Polo became famous by claiming to be the inventors of the Torta Cubana, which is still being argued about to this day. This two-storey restaurant displays a breakfast and lunch menu, and a whole section of fruit juices and milkshakes. Entire families gather around the tables to share a meal, while another set of hungry people wait on the footpath watching the preparation of thousands of tortas a day. Torteros prepare tortas in seconds thanks to a strategically designed mise en place that includes sliced tomato and onions, vinegar-cured jalapeños and carrots, and a tray of melted butter, which is the irresistible signature scent that stands out in a room full of good smells. When the show begins, torteros plunge both halves of the telera in the melted butter just before placing them on the griddle. You can hear the sound of it sizzling. From there, they build up the torta starting with breaded beef; shredded chicken; sausage; chorizo omelette; salt cod; mole, and the rest of the elements on top. The size of these tortas allow customers to have one or two of them. Sometimes even more. Don Polo is, undoubtedly, a Mexico City torta institution.

Great tortas of Mexico City

La Barraca Valenciana: Torta Del MarAv. Centenario 91-C, Coyoacán.

This torta place, located at the heart of historic, bohemian neighbourhood Coyoacán, has a long tradition among middle-class families and weekend visitors. It is run by chef José Miguel García, son of Spanish immigrants and the original owners, who opened this place with the idea of selling imported products, but eventually ended up selling tortas. That is why, as its name La Barraca Valenciana suggests, the concept and menu has a strong influence of Spanish culture. José Miguel’s career as a chef started in high-end Spanish kitchens El Bulli and El Celler de Can Roca. But when he returned to Mexico City, he decided to take over his parents’ business, starting with improving the quality of ingredients and implementing cooking techniques he learned in Spain. That’s when La Barraca gained real notoriety. The menu kept the original tortas: ham and cheese, milanesa, Serrano ham, and some of the usual suspects, but it also features specialties like the ‘blanc i negre’ (butifarra with blood pudding), the ‘Girona’ (pork loin, bacon, and cheese), and the fabulous ‘torta del mar’, a totally new concept of a torta with the glorious combination of calamari and chimichurri: a herbal and garlicky mix that blends perfectly with the bread and the oily soul of calamari. A new classic.

Great tortas
Great tortas

This is an excerpt from issue 2 of Swill. Grab a copy of Swill today to read the whole thing!

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WORDS

Pedro Reyes

PICTURES

Andrew Reiner

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