As recently as two weeks ago we believed that Vietnam was home to the world's best sandwiches. But no more. We've been torta-fied.
A torta is a Mexican sandwich comprised of any one of a number of fillings nestled between the halves of an oval roll called a bollilo. I've long known of the existence of torta, but never thought to actually try one. To tell the truth, until I caught banh mi fever in Vietnam sandwiches just seemed so pedestrian, so American. If you're going to eat Mexican food, I thought, why eat a sandwich?
Then one day last week we were trolling for lunch in Espanola, New Mexico. Route 584 is not a pretty stretch of road (at least not the part that runs through Espanola), but it is nonetheless intriguing for its large number of what I like to call EWPs (eateries-with-potential). You know, the sort of exceedingly plain-in-appearance restaurants and strip mall holes-in-the wall that can be surprisingly good - or horrifically bad.
Tortas Rainbow falls into the former category. It's a strip mall corner shop EWP staffed by a couple of cooks from Durango and a stone-faced auntie who sits behind the cash register. We entered assuming we'd order burritos, but then our eyes fell on the filled-to-bursting buns in the hands of a couple of patrons near Tortas' entry. Ordering burritos was suddenly out of the question.
Rainbow's torta selection is large. There's pork many ways, chorizo and egg, ham and cheese. Dave quickly decided on a carnitas de puerco torta while in the heat of the moment I quite uncharacteristically went for the deep-fried option: torta with a filling of chile rellenos, or cheese-filled roasted green chilies, breaded and fried. (It's roasted green chile season in New Mexico - more on that later.)
The tortas come with a choice of red or green salsa and are accompanied, if you wish, by roasted whole jalapeno peppers. We added an optional garnish of pico, a fresh 'relish' of chopped jalapeno peppers mixed with chopped tomatoes and onions.
My torta, oozing cheese and redolent with the smokiness of the green chilies, was gone before Dave could capture it on camera. His boasted tender pulled pork. Both included a spread of refried beans carpeted with avocado slices on the bollilo's bottom half and a mound of shredded lettuce, chopped coriander, and sliced tomatoes piled atop our respective fillings. They were spectacular.
What really makes a torta special is the bollilo - soft but not mushy, chewy but not tough, and substantial enough to hold up to a hefty filling (and lashings of salsa) without falling apart in the hands. Bollilo, in fact, would make excellent hamburger buns. Before assembling our torta the cook crisped up our bollilo halves with a quick lieabout on the griddle.
I can't believe it took us so long to come around to the torta. It may well prove to be the Mexican specialty that finally lures us to Mexico. It's certainly a sandwich worth planning a detour from New Mexico around.
Tortas Rainbow, Riverside Drive (Route 584) near the intersection with Fairview (across the street from Fairview Plaza), Espanola, New Mexico.