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Tortas Boos Vani / torta cubana/ etc [San Francisco]

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In my continuing quest to find the torta cubana of my dreams, I finally made it to Tortas Boos Vani (on Mission, just south of Geneva, in SF) last sunday morning. I had been wondering about this place ever since I saw it while driving around semi-lost, back when it was called Tortas Bugs Bunny.

Boos Vani advertises "D.F. Style Tortas." Their torta menu is extensive, offering all sorts of meats, combinations thereof, and a few special tortas. The Cubana is one of these special tortas, at a premium price of $7.00. (Regular tortas are $5, and combination tortas are $6.)

Here's what Boos Vani puts on their Torta Cubana:
milanesa (pounded, breaded steak)
pierna (beef shank)
ham
bacon
chicken
a fried egg
salchicha (fried hot dog bits)
chorizo
jalapeno
and lettuce, tomato, queso fresco, avocado.

It's a little ridiculous. I knew this, from looking at the list of ingredients, but sometimes I'm a little one-note, so I ordered it.

The Cubana was so big that I couldn't really take a bite of it like a regular sandwich. I had to sort of nibble at the top and bottom edges. It was good, but so huge that I couldnt really taste the whole thing at once. The milanesa was a little dry. The chicken was shredded and super tender, classic "pollo deshebrado," and the pierna was really juicy and smoky. An interesting sandwich of colossal proportions, but, alas, not the torta cubana I am looking for. I managed to barely eat half of it at the restaurant. I had most of the other half for breakfast. A pretty good deal, two huge meals for seven bucks.

Holly's torta jamon y queso was a more successful affair; thick-sliced ham, a slice of avocado, some jalapeno, and a fried egg layered over a very creamy smear of queso fresco (that may have been lubricated with some crema mexicana). Easier to eat, and much easier to make sense of, culinarily speaking. Where they find ham this tender and lean, I have no idea. She ate half at the place and we split the other half, heated, as a cocktail snack last night. It reheated magnificently.

The rolls, in both cases, were rounder and bigger than I've had before. They were just slightly stale, and crusty on the outside. I don't know if this is more traditionally "D. F." style or not.

Holly remarked that I was a little fixated on the torta cubana when ordering, and that is perhaps why I missed out on the plethora of other delicious-looking options available on a Sunday morning at Tortas Boos Vani. The most interesting special item advertised was Tacos Barbacoa de Borregos, which I later determined was lamb tacos in the barbacoa fashion. They're served with a bowl of consome, which is the broth traditionally used as a steam source in the pit-bbq process. Several folks near us had the barbacoa and it looked and smelled delicious and was only three bucks.

Also on special on weekends is yummy-looking bowls of pozole, and tlacoyos (or tlacollos), oval-shaped crisp tortillas smeared with pureed beans and sprinkled with queso fresco. And they offer sopes, handmade, with either chicken or chorizo, and platanos con crema.

All of which makes me want to go back, soon, prefereably on a sunday morning, and try one or more of these rarely met delicacies.

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  1. Merely good, this Cubana extravaganza was not the stuff of dreams?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Well. If the sandwich itself was not the stuff of dreams, then Torta Boos Vani certainly was. It's not very often I want to run home and consult a Diana Kennedy cookbook _and_ a spanish dictionary after visiting a taqueria (torteria?).

      But, the torta cubana itself was, in all its unstoppable glory, somewhat undefined. It faded in and out, like Enid at the end of "Ghost World." It, dear reader, _tried too hard._

    2. Pardon the extreme ignorance, but this seems to be a Mexican rather than a Cuban dish. Is that correct? No Cuban I know would put an egg on his/her Cuban sandwich, much less milanesa or chicken, and the terms "torta" and "D.F." (Distrito Federal) certainly point to Mexico. I merely mention this issue because I was not aware that the Mexicans had such a torta and I'm curious how it came about. My interest is certainly piqued. Thanks in advance for any background you can share.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Amendico

        The Torta Cubana is the many-hued, highly-variable Mexican "homenaje" to the classic Cuban sandwich. Kinda like how the breaded meat slices are called "Milanesa" and the agua fresca flavoured with hibiscus is called "Jamaica".

        Speaking of Cuban sandwiches, I had a magnificent Michigander "homenaje" recently while in Ann Arbor-- Zingermans makes a beautiful Cuban-esque sandwich.

        Don't ask me why I am responding to a five-year-old post. I just am.

        1. re: patrick

          Well, my chow friend, whatever moves you! Missing your presence in the Bay Area, but thanks for the reminder of tlacoyos...will have to try them some day. Happy t-day!

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie, you are too kind.

            I never tried the tlacoyos there but I did enjoy the ones I had at Guelaguetza in Los Angeles-- a must-visit if you are ever down south and near K-town.

          2. re: patrick

            Well, as a relatively new Chowhound reader, I appreciate you bringing this post up to the top for me to find. Now I want to check this place out (assuming it's still there, of course).

            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

              Here's the contact info.

              Tortas Boos Voni
              5172 Mission St
              San Francisco, CA 94112
              (415) 585-5880

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Dear Patrick, perhaps we are destined to meet every six to eight years. But next time, we must choose a different spot. I tried Tortas Boos Voni for the first time, and I am not a fan. Not at all.

            Perhaps unfair to any torta maker in our area to taste it so soon after my favorites at Casita Chilanga in Redwood City. But that's the breaks.

            For a one-to-one comparison, we tried the Pierna at TBV. What a salty, sloppy mess! The balloon-ish telera seemed stale and broke apart. And the bread had little flavor, toasting or grilling might help. The pork leg was so slimy, wet and over-injected with salt brine, we did not want to eat it.

            Then the torta cubana was indeed a sight to behold stuffed with six kinds of meats. With that kind of filling and for the princely sum of $10.50, I kind of expected that it would taste like . . . something . . . anything. But no, even pulling out a piece of the beef milanesa cutlet and chewing it alone to attempt to extract some flavor was pointless. Mostly it tasted like stale oil and breading.

            It was a bit of a curiosity to be given salsas to go with the tortas. Now I understand why. These need all the help they can get to show some flavor.

            Both sandwiches were packed up and handed over to a perpetually hungry teenager we know.

             
             
             
             
             
             
             
            4 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Your review reads a bit harsh to me Melanie compared to my own experiences. Sure the cuban and the piernas are sloppy messes, but I found they tasted about how they looked they should. Not great, but the expectations weren't all that great either. Perhaps I found them acceptable due to my experiences at Casita Chalanga:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8501...

              To me, it was CC that didn't quite live up to the hype.

              Cheers!

              1. re: Civil Bear

                At $7.50 and $10.50, respectively, for the two tortas here, I was expecting something that I'd be interested in eating.

                Here's a direct link to your post,
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8501...

                I've not had a torta cubana at Casita Chilanga so can't compare directly. I do love the pierna used in the Tesorito at CC. TBV used a much inferior grade of meat. Which location of CC did you try? A couple recent tortas from the Middlefield shop were better than the ones from El Camino.

                Part of the art of sandwich making is proportion and assembly. The places that are exacting in this come out on top for me. It makes the sandwich taste better when things are stacked in the right order and ratios. Bread makes a big difference between these spots.

                These old posts from others sum up the finer points of what makes CC different from the rest.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2494...
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3730...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I've only been to the El Camino location. It's been awhile, but IIRC I wasn't crazy about the bread that others seem to love. I found it dry and unable to hold up, so I had to each the tortas with knife and fork, just like at TBV.

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    That's not good.

                    I will say that the bread at Casita Chilanga is not as good as it was when it first opened. Still, I find it better quality than most others, and CC knows how to toast it on the grill.