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Feb 4, 2002 05:53 PM

Pambasos in Oakland! (very long)

  • r

Ever since I read one of Melanie's fabulous taco truck reports featuring a pambaso (Melanie spelled it pambazo, but the variation with the "s" seems to be preferred in Oakland) I've been searching for one like the Holy Grail.

Melanie described a pambaso thusly:

"The best item is the pambazo de tinga, $3.50. Think of a sloppy Joe made with fiery sauce. The beef for tinga is stewed until it’s falling apart into flavorful shreds with carrots, onions and lots of black pepper in a hot chile sauce. This sandwich is made with a big round hamburger-size roll, filled with tinga, crumbly queso blanco, crema fresca, and shredded lettuce and then brushed all over with more chile sauce and heated on the griddle. Not pressed like a panini but browned a bit on the grill. The bread seems like day-old but I think that keeps it from disintegrating instantly from all the juices. The whole thing is wrapped up in paper and cut into halves, otherwise you’d never be able to pick it up. Even so, tackling one of these pambazos is a eight-napkin event."

Jim Leff then reported that:

"Melanie, the pambazos are major finds. they are not native to your area...or anywhere in the north of mexico, for that matter.

The rolls SHOULD be stale, for firmness. They are, as you noted, fried on the grill (though it's important to note that they are fried close to the chorizo--or whatever other meat is used--which gives them a reddish or dark hue). If made correctly, they should be a whole lot better than sloppy joe's, but still definitely not a light, easy snack for polite company."

I've been looking for them with no luck -- one taco truck had them listed on their sign, but never had them when I was there.

But Saturday, I was cruising down International with a bag of veggie bahn mi to which I was going to add pineapple tamales as my offering for a veggie potluck for which I had no time to cook (Saturday being the perfect day to tackle the incipient jungle in the garden before it grew beyond my meager gardening capabilities and energies). And there it was: a bright yellow awning for "La Torta Loco" and a listing of offerings including pambasos.

With many scratches on my hands demonstating my gardening virtue, I decided Sunday would be devoted at least in part to chowhounding on that stretch of International.

La Torta Loca is a couple of doors north from Taqueria San Jose (I couldn't find an address but it's approximately 3417 International), on the west side of the street). It is literally a hole in the wall -- just a walk-up window with a stretch of narrow counter outside it; pictures and listings of menu items in both Spanish and English (with helpful pronunciation guides for gringos) are plastered across the front. It features an expanded menu of street food: tortas, tacos, sopas, huaraches, flautas, quesadillas and of course pambasos. These come in a wide range of fillings, including a wider range of veggie options than I'm used to seeing: mushrooms, eggs, and both chiles and nopales offered as fillings, not just garnishes. The special tortas included Poblano -- chile with two kinds of cheese, and Alemana -- linguisa and polish sausage (sorry no Cubana, Patrick, but I'll bet they could put one together for you with polish sausage that might come close to the hot dog version you've been looking for).

But the pieste resistance: tinga! Yes, I got a pambaso de tinga, and it was almost exactly as Melanie described it. The outside of the bun (which actually resembled the heels of a large loaf of bread) was dark red -- as Jim described -- with flecks or charred chile and meat embedded in it from the griddle. The meat was indeed reminiscent of a very spicy sloppy Joe, down to a distinct slightly sweet tomatoey bbq sauce note. In addition the the shredded lettuce, queso blanco and crema, there was also a dollop of green salsa. Definitely not polite company food, definitely delicious, and definitely messy -- there was no place to eat except my car, so I decided to make the short trip home and eat it in comfort (with lots of Glace Honeydew fruitwater at hand).

On the way back to the car I picked up an ear of corn, slathered with some soft yellow butter-like substance and rolled in finely grated cheese from one of the carts -- this was so messy I had to devour it in my new car -- Mexican food smell has now pretty much drowned out the new leather upholstery smell, which is a *good* thing.

Prices run a little higher than the trucks:

Tortas: $4.50-7.50 (for a special double)
Tacos: $1.65
Sopes and Huaraches: $2.75
Tostadas: $2.50
Flautas and Pambasos: $4.00
Quesadillas: $4.50

Also, just for Heidipie: Champurrado.

This report courtesy of my new-to-me ChowPilot!

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  1. This is all very exciting news. I had a pambaso de tinga (though it was called a torta) at the big market in Oaxaca, and have never seen the likes of it anywhere else.

    Not to mention the champurrado!

    2 Replies
    1. re: heidipie
      Melanie Wong

      Here's a link to my recent first encounter with champurrado. I was expecting something more chocolate-y, but maybe this is the norm?


      1. re: Melanie Wong

        On the basis of the two versions I've tried and your description, I think it would be safe to say there is a wide variation.

        The first one I had was chocolatey with very little sense of corn -- really tasted like thickened Mexican hot chocolate.

        The version at Torta Loco had a distinct corn taste about equally balanced with the chocolate flavor. Yours sounds even less chocolatey.

        Okay, where are the champurrado experts on this board who can tell us what the "norm" is?!

    2. Ruth, great report.

      You should default to chorizo y papas, aka "choripapas" (chopped-up chorizo with chopped-up potato), though. That's the cannonical filling. Anything else, to me, is more of a dirty torta.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Jim Leff

        Will do, Jim.

        I'm heading back that way with a posse Thursday so there will be more to report.

        I just realized I can use various features of my new PT Cruiser for taco trucking -- for example, the front passenger seat folds down flat, so I could sit in the back and use the seat back as a table. Or I can use the tailgate position for the back shelf for the posse. I knew there had to be chow applications for that car!