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Sep 16, 2006 11:42 PM

Torta Cubana at La Zamorana in Watsonville

What was I thinking?

A few weeks ago I was out doing errands which ended up taking longer than I'd expected, bumping up against lunch. I was near La Zamorana in Watsonville, so decided to stop in for some tacos. As I was walking from my car, I noticed that their sign gave top billing to their being a torteria. Realizing I'd never had one of their tortas, I figured I'd give one a try.

Somewhere between the door and the counter I decided that I didn't want a plain vanilla torta but something special. I had a vague memory of Nathan mentioning their pambazos, but also a vague memory that he hadn't been all that enthusiastic. (I later revisited his report here:


Looking at the menu, I noticed a "Torta Cubana." Given that a regular torta was $3.75, a Pambazo $4.99, and the Cubana $6.99, I figured it must be special indeed and ordered one.

As I don't speak Spanish, I just assumed that Cubana referred to Cuba. However, I now believe it must be Spanish for "everything *including* the kitchen sink."

It arrived wrapped in paper and foil like a burrito, but cut in half and turned cut ends up so that its contents could be marveled at. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, but did manage to snap a pretty pathetic shot with my phone camera:

It immediately became clear why it was wrapped like a burrito, in that, stuffed as it was, it would never hold together as a sandwich. Follow along with the photo as we recount its ingredients: Starting from the "bottom" and working up, we have the bottom half of a soft roll compressed by the contents into a thin slab of bread. Then there is mayonnaise and mustard, followed by sliced ham, cheese, a sliced hot dog(!), chorizo, a milanesa (a slice of breaded fried beef), tomato, fresh avocado, onions, pickled jalapenos, lettuce, more mayo, and the even more-compressed top half of the roll. Yikes!

Despite the excessiveness of it, the ingredients we're mostly tasty (although, I'm sorry, that hot dog is just wrong). The chorizo in particular is good (as I already knew from tacos). But I"m afraid that this is one of those situations where "more" is simply "more" (as opposed to "better").

Now I know. (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I did eat the whole thing).

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  1. Ok, our chow synchronicity is getting weirder and weirder. I just tried the torta cubana at Zamorana for the first time a few days ago! I had intended to only order the super burrito, but once I saw that sign, I knew I had to try the cubana too.

    While I agree that the cubana was gluttonous in attitude and could have been more restrained and balanced, we enjoyed eating it in a messy burger/overloaded pizza kind of way. I asked the counter person what was in it before ordering, and she said 5 or so different meats so I knew that it wasn't going to be a Cuban sandwich as I've experienced it.

    Here's a pretty good shot of the different layers (mine was really stuffed):

    You did a great job of dissecting the layers. I didn't know that was called milanesa. Are you sure it was beef and not pork? I noticed the cook dipping a dark hunk of meat into the fryer, so that must have been it. The hot dog was a complete surprise, and I liked the bouncy texture and thought it worked well w/ the mustard and pickled jalapenos (those jalapenos are like gold!). This sandwich represented a real Mexican-American fusion of flavors. I don't feel the need to ever order it again, but I'm sure glad I tried it!

    My al pastor super burrito was very good. When I unwrapped it, I was happy to see golden patches from the griddle. It was filled w/ your standard super burrito offerings, although Zamorana includes those addictive pickled jalapenos and uses sliced avocado instead of guacamole. Everything was well-seasoned, and even though I have mixed feelings about rice in my burrito, their version worked well such that all components melded into a sum greater than its parts. The al pastor was alright, not spectacular or as plentiful as I would have liked, but it served its role. At $4.99 for this one pouch meal, it was very satisfying and a good value. As of now, this beats the burrito from Tacos Moreno...

    Photo of super burrito:

    I must add that I continue to really like their salsa even though the chips are usually slightly to very stale. The counter lady was much friendlier and more responsive to questions this time around. For a place that has very tasty taqueria treats and is located in a relatively large space in a well-trafficked area, I often wonder why it's not more crowded.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Carb Lover

      I would be surprised if pierna (pork leg) was not part of the Cubana. But your photo does look like breaded beef (milanesa), where as his looks like pork!

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        You have a point, Melanie; his does look lighter and more pinkish than mine. Since ahclem identified it as beef milanesa though, I'm thinking it was indeed beef.

    2. Hey, that burrito really looks good. I bet they'd make it without the rice (which would be my preference). Lately I've been going for more basic burritos (just meat, beans and salsa), but that one is really tempting (although I'd probably go for the carnitas or birria). I did have a basic al pastor burrito at Tacos Moreno for the first time in quite a while a few weeks ago and I must say that it is still my favorite of that type. I don't think it's changed (except for the price) in well over 20 years. And I love their salsa.

      I can't swear that the milanesa wasn't pork. Beef is more traditional, but pork isn't unknown.

      From your photo it looks like the roll on your torta had been nicely grilled, which no doubt gave it more structural integrity. Mine was barely grilled (if at all) and was consequently too soggy right from the beginning. A nice toasty roll would have definitely made for a better experience.

      I also wonder why Zamorana isn't more crowded. From a purely selfish perspective, I'd hate to see them go away.

      And you're right, it *is* getting weirder.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ahclem

        The roll was very toasty and golden, which did make a difference. It still could have been a little heftier to hold up to the fillings though. Their regular tortas have much less filling.

        I'm sure you could request no rice in your burrito. I wanted to get birria (since it's my favorite of the meats I've tried), but I forced myself to get something different for a change, just to see. Birria is still my favorite, although there's more for me to explore...

      2. "Then there is mayonnaise and mustard, followed by sliced ham, cheese, a sliced hot dog(!), chorizo, a milanesa (a slice of breaded fried beef)...Despite the excessiveness of it, the ingredients we're mostly tasty (although, I'm sorry, that hot dog is just wrong)."

        Your torta cubana sounds (and looks) absolutely wonderful, and it's prepared exactly the way a great, self-respecting torta cubana is prepared all over the central part of Mexico, where I live. 'La Zamorana' would indicate to me that the owner(s) of the restaurant hail from Zamora, Michoac√°n, a small city about two hours east and south of Guadalajara.

        A couple of notes about the ingredients: 'milanesa' doesn't describe a kind of meat, but rather a way of cutting and breading ANY kind of meat. You will find milanesa de res (beef), milanesa de carne de cerdo (pork), and milanesa de pollo (chicken). To prepare a milanesa, the meat used is butterflied until it's approximately 1/8" thick. It's breaded and then fried. Milanesa isn't common in a torta cubana; as another poster mentioned, it's usually pierna (sliced leg of pork).

        As for the hot dogs, they're traditional and 100% authentic in a torta cubana from this area of Mexico. They're not only not *wrong*, they're exactly right.

        The bread in your photo appears to be either bolillo or telera. I'd guess telera, as that's the most commonly used bread for a torta cubana. Ask at the restaurant.


        6 Replies
        1. re: cristina

          Thanks for your comments, Cristina! It's helpful to compare it to what you might find in Mexico. So hot dog is authentic after all. I didn't care much for the milanesa in that sandwich because it was kind of hard and chewy. Pierna sounds great though!

          I don't know much about bolillo vs. telera, but I will be sure to ask next time.

          1. re: cristina

            Thanks for the info Cristina. Much appreciated!

            Sorry I wasn't clearer in my post, but it wasn't my intention to imply that the hot dog wasn't authentic, just that I was surprised by it and it didn't particularly work for me. But that's just me. Interesting to know that it is, in fact, a traditional ingredient.

            I guess the one place my torta improved on Carb Lover's was that the milanesa in mine was actually quite tender. Buy I agree, pierna sounds like it would be a great replacement.

            1. re: cristina

              I guess I'm relieved to hear that the hot dog is Authentic; I also got ambushed by one of these 'cubanos' at a small Mexican place just off of Interstate 5 at Westley. I'm putting in my 'acquired taste' folder :-).

              1. re: DiveFan

                someplace to eat in Westly? would like to hear more details if it's worth stopping there. Have also heard rumors of a cafe in Patterson for B'fast and lunch. Are you familiar?

                This trip down from Chico we ate at Wolfsen's Meat & Sausage in Gustine, and their sandwiches were very good. Got some old-style linguisa to go and it is SO old-country. Big chunks of meat. Other styles now socked away in our freezer with the aid of bagged ice sold there.

                Would like to hear more about 1-5 chowing on this board, all you traveling hounds. I know you're out there.

                1. re: toodie jane

                  I should have pointed to the newest I-5/Hwy99 thread
                  for posting the above tips.

              2. re: cristina

                I prefer the Mexico City version better... Grilled Baguette, Pork Leg, Al Pastor Pork Cutlet, Serrano Ham & Garlic Mojo... flavorful, multiple layers yet not baroque.

                In my humble opinion, Hot Dogs... are best reserved for Mexico City style Hot Dogs (Bacon wrapped around the Frankfurter... Grilled Onions, Jalapenos, Tomato, Avocado etc.,)

              3. We were doing some last minute Xmas shopping at Target last night and headed towards Capitola for more errands when I noticed that La Zamorana's windows were all papered over and it was pitch black inside. I shrieked in despair and mourning. I think it's gone, and I'll never have their birria again or that torta cubana or get to try their chilaquiles. A moment of silence, please...

                Had anyone been recently? How long has it been closed?

                We tried Miyako in Capitola last night for dinner. Another Korean-owned Japanese restaurant celebrating its one-year anniversary. Very busy inside, sweet female servers and proprietress; however, food was just okay. If in that area, we prefer Sushi Garden or Naka.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Oh no!

                  About a month ago I stopped by La Zamorana in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and found the front door open, but the lights off, all of the chairs up on the tables, and one person inside sweeping water abound the floor. I kind of hoped it was only a plumbing problem rather than something more permanent, but apparently not.