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Mar 5, 2009 10:40 AM

a brief comment on a late-night torta

This is not a particularly great recommendation.

It's called El Super Taco - I think. I took a card from them and then I lost it. It's a little tacqueria on Santa Monica, in the same mini-mall as the carneceria that makes the good cemitas poblanas, that's something like "El Zedugunga." I think the tacqeria is called El Super Taco. Something like that. I was with a Canadian, who looked askance at it looked like it would be terrible to her. It looked great to me. We determined that Montreal-based food-finding instincts and LA-based food-finding instincts are totally different. Small, brightly colored, tiny joint in the corner of a strip mall packed with mixed-ethnicity crowd, blaring music: seems good to me. And it *smelled* good to - not fine and delicate, but semi-greasy good. It smelled like hunger.

It was 10:30 PM. I'd just gotten through a rough three hours of teaching. My soul was dragging like it was dragging across sand. I needed food, and I needed direct food. Every here seemed to be getting tortas - pressed tortas. We had milanesa - fried, in a breading that seems distinctly... school cafeteria-like. I don't mean that in a bad way, but there's a particular kind of nubbly industrial faux-bread-crumb that shows up on school cafeteria fried things, and certain frozen foods - like fish sticks. The classic nubbly frozen fish-stick coating. I'm not talking the beer-battered coating. The one that's like... thick sand. It had that. I think it may be precisely the same fry batter mix that frozen jalapeno poppers come with - the kind you get at, like, TGI Friday's.

Anyway: the sandwich was good. Not earth-shatteringly great, but definitely a solid 10:30 PM exhaustion-lights-dimming I-need-this kind of good. Alright: really good. Fried thin steak, bean paste, slightly intense cheese (string cheese funky?). Canned jalapenos. Simple flavors, salty. It's pressed flat. The best part is the flattened bread. It's fresh. It's got that glorious crustiness - almost like Dutch crunch bread, almost - and it's flattened and extra-crunchied in the sandwich press. I haven't had a torta quite texturally like this before. Definitely a "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" thing. Not, in any way, delicate, nuanced, or whatever cooking. But there was an overall harmony, a meld or blend to everything. There was balance. Really satisfying.

I think there's habanero salsa too. It's orange, and it tastes like habernero.

Anyway - Streetgourmetla and I have this violent, running argument, that starts up again every time we drink. Basically, he thinks sandwiches aren't real cuisine, and I think they are. Cemitas poblanas is the core of the difference. Basically, his argument is, as far as I can tell, "That they're just a sandwich!" I'm not sure. I may be missing some of the nuances of his argument. I'm not sure - I've been drunk every time.

My girlfriend thinks this argument is hysterical.

Anyway, I bring this up, because, though I think cemitas poblanas is legitimately cuisine, and Streetgourmetla doesn't, whatever degree of cuisine-hood you're willing to grant to cemitas poblanas, El Super Taco's torta is signifincantly lower on the cuisine scale.

It would probably be significantly better if you were slightly drunk.

Maybe there's a great divide in the world of food: "food that's better sober" vs. "food that's better drunk." Does that make the second category worse? Is pool less of a sport than golf because one plays pool a little better drunk? I'm not sure. I could be persuaded in either direction.

But I'm not saying I don't like it. I like it. A fairly decent large amount. Probably more than I should.

Anyway: El Super Taco's torta. Simple. Salty. Strangely, strangely effective and moving, especially if you're tired and wrung out. Probably better drunk - though I haven't actually tested that in fact. It is completely devoid of any Mexican provincial authenticity or legitimacy. I highly recommend that streetgourmetla not go, or he'll lose what little respect for me he has.

I would not recommend this place to any visitors from out of town as an exceptional exemplar. I would not put this place on any thread about excellent, high-authenticity, superb Mexican dining. I would not tell people to drive there from far away. But I have a feeling that, since I haunt that region often, and at late nights, and often with strung-out and slightly drunk people, that I will return. More than once. And that, more than once, it will be *precisely the right thing for the moment*.

El Super Taco
11923 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA‎
(310) 312-6260‎

(I think)

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  1. The Canadian philosopher of law that I was dining with that night just wrote me to remind me that the pressed torta also contained avocado, which, she says, was completely vital to the experience. She is correct.

    1. Yes, that is indeed El Super Taco, in the minimall on the N/E corner of Santa Monica Blvd. at Brockton, with Monte Alban its sister restaurant a couple of doors down. And Thi -- you have stumbled upon its best item, the pressed torta, and that wonderfully hot habanero salsa that a few drops spices up their salsa roja. They also sell small, inexpensive tacos, that were a buck back when they opened but now are $1.25 or so, and made unique by the accompanying grilled onions rather than the usual raw chopped ones (which are provided if desired from their condiment bar). Their carne asada is wildly inconsistent -- ranging from one of my first visits when it was charred and hot and medium rare and juicy and almost perfect, and a later rendition that was grey and dry and old and gristly. The al pastor is good and much more reliable, tasty and nicely seasoned, but from a grill not a spit or rotisserie. I've had carnitas there that are usually very good, tender and moist, though sometimes (like most taquerias) undercooked and tough. This El Super Taco delivers, at least at lunch, though I don't know the minimum. Somebody has confidence -- they took over a place on the S/W corner of Sawtelle and Pico and I saw a sign for a new one down south on or near Jefferson west of Sepulveda.

      The best milanese I've tasted on the westside is at Tacos Por Favor -- I like their salsa roja the best on the west as well. But I don't recall their tortas being pressed (I recall a distinctly fluffy roll) and parking can be a bear during prime time.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nosh


        The pressed torta wasn't a hard call - the place was packed, and almost everybody looked like a regular, and over 2/3 of them were eating the pressed torta.

        It's, like, the Third Cardinal Rule of Chowhounding: if everybody else there looks like a regular and is eating the same single dish - it's a pretty good bet.

        Is it actually *related* to Monte Alban?

        1. re: Thi N.

          There is some sort of relationship -- El Super Taco (in that location) has no public restroom, and they tell you to use the one at Monte Alban. I've seen a couple of Monte Alban staff before lunch sitting and eating at El Super Taco.

          1. re: nosh

            It's funny - because I think they have opposite aesthetics. I think of Monte Alban is the coolest and least hunger-driven and carnal of the Oaxacan players in L.A.

        2. re: nosh

          I'm actually not sure I've ever had a pressed torta before - anybody know where it comes from?

        3. judging from conversations i've had with the staff while eating/ordering, i think all of the cooks at super taco are oaxacan. dunno if that adds anything to your Monte-Alban/Super Taco alliance theory or not.

          like someone said above, their carne asada is not their best taco. i've had the most luck with their suadero tacos. also, their salsa selection is pretty good. i really like the greenish avocado-colored salsa (similar to Crack Salsa at el pollo loco) and the habanero.

          3 Replies
          1. re: ceviche

            ok, i had to google suadero to get an idea of what it is. is this a selection from El Super Taco's menu? is their suadero comparable to Gallego's Deli's barbacoa? (the Gallego's on the south side of Venice a block west of Centinela)

            1. re: nosh

              i'm not sure i understand the question. suadero and barbacoa are pretty different. one is dry, the other is brothy. also i've never been to Gallego's Deli. basically i'm useless!!!

              1. re: nosh

                I've had the suadero at El Super Taco and the barbacoa at Gallego. It realy is two different meats and hard to compare.

            2. Sounds almost like a cuban. I too am on a torta quest. El Super Taco, here I come. And yes, I would say that nearly every bad-for-you-food tastes better after tossing a few back. Shoot, everything tastes better when you're drunk. I can eat Dodger Dogs all day long if I'm chasing them with brews, even the cheap stuff you get at the stadium. Shoot, thrown in some nachos with the mystery cheese sauce while you're at it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ohdaylay

                yeah, I think they actually call it a torta cubana if I recall correctly.

              2. This is the joint right next door to Mamo Voula's or rather the dearly departed Voulas.

                Thought they made some decent Ensenada-style fish tacos here.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kevin

                  El Super Taco actually moved into the former Mama Voula's space in that minimall. Whoever owns the property still hasn't changed the main sign with all the shop names even after several years.