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Sep 20, 2009 02:05 PM

Torta Ahogada Truck (San Diego)

In the same parking lot as the Toys R Us as the Mariscos El Pescador truck, there's a truck doing what I'm told are authentic tortas ahogadas.

I went and tried one yesterday. Unfortunately, the only option is pork so I wound up getting one with beans only, which basically amounted to a roll with a scant smear of bean on the inside. They graciously charged $5 instead of $6 - I imagine that the pork is probably more than $1, but if not then it's probably not the greatest meat.

The sauce was fantastic though, intense chile de arbol flavor. I ordered mine hot, but was detecting no heat. I asked them if they made it hot like I had asked, and they told me they made it medium. Pretty annoying, and a big pet peeve of mine. They did apply the hot sauce to the second half of my sandwich, and I have to say it was brutally spicy. Probably on par with a 7 or 8 at Sab E Lee.

Overall, while I enjoyed the bread and the flavor of the sauce, I doubt I'd go back here. If there was a better vegetarian option, I'd consider it, but $5 for a roll w/ 2 tbsp. of beans is not my idea of value. I guess it's not a coincidence that the line at the mariscos truck is far longer.

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  1. Is a torta ahogada made with anything other than pork? (I know there are beef versions that are not authentic) Is there traditionally a vegetarian option?

    I have been to that torta ahogada truck several times. The first time there they asked if I wanted it hot and I said yes and they asked again, telling me it was really hot, and again I said yes. And I did get a very hot sandwich that was excellent. The sauce is really good and the pork is good quality and slow roasted so it's very tender. I am all for vegetarian food, but if I didn't eat pork I wouldn't go for a torta ahogada. You're not judging them fairly.

    If you go and you want it hot, make sure they know you are serious. Opt for the onions and definitely squeeze the lime over the sandwich - it is very tasty. The bread they use is also the authentic crusty bread that stands up well to being dunked in sauce.

    The owners told me that pregnant women come to the truck and request the sauce without tomato - so it's all hot chili. They said it's insanely hot, but it's a pretty common craving among their customers. Who knew?

    The UT did a story on that truck a couple of months ago:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Divamac

      I'm not judging them for the lack of a non-meat option. I didn't appreciate the adjustment of my order though.

    2. I ordered mine hot, and was warned twice. I did receive it "hot", the spice was pretty one dimensional, lip and front of mouth spicy, though I did love the combined textures of the bollilo which stayed together during the whole meal, along with the crunch of the onions.

      Also, I guess they've been in the U-T or something, so I was amazed at the amount of Gringos at the truck. There was one guy who kept asking me if I had read the article in the U-T....

      BTW, while eating at Mariscos El Pescador, I'm guessing it was the Owner who came out and started chatting with me. I guess I've been there enough times that he's kinda recognized me. The truck will have to move starting sometime next week. Not to worry though, it'll be in the same parking lot, but they'll have to move closer to RTA. Something about city ordinances......

      1. Was there yesterday, lots of people at both trucks.

        1. In defense of the mother/daughter team, they sell pork torta's, and pretty tasty torta's at that, nice texture from the fresh crusty roll and level of spiceiness on request. Pretty good value for $6. If I were to ask for a delete of some item in the sandwich, that would be my preference and I wouldn't be expecting a discount. When I go out for dinner and ask the server to 'skip the starch' on my entree, that's my choice, I'm not expecting any consideration. I can't see dissing them because of a personal preference.

          10 Replies
          1. re: cstr

            Thanks, cstr. That's the point I was trying to make, too, albeit in a less successful way.

            1. re: cstr

              I don't know how you can possibly equate what's probably a 4-6 oz. serving of meat with 5 cents worth of potatoes.

              Would you expect to pay $35 at Fleming's for a side of mashed potatoes and broccoli?

              I would guess that removing the meat from the torta reduced the food cost by at least 1/3, if not by 1/2.

              1. re: Josh

                It may reduce the food cost but it doesn't reduce the labor cost or their overhead. The bolillo is not your average bolillo, it's a special , crustier/sutrdier variety developed just for tortas ahogadas to hold up to all the sauce. I believe this truck imports their from GDL. If so, the possibility exists that the bread may be more expensive than the meat in this sandwich.

                Josh, I agree with you on many things, but I think on this one I'm going to have to go with Divamac and cstr.

                1. re: Josh

                  I think you're missing the point, all this place serves is pork torta's, it doesn't sell vegan, vegetarian or grass fed anything. Also, IMO, it's not about food costs, it's about what they are making vs what your likes are and the two don't mesh. If you wish to delete an item fine but, don't expect they're going to break out the cost of each ingredient to create many different combinations of pricing, they'd need a super computer to satisify all of the permutations and combinations of pricing. As DD also states, the sauce and bread roll are probably the two most expensive items in the torta, and that roll is awesome, what a texture and crust. All I'm saying is don't diss a place cause it doesn't fit your particular diet or style. Bottom line, IMO, the torta's are homemade, very good, flavorful and a good value.

                  1. re: cstr

                    I don't think I dissed them. All I did was express my opinion that I thought $5 seemed like a lot of money for bread and sauce. I fully understand your comments. But do you really think the pork on the sandwich costs $.50/serving?

                    1. re: Josh

                      You'd be surprised, Josh, it really might not cost much more than that, tho' I'd guess probably closer to $.75-.85 cents.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Interesting. Is meat commonly that cheap?

                        1. re: Josh

                          Depends on what you're buying and where. You can bet this torta truck probably isn't buying pastured meat ;-).

                          Pork butt is in the $1.10-$1.20/# range right now through broadline distributors. With all my pricing concessions, I can get it for $.984 per pound. *That* is dirt cheap and there's a lot of pork on the market right now. Apparently there was some sort of trade deal with China to take our excess pork that fell through, so instead of being exported it's being released to the U.S. market. The price on pork is expected to be low through the end of the year. I can get ham for $.07/oz that is just fine for sandwiches and as a breakfast meat. That's a ridiculous price, especially for a product that is not bottom-of-the-barrel in quality.

                          Next time you're in Northgate check out the prices at their meat counters. The meat prices at both Northgate and Pancho Villa are lower than your neighborhood Ralph's or Vons. So given that the Latin markets often have lower meat prices than other retail outlets and that broadline distributors have substantially lower prices than regular retail, with a little Mexican ingenuity the torta truck owners have probably sourced a pretty economical way to buy pork.

                          They're allegedly flying in their bread from Guadalajara, that, I am sure, tacks on quite a bit to the unit cost of the roll. And if they fly it GDL-TIJ and go to Tijuana on a regular basis to pick it up, then you've got to add in the expense (not to mention hassle) of making regular trips to Tijuana and the wait to cross back at the border. The roll may be the most expensive part of the sandwich given all the added expenses that might need to be added to the unit cost to get it from Guadalajara to San Diego.

                      2. re: Josh

                        Here's where I see the diss, in your last paragraph and especially last sentence.
                        "Overall, while I enjoyed the bread and the flavor of the sauce, I doubt I'd go back here. If there was a better vegetarian option, I'd consider it, but $5 for a roll w/ 2 tbsp. of beans is not my idea of value. I guess it's not a coincidence that the line at the mariscos truck is far longer".

                        1. re: cstr

                          OK, right. I can see how that'd come across that way.

                2. Unfortunately, when this thread was originally posted it devolved into an exercise in semantics, vegetarianism and commodity meat. Lost in the discussion was the torta itself. So, in the interest of refocusing things on the actual torta, here's my perspective.

                  I had lunch today at the torta truck. There are 2 options, La Classica or La Gemma. Both are made on the same roll and use the same pork for the filling. Where they differ is the sauce and garnish. The Classica is drenched in a spicy red sauce and garnished with pickled red onions and half a (key) lime. The Gemma (aka La Famosa) is drenched with a chipotle based sauce and garnished with a very generous drizzle of crema. They're big, they're filling and for $6 a darn good deal.

                  I had the Classica and ordered the sauce medio, or medium spicy. That's exactly what I got, a sauce with a nice kick but not an incindiary mouthful. The friend I went with ordered the Gemma because it's less spicy and he likes crema :-). In spite of being soaked in sauce the torta roll held up to the very last bite. I'd have wished for a little more pork filling, but what was there was actually quite sufficient. Had there been too much more, the sandwich would have been too hard to eat. The shredded pork was good but clearly played second fiddle to the torta roll and sauce. Definitely add the onions to the Classica. They're lightly pickled in the Mexican fashion to still retain some crunch but tame the bite. They add another dimension to the torta and a nice complementary flavor to both the meat and sauce.

                  The sandwiches come on a plastic baggie lined plate. This made me smile, as this is how much of the street food in Mexico is served. Once done you merely strip off the plastic bag, discard it and the plate is good to go for the next order. Now before anyone freaks out because the clean plate isn't washed and sanitized between patrons, the torta ahogada truck is fully certified, inspected and licensed by the county department of health. Their practices conform to required health rules and regs.

                  I liked this torta alot. Even though it sounded and looked like a lot of food, turned out that it wasn't. I had no trouble finishing it and did not feel stuffed to the gills afterwards. My only quibble - and it's really a tiny one - is that I thought the sauce on my Classica tasted just a bit too much like Valentina hot sauce. That did not distract from my enjoyment of the sandwich, I just thought it would have been just about perfect with a little less Valentina. Must now try Gemma La Famosa.

                  The torta ahogada truck serves only these 2 sandwiches and there are no options other than pork for filling selection. What they do with these 2 menu items, they do very, very well. Sodas and bottled water are offered for a buck a piece. On Sunday they offer Carne en su Jugo for $7. I must go back and try that too.

                  If you're a vegetarian, vegan or have other dietary concerns, this won't be the place for you. If you eat pork, like a good sandwich with a little kick, made on good, sturdy bread and served with a great sauce accompaniment, then you'll probably like this truck alot.

                  Toys R Us parking lot in CV between L St. and Palomar. Truck is located (literally) in front of Toys R Us. 6 small tables with chairs for dining. Unless you live very close by, take out is probably not the a very good idea.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Sorry to divert from the primary topic again, but do you have any recommendations for a good vegetarian torta in town? For that matter, where can one get good vegetarian tacos? I went to Mama Testa once, loved it, and have basically stuck to it for veggie taco fixes since. My only visit to Super Cocina was unsuccessful, because they did not have the Chile Relleno that day (though I havent been during lent).

                    1. re: ipsit

                      Rancho's Cocina has veggie torta options. Also, Super Cocina will make anything vegetarian if you ask.

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      Nice post DD, I recently had the Gemma and the crema gives the 'sammy' a smoother taste which contrasts well with the spicey sauce. I order mine medium, though I'm tempted to have them kick it up a bit more next time. I also like the fact that everything is fresh and made to order. When eating, I need a roll of paper towels to keep my hands and face somewhat respectable.