The torta is one of the best sandwiches out there. Yep, we said it. And sure, we may have said something similar about banh mi, but there’s room for two at the top, right? Tortas - generally a hearty bolillo bread bun stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, and whatever else you can think of - are the all-too-often overlooked big sibling of the taco. And while they sit quietly in the corner, filling the torta-shaped hole in our hearts, we’ll continue screaming their name from the top of whatever passes for a mountaintop around here. Of course, we have no shortage of options here in Austin, but here are a few of our favorites.
Taqueria Mi Trailita is probably not somewhere you’ll stumble upon by chance - it’s a small trailer in a rocky gas station parking lot on Manor Rd - but the crowd of cars and people lined up to order will make you realize that this was no accident. We like to get the campechano torta here, for a little multi-meat sampling in every bite, but there are about a dozen options to choose from. And they come with cheese by default, which really helps to hold everything together.
We’re huge fans of Mi Tradicion, the panadería/restaurant with two locations - one on Research Boulevard in Wooten, the other on William Cannon and 35. Everything from the pan dulce to the blue corn tlacoyos and the al pastor tacos are consistently excellent. We’re also big fans of the tortas there, especially the Cubana, with breaded beef cutlets, ham, sausage, avocado, and chipotle mayo, all served on their fresh bolillo rolls. If you’re feeling tropical, get the Hawaiana - it’s the Cubana but with pineapple.
El Primo is one of our favorite spots in South Austin for tacos and tortas alike, and we’re certainly not alone. You’ll probably pull up to a long line and be quoted a wait time that’ll make you wonder if it’s all worth it. It is - just grab a cold drink at the convenience store they share a parking lot with, and try to find a small bit of shade under the lone tree casting a not-nearly-big-enough shadow. There are a few great options here, ranging from the rarely-sighted breakfast torta, all the way to the Super Torta that comes loaded with carne asada, al pastor, and ham - our personal favorite.
Paprika is one of the newest spots on our list, but quickly becoming a favorite for tacos and tortas. The menu items here change from day to day (and even hour to hour), so be sure to take a look at their online menu before you head over. Interestingly, Paprika is one of the few places we’ve seen that pairs each sandwich with a different set of toppings. Our favorite is the torta de puerco, served with pickled habanero, red onion, “shrettuce,” and tomato. They also do a really great barbacoa torta with consome for dipping as a special sometimes - if you see it, get it. They’re currently located in the Michi parking lot, near Airport and Lamar.
Habanero Mexican Cafe
The folks at Habanero Cafe make some of our favorite fajitas in town, so it comes as no surprise that their beef fajita-stuffed torta is equally impressive. It also happens to be one of the cheapest options on our list, at just $5 for a fully-loaded sandwich. There’s also over a dozen other fillings you can choose from - like lengua, al pastor, and carnitas - and all of them great. They’re located in South Austin, near South 1st and Oltorf.
Las Trancas is one of Austin’s favorite spots for late night street tacos, and their close proximity to downtown near Cesar Chavez and I-35 makes them perfect for soaking up a little alcohol at the end of a long night out. These days, we find ourselves there at all hours of the day. We like the campechano here - it comes packed full of steak and chorizo, plus all of the usual toppings, like lettuce, tomato, and pickled jalapeno.
Located on the East Side, near Airport and Manor, La Fruta Feliz is almost equal-parts juice bar and Mexican restaurant. While you can certainly get breakfast tacos here, we’re mostly fans of the lunch tacos and tortas. We usually like to get the barbacoa de chivo (barbecue goat) or the al pastor here. They’re also pretty massive, which is even more impressive when you see the startlingly-low price right of around $5. And make sure to throw in an incredibly refreshing melon aguas frescas, or one of their many signature juices.
Lazarus is probably best known as a great spot to grab some house-brewed beers on their expansive, East 6th patio. And after you’ve been there for a couple of hours, you’ve probably started flipping through the menu to find the small food section, consisting mostly of tacos, tortas, and a few small snacks. The torta here is big - we had to take the second half home - and packed full of your choice of meat (or black bean). Try out one of their rotating pilsners, grab a torta, and get situated on their shaded patio for some East Side people-watching.
Lick It Up
Lick It Up is a food truck serving vegan Mexican bar food - like nachos, gorditas, and tacos - parked at Spider House Patio Bar & Cafe in West Campus. The tortas here, served on toasted telera bread, have different plant-based protein options like mushroom chorizo. Our favorite is the seitan milanesa that’s not nearly as heavy as breaded beef cutlets often are.