Mexico’s iconic sandwich often competes with the taco for street food supremacy. Whether they’re from Puebla, Mexico City, or Oaxaca, or filled with beef, pork, and even hotdogs, these sandwiches are among the most democratic foods in all of Mexican cuisine.
People from all walks of life will regularly stop for a lunchtime torta that usually comes with mayo, tomato, avocado, frijoles, jalapeños, and salsa for a delicious, quick bite (that is if you can finish it in one sitting/standing). If you’re in the mood to mix up your lunchtime routine, you’ll find the majority of LA’s torta shops clustered around Downtown and on the Eastside. Here is where to get the best tortas in LA right now.
South Central’s Super Tortas DF provides a taste of Mexico City’s tortas that fuel its commuters day-in and day-out. The food truck’s sandwiches begin with a massive telera roll that’s large enough to rest your head on if you want to take a mid-sandwich nap. Our go-to is their famous Cubana, which should not be confused with a Cuban sandwich. This 100% Mexican creation comes loaded with a never-ending list of ingredients, including grilled ham, hot dogs, scrambled eggs, pork leg, breaded steak, stringy quesillo, and a few sliced cheeses, along with avocado, jalapeños, and tomato. The chewy bread is slathered with mayo before getting toasted on the grill and manages to hold all these layers of meat and cheese together like some architectural marvel. The soft quesillo gently melts to cement everything together, but be warned, it takes practice biting into everything all at once.
Tortas are great in all forms, but something about a well-soaked roll can turn the common sandwich into something we’re emotionally dependent on. Power dynamics aside, there’s probably no dish that better represents Guadalajara than the drenched and spicy torta ahogada. This spot in Montebello serves it on a traditional birote salado, a salted bread roll that can withstand several spoonfuls of spicy salsa de tomate. The stiff bread is first filled with refried beans and tender Jalisco-style carnitas before being coated in a tomato-based sauce that dyes the whole thing a satisfying red. The deep smokiness in the sauce from the chile de arbol and mingles nicely with the briny pickled onions that garnish the sandwich. And in the end, you’re left with a torta that’s sharp, spicy, and super tender. Ameca’s does an excellent job of preserving this Jalisco classic and offers other protein options like chicken tinga too.
Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla
If you’re in the mood for shawarma-style meats and chewy flour tortillas, head over to Tacos Árabes De Puebla in Boyle Heights. This truck’s star ingredients are products of Puebla’s historically large Levantine community, but a stop at Tacos Árabes should always include their delicious cemitas sandwiches. The Puebla go-to order is the cemita de cabeza, which translates to crispy chunks of pig’s head that are both super flavorful, but also a wild card when it comes to its chewy yet crispy texture. If you’re in the mood for some grilled meat instead, we like the cecina (cured beef) that gets nicely seared before going into a freshly baked bun and topped with piles of stringy quesillo, grilled onion, sauteed peppers, lots of avocado, and spicy salsa verde. Tacos Árabes also has an additional (but seasonal) ingredient that gives their cemitas an extra Poblana kick. It’s called papalo, and this herb has a sharp citrus flavor similar to cilantro that goes great with fattier cuts of meat when it’s available in the spring.
East Hollywood’s Tlayuda LA is a Oaxacan restaurant known for excellent frijoles, tlayudas, and homemade moles, but do not skip out on their equally delicious torta Oaxaqueña. This sandwich is served on a soft telera roll and starts with layers of mayo and their creamy homemade bean paste. The meats of choice are freshly grilled skirt steak and ground chorizo sausage packed with smoky paprika. Not only will the chorizo stain your bread (and fingers) a crimson red, but it will have your car smelling like a five-star Mexican breakfast all the way home. Some avocado is then added to balance out the sausage’s spice and add some cool creaminess to the warm ingredients. When it comes to tortas, we always say more is more, but this sandwich’s standard ingredients are flavorful enough to make it one of the best in town (even without being the size of a baseball mitt). Ask for their homemade salsa verde on the side if you want to turn the heat up a notch too.
This Van Nuys spot has been around for nearly 25 years and their Puebla-style tortas only continue to get better. Cemitas get their name from their sesame seed buns that give these sandwiches a classic look and subtle nuttiness when nicely toasted. Luckily, we’ve never had a cemita here that we didn’t love, but their menu of 20-something tortas can definitely lead to some sandwich-induced stress over which one to get. Let us make it easy for you: order the milanesa de lomo de puerco. It comes with breaded pork loin, queso fresco, avocado, your choice of jalapeños or chipotle salsa, and stringy Oaxacan cheese (for an additional $1.99). The thin and perfectly crisp pork is a nice contrast to the soft cheese and avocado, while also absorbing the smoky chipotle salsa that always gets our brow sweating. The only thing that could possibly go wrong with your Don Adrian order is that you like your torta too much and forget to try the other two dozen options on the menu.
If you love tender, slow-cooked carnitas as much as we do, then there’s a good chance you’ll agree that no one does it better than Carnitas El Momo. This Boyle Heights truck has now expanded with a second location in Panorama City, but both spots greet you with the same smells of bubbling cauldrons of carnitas. However, instead of toil and trouble, El Momo serves slowly braised pork cooked in lard and a secret spice blend of contrasting flavors - including the deep sweetness of brown sugar that caramelizes the large chunks of meat to create all kinds of textures on the cuts. Pork belly, pork shoulder, and pork skin are all on the menu, but the move is to order all three (the “mixta”) in the form of a torta. The gelatinous, chewy skin plays perfectly with the shoulder and fatty belly that come dripping in juices. All of it goes into a soft bolillo roll with onions, cilantro, a dash of salsa roja, and plenty of that brown cauldron sauce.
This roughly 7’x10’ operation has been around since the ’90s, and continues to make some of the best tortas in Los Angeles. The South Central truck specializes in Mexico City-style sandwiches with classic fillings like breaded steak, pork leg, ham, and chorizo. However, Torta Movil has changed things up over the years and now offers vegan options too, like the Soyri-Papa, which comes with soyrizo, soft-cooked potatoes, mushrooms, and caramelized onions on a soft telera roll. If you’re interested in a meatier sandwich, go for the Porky torta that comes with a trifecta of slow-cooked pork, spicy chorizo, and head cheese. All of these savory, spicy, and fatty flavors pair great with the sandwich’s mayo, jalapenos, avocado, lettuce, queso fresco, and frijoles.
La Chiva Loca in Downey specializes in Guadalajara staples like pozole, goat birria, and, of course, tortas ahogadas. These tortas are made with an extra firm birote salado that gets nicely chewy after taking a cannonball dive into hot tomato salsa. The red sauce is deceivingly spicy and manages to seep into every bit of the torta as the bread absorbs it like a sponge. The pickled red onions on top also add a nice acidic bite to La Chiva’s tender, slow-cooked carnitas and beef. Most torta ahogada shops in town will stick to meat fillings, but another Jalisco classic that loves taking a swim in salsa de tomate is milky panela cheese. La Chiva’s panela torta ahogada comes with thick slabs of white cheese that serve as yet another porous vehicle for spicy salsa (yes, it’s a spongy cheese in spongy bread). The final result is a perfect bite of bread, queso, and salsa that will have you forgetting all about that 9am conference call you powered through this morning.
Chichen Itza is a food stand specializing in Yucatan cuisine inside South Central’s Mercado La Paloma. For those unfamiliar with Yucatecan food, its most famous contribution is the spicy, acidic, and colorful cochinita pibil. This tender pork dish is rubbed with a blend of sweet and savory spices, lots of fresh citrus, and bright red achiote paste, consisting of annatto seeds, garlic, and chiles. It’s then cooked gently inside a banana leaf, shredded, and topped with pickled red onions for some extra sourness. In other words, it’s delicious and goes great in Chichen Itza’s pan frances, the softer and wider cousin to the French baguette. This torta contains so many sweet, sour, and smoky flavors that don’t require the help of mayo, salsa, or other condiments to make a lasting impact. The marinated pork pulls apart with every bite, and the homemade bread soaks up every ounce of the achiote’s tangy drippings.
If you have a sweet Mexican abuelita, saying this spot’s full name in front of her might earn you a smack on the head (spoiler alert: the second word is slang for “badss”). But we find the Paramount shop’s name and other cheeky menu items to be part of its unique charm. Their carefree attitude is also seen in the tortas, which are unapologetically huge, stuffed to the brim, and absolutely delicious. For example, their massive La Mamalona (censor beep*) torta is so big that you might have to split it with Abuelita herself. After the soft telera roll is toasted, the sandwich is stuffed with fresh carne asada, breaded steak, sliced ham, spicy chorizo, hotdogs, avocado, queso fresco, and jalapeños. If you’re interested in a more sweet/savory combo, the La Muy Muy torta (rated PG) has crispy breaded steak, ham, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and pineapple. We understand that pineapple on pizza is a touchy subject, but just trust us and give this tasty torta a try during your next lunchtime adventure.
Unlike many other spots on this guide, the bread at Cook’s in Monterey Park is handmade every day, and doesn’t resemble the fluffy telera rolls that most torta shops use. The bread here is actually closer to ciabatta and is the perfect vehicle for their bacalao torta. This fishy sandwich consists of spreadable salted cod that pulls apart like delicate shredded beef. If intense fishiness sets off alarms in your head, fear not because the saltiness is never overpowering. In fact, the bacalao really complements the sandwich’s mayo and buttery potatoes that add nice texture to the sandwich - along with bits of roasted garlic, sauteed peppers, and green olives for a great briney finish. Overall, this torta feels like a homemade fish casserole smeared inside a bread roll and has us rethinking how great a fish sandwich can really be.