By Elizabeth SanFilippo
The torta isn’t just some regular ol’ sandwich. It’s a delectable creation full of Mexican flavors and spices when done right. The bread needs to be toasted — or fired in a wood-grilled oven, depending on the restaurant — and then packed full of Mexican flavors, often including a combination of vegetables, spices and of course, meats. But not all tortas are created equal. These five hot spots know the perfect flavor combination that will have you coming back for me.
3619 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Everything at Cemitas Puebla is based on an old family recipe and that includes its version of tortas, which go by the name of Cemitas. That’s because Cemitas Puebla isn’t just Mexican food but also Poblano food, which typically hails from the town of Puebla, making this restaurant name particularly apt. So what makes these tortas/cemitas so special other than the name? Not only do they come with perfectly-toasted sesame bread, but they’re packed with fresh ingredients from Mexico including avocados, Oaxaca cheese, adobo chipotle peppers, papalo (seasonal) and your choice of meat. One particular fan favorite is the Atomica which includes tender and delicious milanesa, jamon and carne enchilada. Guy Fieri of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” gives this place a thumbs up.
In a city where food trucks are given a hard time, La Adelita Truck impresses on all counts. The truck is run by two brothers who have made it their mission to bring Mexican street food to Chicago, and that includes good-sized helpings of delicious tortas. Inspired by their parents, the $8 tortas on the menu vary but always include fresh traditional ingredients such as grilled pork shoulder flavored with chipotle, pasilla and a citrus marinade. When the brothers aren’t on the road, they’re catering on the weekends.
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1132 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
Known as a place to grab late-night Mexican grub, one of the highlights on all of La Pasadita’s menus are its hefty tortas, jam packed with meat, lettuce, sour cream and tomatoes. While simple — the choice of meats are just milanesa, pollo, lomo and carne asada — La Pasadita makes these tortas right, and not just because they’re under $5 each. They’re loaded with flavor and cooked to perfection.
7043 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60626
Forget tacos at this Rogers Park hotspot because the extensive tortas menu at Rocky’s Tacos is where it’s at. Tortas come in two sizes: regular (super tortas futboleras for $5.50) and massive (torti-gol for $8.50). Whatever the size, expect what’s in between the fresh, lightly-toasted bread to be jam packed with true Mexican flavors, especially pork and steak. The menu here is absolutely enormous with every dish named after something futbol-related. Go with the La Matadora torta for a truly meaty sandwich of pork chop, Mexican sausage, ham and cheese. Also, expect to go home with plenty of delicious leftovers.
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449 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
Fans of Rick Bayless know him for his amazing eats at Frontera Grill and Topolabampo, but one of his latest ventures, the quick-service XOCO, is not to be missed. The menu here is dedicated to all sorts of tortas, from the mouth-watering Ahogada (golden pork carnitas) that is dine-in only since the torta comes in a soup to the Milanesa with Guntrhop chicken straight off the griddle. While these tortas are at higher price point than most — around $9 to $12 — it’s because the ingredients come from local producers and farmers, guaranteeing both a delicious and fresh meal. While it’s all about the tortas here, don’t forget desserts like sugary churros with true Mexican hot chocolate.
Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer, who enjoys trying new foods from all over the world. But her favorite city for culinary treats will always be Chicago. When not writing about food, she’s scribbling novels, and TV show reviews and recaps. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.