The best torta is a wet one
Torta ahogada at Tamarindo Antojeria
Wet trumps dry when it comes to tortas.
Everyone's gone loco for the pressed Mexican sandwiches. (When in San Francisco to shoot an episode of No Reservations, even Tony Bourdain got down with the dry torta from That's It.)
To us, though, the best torta is one that's ahogada, which means "drowned."
Two of our favorites are (predictably) in Oakland. One is highbrow; one is lowbrow. Both are as compelling as they are saucy:
Tortas Ahogadas Mi Barrio This East Oakland restaurant's namesake ($4.95) hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco. A thin, lip-stinging sauce of dried chile de árbol bathes slightly stale bread. Shredded pork bulges, and raw onion balances the meat's huskiness. The result is reminiscent of a blissfully hellish French dip. You'll only be offered a spoon, so invest in moist towelettes before arriving. 4749 International Blvd. (at 48th St.), Oakland; 510-434-9454
Tamarindo Antojería Downtown Oakland's sleek, five-year-old restaurant cooks an elegant version ($9) of what is perhaps mankind's least delicate food. A slender branch to Mi Barrio's trunk, here Acme baguette is stuffed with carnitas and soaked with a pungent broth. In this sit-down dining atmosphere, the sandwich is served with a knife, fork and spoon. 468 8th St. (at Broadway), Oakland; 510-444-1944 or tamarindoantojeria.com
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