“Ahora si te salieron bien ricos!” My father proudly proclaims as he devours down a plate of my moms beans. For as long as I can remember, my mother has been preparing, or in my eyes enslaving herself in the kitchen not only to feed us but to cook some unforgettable dishes. When I hear my father talk about her beans as if they can only be good with his seal of approval, it makes my blood boil! Her green pozole is a hit at our fiestas, from birthday parties to bautizos. Her menudo is always a must on a Sunday morning after a long night of drinking.

Her ultimate dish is her tortas ahogadas. These delicious rare to find tortas (Mexican sandwich) are known amongst all of our friends. She only prepares them when she brings back the birote salado (a hard salted bread) from Guadalajara; this is what makes or breaks the entire dish. You must have authentic birote for the torta to really be a torta ahogada.

In my mind, my mother is the best cook on the planet, maybe not because the food is fancy or even tastes the best. Outsiders would argue they’ve had better. For me, her cooking is much more than flavors, the emotions her cooking provoke in me are inexplicable. Maybe it’s the pre-mid-life crisis I’m going through but I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of my childhood and those feelings of comfort and security.

Eating tortas ahogadas is quite a unique experience. You must mentally prepare yourself to endure pain, but not just any pain, a delicious pain.

I decided to go on a mission this past week to challenge my already perfected vision of this delicious dish. A part of me wanted my mission to fail and announce to the world that: Yes! My mother’s tortas ahogadas are THE best! But, there is a part of me that is curious to see if they can get any better than what I already know. What a boring world without a little adultery.

I decided to make the drive down to the East side for what my mom claimed to be pretty decent tortas. As I was driving down Whittier Blvd, I started to question my desire to endure yet another buena enchilada, the kind that makes your ears burn and your eyes water. I admit my tolerance for spicy food has dramatically decreased in the past few years. I was not sure if I was ready to put myself through the spicy rollercoaster of the torta ahogada.

            I arrived at “El Güero” around 7:30pm. The place is small with ten tables; two TV’s both showing la novela “Relaciones Peligrosas”, the walls are plastered with photographs and posters of Guadalajara, Jalisco. I felt a sense of pride rush over me, after all that is my homeland. The menu is displayed on the wall. It includes typical dishes from Guadalajara like tostadas, tacos dorados and various types of tortas. Tostada de patita? Yes. Next time.

            I ordered my torta completa, meaning it is fully dipped in the hot sauce rather than just half the bread. Like a bread boat in a sea of hell it almost floated on the plate. I complemented my torta with one taco dorado de papa (potato). It is traditional to eat tacos dorados as a side dish when eating a torta ahogada. At this point the drink is not important, there’s nothing you can drink that can help ease the pain you encounter. I highly suggest keeping away from drinking any beer, sodas or any carbonated drinks. With every carbon dioxide fizzle the heat explodes again.  Let the torta do it’s magic first, then worry about putting out the fire later.

The bread was intact, small, salty, just the way it is suppose to be. The carnitas melted with each bite, they were savory and soft like biting into air. There was a perfect amount of pickled red onion on top and enough tomato sauce to give it a less spicy taste. There are bottles of spicy red sauce on each table for those who dared add more. I chose to add just a little more. A few drops each bite was enough. The tomato sauce was very tasty, thicker than I’m use to, but had a good consistency.  The taco dorado was fried to perfection, not soggy nor burnt, dressed with repollo and salsa roja, it was the perfect combination.

Taco Dorado de papa

 I devoured my torta in a matter of minutes. I was enjoying it so much I almost forgot to take a picture of the master piece. Overall, the restaurant is very clean and the owners/servers/cashiers are very friendly. They know their stuff. A man sitting behind me seemed to be more than happy with his food, he yelled out “Otra torta güero!” Now, I don’t think the man serving us was nicknamed Güero, but he gladly brought him over another torta. When I was done I sat and contemplated ordering another torta, that’s how good they were! I was curious to find out where they get their bread from, since it is a crucial part of the dish. The woman behind the counter said they made them on site. I was very satisfied when I left the restaurant.

Devouring the torta might be an understatement....

When I got home I called my mom and shared with her my dining experience, I sensed jealousy coming from her, “Y, te gustaron? Saben mejor que las mias?” she asked. How can I answer that? “Of course not ma, yours are the best!” I pictured her smile and sensed she saw right through my white lie.

Tortas Ahogadas El Güero- 4508 Whittier Blvd. East Los Angeles CA 90022 (323) 262-8900  tortasahogadas_elguero.com

 

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About ocbarrios

Professor for Cal State Fullerton's Barrio Studies class for Fall 2011 semester

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