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The Torta Ahogada is Your New Favorite Sandwich

BY: ADRIANE NEUENSCHWANDER | 2.22.2017 |

Even if you haven’t enjoyed a french dip or italian beef sandwich in your lifetime, you’re probably still familiar with the sandwiches. But far fewer—even the most rabid foodies—are aware of Mexico’s version of the dipped sandwich: the torta ahogada.

Served at some Mexican restaurants (more on that later), torta ahogada is a juicy, spicy, and savory delicacy that you should be eating right now. Actually, you should get one immediately after reading this article. (You wouldn’t want to get chili sauce on your keyboard, after all.)

What is a torta ahogada anyway?

An authentic torta ahogada consists of three simple ingredients. First, there’s the torta bread, or birote. Birote is similar to a french baguette: It’s oblong with a crunchy exterior and chewy center.

Next comes the filling. Plenty of sandwich shops offer diners a choice of protein here, but for a truly traditional torta ahogada, there’s only one option: pork carnitas. These bites of pork are slowly cooked in their own fat until tender, then they’re fried for a crisp exterior.

Finally, there’s the sauce. The entire sandwich is dunked in a spicy jus blended with chile de árbol, vinegar, and spices. After it’s submerged, the torta ahogada turns a brilliant shade of red. The slight crunch of the birote maintains the structural integrity of the sandwich, preventing it from turning into a soggy mess. As far as garnishes go, pickled onions and a squirt of lime are pretty much all you need.

From a simple mistake, a sandwich was born.

Wondering about the origins of the sandwich? It’s in the name. Torta ahogada means “drowned sandwich”, and that’s exactly what happened when it was accidentally invented in the early 1900s.

A diner walked into a small sandwich shop in Guadalajara, Mexico, ordered a regular torta, and requested a bit of spicy salsa on top. In a moment of clumsiness—or was it kismet?—the shop owner dropped the entire sandwich in the vat of sauce. “You drowned it!” the customer yelled before taking a bite and falling in love.

Word about the uber-juicy torta quickly spread throughout the city, where it became a go-to lunch for working-class residents. But heartiness and deliciousness are only two of the torta ahogada’s selling points.

Can this Mexican sandwich cure what ails you?

Tortas ahogadas aren’t for the faint of heart; these sandwiches are really spicy. But, for those who brave the heat, there may be unexpected health benefits. Many of the torta ahogada’s most devout fans claim that the sandwich can cure head colds and hangovers. Though there isn’t any hard science to back it up, the theory isn’t that far-fetched.

The intense spice of the sandwich is known to make noses run and sweat glands go into overdrive. This could actually help clear sinuses and purge toxins—especially the kind you get from one too many tequila shots. Then there’s all that juice, which true believers say helps combat dehydration.

Try these tortas ahogadas near you.

Unlike the streets of Guadalajara, the United States isn’t jam-packed with street vendors selling tortas ahogadas just yet. But until that magical day happens, here are a few sure-fire spots to get a torta ahogada fix near you:

East Coast

La Superior | 295 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY

Tortas ahogadas are the specialty at this hip Williamsburg restaurant, which claims to be the first place in the city to offer the sandwich.

Cielo Mexican Restaurant | 1209 Washington St., Braintree, MA

Chefs here put a twist on the classic torta ahogada, swapping out the standard chile de árbol sauce with one made from milder guajillo chilies.

West Coast

El Gallito Tortas Ahogadas | 1008 Industrial Blvd., Chula Vista, CA

These tortas ahogadas are so crave-worthy that they were featured on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods America.

Tortas Ahogadas Las Originales | 23630 Newhall Ave., Santa Clarita, CA

This unassuming eatery in a strip mall serves up ultra-authentic tortas ahogadas (but they’re willing to put the chili sauce on the side for tentative diners).

Midwest

Las Picosas | 6430 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL

Serious Eats called this spot’s torta ahogada one of the best Mexican sandwiches in the city.

El Nacimiento | 7400 Vernor Hwy., Detroit, MI

The tortas ahogadas at this late-night eatery are good enough to “make your abuela weep with joy,” according to Thrillist.

South

Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara | 518 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler, AZ

Not only are the tortas ahogadas here authentic, but they’re so massive you might need a friend to help you finish one.

La Condesa | 400 W. 2nd St., Austin, TX

This modern take on the torta ahogada spotlights housemade chorizo and cabbage slaw, in addition to the requisite carnitas and chili sauce.