The sandwich generation

Super Tortas Chilangas “El Abuelo”

5045 Franklin Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95820

(916) 452-0126

All of a sudden, it seems like ethnically specific sandwiches are everywhere: panini, cubanos, tartines—you name it—rendered with varying degrees of fanciness and authenticity. Of course, those two qualities are usually in inverse proportion to one another. A case in point is the tortas—big, cushy Mexican sandwiches—at Super Tortas Chilangas.

The restaurant is bare-bones and very Spanish-speaking. On the TV was a hip crime show that looked like a Mexico City version of NYPD Blue, and the menu is almost all in Spanish. There is, however, a short list of translations for Anglophones like me at the top of the menu. I still had no idea what “chilangas” meant, though one of those free translation Web sites defined it as “of Mexico City.” I therefore gather that the restaurant’s name roughly translates to “super sandwiches, Mexico City-style, like Grandpa used to make.”

Now, that is a restaurant concept I can get behind. In my experience, grandfathers are the past masters of sandwich-building. Super Tortas Chilangas, with extremely full and meaty sandwiches, largely lives up to that ideal. The menu is short on anything other than tortas, so go only if that’s what you’re after. You won’t find the usual taqueria lineup of burritos and quesadillas here, although there are four kinds of tacos, plus pambasos and huaraches.

The latter, which we tried, are named after sandals. They are not in the least shoe-like, however, but instead consist of a big, oval, griddled flat corn cake, like a thicker, moister tortilla. They’re big enough that I can see them as the sole of a sandal for Sasquatch, or maybe Shaquille O’Neal, but not anyone with a more average-sized foot. We ordered the chorizo version, thickly covered with cheese; spicy sausage oozing tasty orange grease; onions; cilantro; and a tart, smooth green salsa. Aside from the greasiness, this was quite a tasty meal. At $3.25, it was definitely big enough for lunch all on its own.

The tortas were even more filling, and one of them easily would serve for lunch and dinner. There’s a huge array of combinations, mixing up the sandwich meats and fillings in every conceivable way. Among them are milaneza (breaded, fried, thin-sliced beef), pierna (pork leg), salchicha (sausage—more on this later), ham, chorizo and three kinds of cheese. You can get a torta with just one filling or a combination. There was one with everything, which must be like the king of Dagwood-style sammies. The suiza (Swiss) was all dairy, with all three varieties of cheese. The hawayana (Hawaiian) had ham and pineapple, natch.

I went for the toluqueña, which the menu said had pierna, chorizo and quesillo (Oaxacan-style white cheese), while my husband had the argentina, with milaneza, salchicha and queso blanco. The salchicha, alas, turned out to be essentially bland, coral-colored hot dogs, quartered lengthwise and curling in a most disturbing fashion, like little meat ringlets. We simply set them aside. The milaneza tasted faintly of used deep-fryer oil, but it melded nicely with the cheese, avocados, tomatoes and onion on the sandwich.

Both sandwiches arrived very hot, obviously made to order and perfectly grilled. The cheese was stretchy, gooey and melting, with toasty bits at the side. I thoroughly enjoyed my toluqueña, with the chorizo’s spice adding a welcome heat to offset the fluffy roll and the cheese holding everything together. However, though the menu promised pierna, I’m pretty sure the other meat was the milaneza. If it wasn’t, it was pork that was absolutely identical to the beef in the sandwich my husband ordered, which is problematic in and of itself.

The restaurant offered a wide range of liquados and other drinks, though it seemed to be out of an awful lot of what the menu listed. We ended up with horchata—sweet, strong and fragrant with cinnamon—for me and a chocolate liquado for my husband that turned out to be basically a huge cup of chocolate milk over ice.

With its peach-painted cinderblock walls, peanut dispensers on the table, and enormous tasty sandwiches (just steer clear of the salchicha), Super Tortas Chilangas does feel a lot like something you might find in Mexico. It’s not fancy, but its authenticity makes me think that’s a good thing.