Scanning the menu of a favorite taqueria in Tompkinsville, Staten Island, a friend from L.A. spotted a dish I hadn’t noticed before: the hot dog torta (on the menu as salchicha y huevo). We stepped up to the counter of El Gallo Azteca and immediately placed an order. When the torta arrived, it was a beaut, the neat layers arranged on a soft roll, consisting of two frankfurters sliced into quarters lengthwise, a flat omelet, queso fresco (neatly sliced rather than shredded), pico de gallo, and avocado. It was compellingly good, but read more as a breakfast sandwich than as lunch or dinner. The ingredients were scintillatingly fresh, the avocado soft and unblemished. If you crave hot dogs for breakfast, this may be the way to go.
At first I thought El Gallo Azteca’s breakfast sandwich was a one-off, a product of genius on the part of the cook, certainly, but a wrinkle in the city’s vast torta landscape. But soon, I stumbled on another example in Staten Island. Near the beautiful Clove Lakes Park in West Brighton, the next hot dog torta was at a little place at Broadway and Forest Avenue called Casa Chonita, named after its Pueblan proprietor and mainly offering carryout.
The torta there was more of a dinner affair in architecture and size. Deposited on a demi-baguette, it owed as much to an Italian hero as it did to Mexican sandwich craft. The hot dogs here were complemented with scrambled eggs, shredded lettuce, tomato, avocado, refried beans, and shredded string cheese. It took two of us to eat it.
An examination of online menus at Mexican groceries and taquerias revealed more sandwiches deploying salchichas, which is the Spanish name for what we're calling hot dogs — as opposed to chorizos, which designates traditional Spanish sausages. At San Miguel, another small cafe in West Brighton, there’s a hot dog and egg breakfast sandwich (huevo con salchicha), and hot dogs also seem to be incorporated into the so-called torta Cubanas elsewhere across the borough, a sandwich that’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair featuring multiple meats.
Soon, I started seeing hot dog tortas everywhere, though most of the frankfurters ended up in torta Cubanas playing second fiddle to other ingredients. (BTW, the torta Cubana may or may not have been inspired by the Cuban sandwich; if it is, it represents an extreme form of one-upmanship.) At Sunset Park sandwich specialist Don Pepe Tortas Y Jugos, hot dogs are featured in several signature sandwiches, including the Mexicana, along with a chicken cutlet, head cheese, and bacon, placing the dogs among some rather effete company. The Espanola Doble boasts two of them.
But when would the hot dog actually star in a torta all on its own, without the bolstering and justifying effect of eggs and other meats? The question was answered up in East Harlem at Delicias Mexicanas, an extremely comfortable taqueria with a glossy, six-page menu that is uncommonly comprehensive in its presentation of southern Mexican and Mexican-American dishes, attracting a mixed clientele. There the salchicha torta without eggs or any additional meats is a standard selection. It was magnificent: wrapped in white paper and layered with black beans, avocado, white cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and jalapenos, plus some rather slippery, supermarket-style weenies.
Still not satisfied, I headed to Queens to troll Roosevelt Avenue’s incomparable collection of Mexican trucks, stalls, and storefront cafes, running from Corona all the way to Sunnyside. I’d eaten a hot dog torta a few weeks ago at Jackson Heights’ Taqueria Coatzingo, but it was the standard egg-and-weenie formulation like the ones we had in Staten Island. Instead I headed for the mother of all Mexican sandwich counters, the celebrated Torta Neza in Corona at the Juan Bar.
There, among several tortas showcasing hot dogs, I found the Toluquena, perhaps the ultimate tube steak Mexican sandwich. Carefully fabricated in a multi-step process, it pressed three hot dogs and a good quantity of crumbly chorizo into clouds of shredded white cheese. The sandwich was dressed with avocado, jalapenos, mayo, lettuce, and tomato, being pressed on the griddle at every step, insuring that the finished product was a flavorsome, gooey mess. And at $8 it was a steal, because who could eat more than half at one sitting?
Where to Get Tortas Containing Hot Dogs:
- Taqueria El Gallo Azteca, 75 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, (718) 273-6404
- Casa Chonita, 490 Broadway, Staten Island, (718) 447-1960
- San Miguel, 680 Cary Ave, Staten Island, (718) 442-7780
- Don Pepe Tortas Y Jugos, 3908 5th Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 435-3326
- Delicias Mexicanas, 2109 3rd Ave, Manhattan, (212) 828-3659
- Taqueria Coatzingo, 7605 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 424-1977
- Tortas Neza, 96-15 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 424-0999