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Cheesy, Supersized Sandwiches in Queens Challenge Even the Eating Pros

Robert Sietsema looks at the rise of the super torta and the super super torta

Torta Pumas at Tortas Neva
Torta Pumas at Tortas Neva

It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.

Last week, we saw how the lowly sandwich has grown since the 1940s from a compact contraption featuring two slices of boiled ham and one slice of cheese, to the two-fisted behemoths that we often see today — sandwiches so large that they can’t be eaten at one sitting except by the most avid appetites.

One recent landmark along this elevating highway is the so-called super torta. I first became aware of it in 2015 when I stepped into the Astoria taqueria Mi Espiguita, intent on copping a biftek torta. At $7, I knew it would be a very big sandwich. It would be made on a scored telera roll, which is something like a ciabatta, slathered with refried beans, and heaped with avocado, stringy Oaxacan cheese, and assorted other goodies. But then my eye strayed to the menu section below it, labeled Super Torta. And I soon found myself in possession of an $8.50 torta huerfana (“orphan sandwich”), a facetiously named assemblage that contained pork roast, fried egg, ham, and cheese — and that was just the protein part.

Ordering super size tortas
Ordering super size tortas

In the ensuing years, I encountered further examples of super tortas, many made at a growing number of establishments dedicated to them. One such is Tortas Neza, a window on Roosevelt Avenue descended from a sandwich truck in Corona, Queens, where Galdino Molinero methodically fabricates super tortas. Almost all are $10, and involve multiple steps as Molinero slices and assembles — often with intermediate warming or cooking steps — until he gives the super torta a final squish on the griddle, which browns the buns slightly and flattens the thing so that it almost fits in your mouth.

The one exception to his $10 roster, most of which are named after Mexican soccer teams, is the $15 Pumas, commemorating Mexico City’s championship squad. It’s the super torta to end all super tortas, and takes Molinero 10 minutes to make, working furiously in a species of street theater. In addition to the usual avocado, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, pickled jalapeños, onions, and mayo, it contains a breaded chicken cutlet, ham, head cheese, stringy quesillo cheese, omelet cooked to order, and god help me, hot dogs.

As I watched two guys waiting for their Pumas, I asked one, “Can you really eat the whole thing?” After a moment’s pause for reflection, he replied, “I could. But I’ll probably save half for dinner.” Then I ordered mine. 96-15 Roosevelt Ave., between Junction Boulevard and 97th Street, Corona

Galdino Molinero at work
Sandwich artist Galdino Molinero at work

Tortas Nezas

96-15 Roosevelt Ave, Corona, NY 11368 (718) 205-2121