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.
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