In pursuit of the city’s top sandwiches, the torta loca, or super torta — extravagantly stuffed versions of the Mexican sandwich, the torta — are often large enough to elicit a gasp, and typically cost a couple dollars more. I first encountered one at Mi Espiguita in Astoria in 2015, but they have been around longer at places like Corona’s Tortas Neza window on Roosevelt Avenue, which started out as a truck nearly 10 years ago, and Sunset Park’s Don Pepe’s Tortas Y Jugos.
One of the best versions in Manhattan can be found in Hell’s Kitchen at Mil Sabores (“a thousand flavors”), formerly known as Leon Bakery.
This long-running combination bakery, bodega, and cafe makes its own rolls, as you can see while passing the shelves of baked goods right inside the front door. Step up to the window at the end of the room and order a torta, which can be of the regular or loca variety. I got the big one, available in six permutations, each piled with multiple meats.
The one I picked was the Cubana, a Mexican classic. But it was not inspired by the Cuban sandwich, as the name might suggest. It was apparently invented in the 1950s at a cantina on the Calle Republica de Cuba in Mexico City’s historic center, hence the name. At the time, it signified a sandwich with a ridiculous number of layered fillings, and indeed the recipe for the sandwich has varied widely. My sandwich featured these ingredients, running from top to bottom: refried black beans, beef milanesa, hot dogs, ham, Oaxacan cheese, avocado, tomato, iceberg lettuce, pickled jalapenos, and mayonnaise.
The fillings can be on the slippery side, and torpedoes of jalapeno can shoot out the sides at any moment, as can the hot dogs. Keeping the thing together while biting down is a major accomplishment. The taste, though, is divine, with salty and sweet notes from the hot dogs, a slight resistance from the breaded beef cutlet, slipperiness and explosive heat from the jalapenos, and creaminess from the cheese and mayo. Eating more than half is an accomplishment. If eaten for lunch, there will be enough left over to revisit the sandwich in the afternoon. 695 Ninth Ave, between 47th and 48th streets, Hell’s Kitchen
It was my intention to celebrate the sandwich when I started this column early last year by finding as many tasty examples as possible. The emphasis was on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I have done this weekly, and periodically presented round-ups of the ones I consider best.