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It’s All About the Bread: The 10 Best Tortas Ahogadas in Los Angeles

12:18 AM PST on November 20, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]ortas ahogadas are the food of my childhood and my fondest memories of Guadalajara. Part of the appeal is that you get two dishes out of one torta ahogada. After you finish the actual sandwich you eat the salsa de tomate like a soup. It’s a makeshift second course of fallen bits of the torta combined with the tomato sauce. The messiness of the dish can be an issue but there’s something so satisfying and primal about eating with your hands. Napkins be damned.

    The torta ahogada comes from Guadalajara and the history is not exact. Legend has it that someone accidentally dropped a pork sandwich in salsa and it was a hit. The construction of a torta ahogada is simple: birote salado, tomato sauce, carnitas, smear of beans, and chile. The bread is the hardest to replicate, some believe that the altitude and climate play roles in making the crust and flavor of the bread. It is almost impossible to replicate so the best option is to import from the source, similar to Italian flour and tomatoes or San Francisco bread. If all this effort to craft the perfect sandwich from Guanatos doesn’t convince you to try it, then I don’t know what will.

    The best tortas ahogadas in L.A. hold their own against GDL while others make great attempts at the lauded sandwich. This list includes the torta ahogadas that make their best estimations of the ahogada and some that nail it entirely.

    All images by Cesar Hernandez.
      1. Balam11700 Long Beach Blvd, Lynwood, CA 90262

    Balam has been serving up some of Lynwood’s best and interesting Mexican food. They offer their torta ahogada seasonally but this is definitely not your grandma’s torta ahogada, or my mother’s for that matter. Overall it has the spirit of an original torta with a few key differences. One of the first things you’ll notice is the dark hue to the salsa de tomate. Upon tasting it you’ll notice it is slightly sweeter than other recipes. The torta is completely drowned which means utensils are a must. It's different but still tasty, think of it as an Angeleno version of a torta ahogada and make sure to ask for extra limones.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas La Ramadita5938 Vineland Ave, North Hollywood, CA 91601

    La Ramadita is a small shack that are common on the roadside in GDL but easy to blow past in a hungry stupor. It is part of the Valley’s many torta ahogadas offerings. They offer a torta ahogada that’s an honorable approximation. The bread has the tang of fermentation but breaks down fairly quickly. But don’t let that fool you, because it is a tasty sandwich but is still a long way from Jalisco.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara6042 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park, CA 90255

    The sign at the location cleverly raises the points of the “A”s to evoke imagery of the neo-gothic church steeples of Guadalajara. This is more of a traditional Mexican restaurant, with the freshly fried corn chips and a mild salsa. The salsa de tomate has a bright orange tinge and a hint of sweetness. The bread has interesting contrasting textures, the bottom of the sandwich starts to break down from the liquid but the top has a nice crunch. The bread is missing the fermented tang that all the components of a torta ahogada brings out. But this torta is a fantastic estimation of an ahogada and those who have never been to GDL won’t notice the difference.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas Ameca747 S Atlantic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90022

    Ameca has been serving up torta ahogadas in East L.A. for more than 20 years. The owners are from Ameca, Jalisco, and they have a great ahogada. The carnitas are well-seasoned and the bread is close enough to the original. The acidity of the salsa de tomate is great and the hot sauce is oh so spicy. The bright red hot sauce is made from chile de arbol and is an ahogada’s best friend. Jonathan Gold described it best: “You dive straight into it, trusting that you will come out alive.”

      1. Casa de las Torta Ahogada8936 Woodman Ave, Arleta, CA 91331

    Carlos de la Rosa bought a store from the Valley chain Las Originales. They used the menu from Las Originales as their foundation but have developed it into their own. One major difference between the two, is at Casa they pack a hefty portion of carnitas. The porky goodness is in every bite of the torta. On the subject of the tomato sauce, it is slightly over-spiced but hardly noticeable. If you’re lucky some of the innards of the torta will spill into the tomato sauce. Then you have your second course.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas Las OriginalesMultiple Locations

    Las Originales is a small chain in the San Fernando Valley that offers fantastic tortas ahogadas. What differentiates them from their competition is their carnitas. They add crispy carnitas to the sandwich which seems like a natural choice for a wet sandwich. The birote salado reminds me of the thin crusty bread of my childhood. The tomato sauce strikes the scientific balance for optimal flavor. It is one of L.A.’s destination tortas if there is such a thing.

      1. La Chiva Loca8157 Firestone Blvd, Downey, CA 90241 5805 Imperial Hwy, South Gate, CA 90280

    La Chiva Loca is one of the first places in Southeast Los Angeles to get the famous Jalisciense sandwich. Now they have multiple locations in SELA. I’ll admit that this one has a special place in my heart because it was the first torta ahogada I had outside of Mexico. The tang of the bread brings me back to my childhood eating life changing tortas in GDL. The basket with a plastic bag over it is Mexican ingenuity at its finest and always brings a smile to my face. The tortas here will stay intact because the bread is imported. Make sure to get a taco de papa with carnitas on top.

      1. Tortuga Bay147 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301

    Tortuga Bay is definitely one of the outliers of the list because they bake their own bread. What’s even more surprising, is that it is so damn good. The tang of the fermented bread and unmistakable crunch of birote salado is what dreams are made of. Each table has a printout of a poll that ranks the best torta ahogada in Guadalajara. This all adds to the ambiance and builds anticipation for the sandwich. The tomato sauce is well-balanced with the right ratio of spices. They claim that the dough is made in Guadalajara and baked here. I don’t know if that’s true but it makes me happy.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas El Guero4508 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90022

    El Guero is on a busy strip on the historic Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. El Guero is the torta ahogada for purists. All of the elements work perfectly and will teleport you to Jalisco. The torta has a good portion of pork and the tomato sauce strikes a delicate balance. The torta does not give to the moisture because the bread is authentic. This is another East L.A gem that will make you think you’re south of the border.

      1. Tortas Ahogadas El Rey

    3100 Imperial Hwy, Ste B1-3001, Lynwood, CA 90262
    6503 Pacific Blvd, Huntington Park, CA 90255

    Francisco “El Guero” Mota and his son Abraham run two of the best torta ahogadas establishments. Francisco was born in Guadalajara and started his business in Arizona. The family left Arizona and came to California because of issues with Sheriff Arpaio. Fuck Arpaio, he doesn’t deserve these beautiful tortas. The preparation and execution of their torta is what sets them apart. Abraham, a culinary school graduate, is particular about the specifics of the torta. He makes sure that the salsa de tomate is not too hot because it breaks down the bread quicker. This is the way that tortas in Jalisco are served, blood temperature. Another major key to the taste of the torta is the chile de arbol they import from Yahualica, Jalisco. It is a spicy and earthy chile that wonderfully compliments the torta. But the biggest key to the success of the torta is the bread. Their supply comes straight from GDL and they secretly store it for daily use.

    Extra credit: Get a taco dorado de barbacoa and the insanely flavorful carne en su jugo – another topic that Abraham will give you a TED Talk about.

    Carne en su jugo is another specialty of Tortas Ahogadas El Rey.
    Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. Taco

    RELATED: These Are the 12 Best Birria de Res Tacos in Los Angeles Right Now

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