Is this column prophetic? Just a couple of weeks ago, in a dispatch praising a Mexico City-style restaurant, I closed the review with a swipe at people from Guadalajara, also known as Tapatíos. Now, a Santa Ana outpost of a famous Guadalajaran restaurant has opened for business: Chago Ahogadas, purveyor of its home city’s greatest pride after the Chivas soccer club—the tastiest, most fiery gut bomb on Earth.
A couple of county loncheras hawk tortas ahogadas, and the local Taquerías Guadalajara chain sells them as well. But neither of them prepares the dish the way Chago Ahogada does. The cooks start with a bolillo—not your usual fluffy French roll, but a smaller, thinner version called a birote. They toast the birote, slice it in half and stuff it with a smear of pinto beans and fleshy carnitas, then place the torta in a bowl and slather it in a salsa. You can ask for a mild version, but the waiter will smile if you request they serve it bien ahogada—really drowned, which makes it bloody hot.
The salsa doesn’t burn at first, and you might make it through a couple of bites and wonder what’s so notorious about this sandwich. It’s a great meal of contrasts—the outside of the birote is cracker-crunchy, while the inside of the bread sops up the salsa but maintains its density instead of becoming a soggy mess. But then the lips start to numb; the belly burns. Bite into one of the raw red onion rings placed on top of the torta, and your palate sizzles—I’m sure if you eat it at night, sparks will fly from your teeth. Don’t bother asking for water—that won’t help. Really, the best way to counterbalance the hell is jericalla, a Mexican custard with a smoky aftertaste. Chago’s mascot—a panting happy face with tongue sticking out in a desperate attempt to cool down—doesn’t lie.
Chago’s is still working out what it’ll do with its cavernous location, which housed the beloved Salvadoran restaurant El Pupusódromo for years. No menus exist at the moment because the only other dish they offer is another regional specialty: tacos. Not the corn-tortilla version or its hard-shell pocho primo, but something in-between: a corn tortilla flash-fried, folded in half, and usually stuffed with potatoes or refried beans (but you can ask for meat), then topped with cabbage and carnitas if you want them. The sauce used to cover the tacos is much lighter than that used to drown the tortas, but you can spike it with the chile de arbol salsa at every table. Is this column prophetic? If it is, then may my wish for another Veracruzano restaurant come true.
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Chago Ahogadas, 819 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-3001.
This column appeared in print as "The Tapatíos Are Coming!"