You're not manly enough for the sandwich in the picture above. That, dear readers, is the pride of Guadalajara, the torta ahogada. Made of bread (classically a birote roll) spread with a little bit of bean paste,
stuffed crammed to creaking with carnitas, then absolutely drenched (“ahogada” means “drowned” in Spanish) with an unbelievably spicy chile sauce.
I saw the truck, Tortas Ahogadas Los Primos, heading through my neighborhood in Anaheim, and I decided to seek them out; turns out they park in Santa Ana, on 5th just west of Hawley, between Raitt and Fairview, in a place few gabachos go.
When I went up to the window, the guy taking the orders grinned at me. “Una torta bien ahogada,” I said.
“That's really spicy,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“Yep. Just give me a Coke.” Seven dollars and a couple of minutes later, I had my sandwich and my bottle of Coke. It came on a foam meat tray, absolutely floating in salsa. A spoon poked hopefully out of the brick-red murk. I took a seat on the low-slung bench propped up by milk cartons and dug in.
I wish I had the ability to capture with the written word the perfection that is this sandwich. The bread was only there to provide texture; it's deliberately left out overnight, because dry bread soaks up more sauce than fresh. The bite was intensely porky, with an earthy undertone lent by the beans, and the chile de árbol sauce was surprisingly sweet and fruity; a sharp bite from the raw onions on top cut across the sauce.
Then, of course, the heat hit. Chiles de árbol are not for the faint of heart. I'd managed to get some of the sauce outside my lips (what can I say? I'm a pig) and it was like culinary Icy-Hot. My mouth burned, and it hurt so good. The only thing that could have made this sandwich more perfect would be the non-traditional addition of Oaxacan quesillo, the tangy cow's milk string cheese that only gets love on cemitas and clayudas. The Coke headed down to try to help with its sweetness (though, seriously, primos, get some Mexican Coke with real sugar, or just tell us to drink Mundet with it), but it was to little avail. The fire didn't fully abate until we stopped at Delicias de México for paletas de arroz con leche.
Yo sé que un día volverá
Yo la voy buscar.
This was, indeed, the Devil's own French dip; this was penance and forgiveness in sandwich form; this was a cross between an awesome lunch and a sick fraternity prank. I loved every single second of it. I'm already planning another invasion. Later, I looked Los Primos up on Yelp and saw people referring to a tomato-based sauce. Are you people out of your minds? That ain't no tomato-based sauce; that is chile de árbol expressed as liquid.
A note for those whose capsaicin tolerance might not be up to the sandwich as described; you can get a much less spicy option; just ask, or if you're speaking Spanish, order your sandwich media ahogada–half-dipped. If you want something different, try tacos ahogados, tacos with your choice of filling fried and drenched in the same sauce. If, however, you feel like you've got the huevos to try the real thing, go for it.
Tortas Ahogadas Los Primos parks on 5th St., just west of Hawley St., east of Fairview St. in Santa Ana. They peddle their picoso wares every day except Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.