Oooh, baby. One of, if not my favorite, food. It has even inspired me to do sacrilegious things to pizza.
If done well, you bite through a yeasty, crusty bun into the best flavors Mexican cuisine has to offer: avocado, queso para freir (light, salty, somewhat mozzarella-ish in flavor), fried egg, (pickled) jalapeno, mashed black beans, and in this case, soy chorizo. Upon first moving to Charlotte, I considered it important (nay, ESSENTIAL) to find a good torta, and have ordered one everywhere I've seen it (huevos y queso, muchos jalapenos, por favor). None compare to the sandwich I'd get weekly, sometimes twice weekly, from El Paso Taqueria in Spanish Harlem. I must have eaten that sammich 100 times before leaving NYC.
La Unica has one that's bland, but ok - Mr. Taco, in South Charlotte, has a decent one (comes with fries, 7 bucks). Taqueria Mexico's is meh. I've tried ordering one at La Casa de Las Enchiladas, and ended up with Huevos Mexicanas (twice). The ones I've had here are more like a torta in Chicago - the bread's flavor (they use teleras instead of bolillos) is strong, almost overtaking all the fillings, messy as hell, flat, soft. (I have fond, fond memories of that sammich. It was like torta fondue, there was so much mayo). Mine is El Paso style - a ridiculous stack of flavor, composed, tightly packed, geologic. Firm.
So, in the hopes that I can revolutionize the Charlotte Torta scene, I give you: How To Make a Proper Torta. By me.
Step 1 - toasty bread.
You want a bun that will absorb all the delicious juice from the umpteen million things you're shoving in there. So, it needs to be toasted. Broiled, preferably, till golden, on BOTH sides (less, a little, on the exterior).
Step 2 - firmly fried eggs, with cheese and chorizo part of the "cake".
This is the sandwich's answer to the burrito - portability being key - so no runny eggs, and no oozy cheese. You'll fry the cheese first, then, in a hot pan with a coating of oil, crack your eggs in. Break the yolks with the spatula and immediately pile your chorizo on top of each egg. Press 2-3 slices of fried cheese into each pile, cover, lower the heat, and let the whole mess set. Flip it once, at the end, to ensure that your yolk's cooked through. Using oil, rather than butter, keeps the cheese from sticking.
Step 3 - thin slices.
Hopefully your fried queso will turn out better than mine.
Your tomato, onion, and avocado will work best if thinly sliced. Jalapenos you can just cut in half - no need to slice them more than that. Lettuce can be whole leaf, or you can go even easier as we did here and use baby spinach. Up to you.
Step 4 - mind your order.
What goes where in a torta is muy importante. If your tomatoes and avocado are on top of each other, either one or the other is going to get squeezed out the back of the sammich the first bite you take. Use the bread's roughness to hold first the jalapeno, then tomato in place on one side, the avocado, then onions in place on the other. First, however, you'll need to slather the (tomato) half with about 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise - Duke's is used here. The other bun will get about 2 tablespoons of well mashed black beans. Then it's just a matter of getting everything in place and wrapping it up to steam/set for about 5 minutes before slicing.
So, the final order is (from top to bottom)(and, yep, the money shot has the order reversed a bit - thus the mayo and tomato in my lap about 10 minutes after it was shot):
Bun, top (use a bolillo if you can find one - check your local panaderia, Las Delicias has 'em, or make your own)
Refried Black Beans (2 tablespoons)
Avocado (1/2 of one small - ripe and squishy)
Jalapeno (2 - 4, depending on spice level - make your own, as I do, from this recipe, if you're feeling adventurous!)
Onion (2 - 3 slices)
Greens (spinach, lettuce, whatevs, a small handful)
Egg + Cheese + Chorizo cake (2 eggs + 3 slices of cheese + 1/2 cup chorizo, divided)
Tomato (2 - 3 slices - almost, but not quite, ripe)
Mayo (2 tablespoons)
Step 5 - let it sit.
If you want a torta that's happy - ie, not plopping jalapenos and onions into your lap every minute, you need to let that thang alone after wrapping it. In a taqueria, it gets pressed in a sammich press - so emulate that by wrapping it in foil, and sitting your cast iron skillet on top, to flatten it somewhat, and leave it for 5 minutes. After that, cut the sucker in half, in fourths, unwrap it, whatever - you'll find that it stays together until the last bite. Or close.