On the SF board of Chowhound, having seen the tortas at La Torta in San Diego, got to talking about tortas.
UPDATE: Stanley Stephan turned me on to this post about Tijuana torta's and the differences between a torta and a lonche.
I recently wrote a thing about Mexican sammy's in Chicago. This RST post is even more informative on the subject.
Mexican food includes a lot of sandwiches, but these sandwiches were a late entry on most Mexican menu's in the USA. Up until recently, how many people even knew about the sandwich as part of the repatoire? Now, we see tortas and other Mexican sandwiches all over the place. Here are some good choices for sandwiches, Mexican style in Chicago.
Taqueria/Restaurant La Oaxaquena - The warm, generous owners of this place serve only a dabbling of actual Oaxacan food, fearing the Chicago market will not go whole hog for grasshoppers and other things. Regardless of the regionality, their kitchen produces some tasty food, and some of the tastiest are a group of sandwiches shown on their menu as "Super Torta's". One of the best Chowhounds for finding things, ReneG, first brought these sandwiches to wide acclaim. They are truly super. Each torta, a sandwich on a soft, almost superfluous, squishy roll, contains a stack of ingredients. One favorite smashes grilled chicken breast, grilled cesina, guacamole, onions, tomatoes, and cheese into the bun. Another favorite uses cactus and roasted jalapeno to join the cesina. An odd version throws in a gnarly fried hot dog. They make 3 outstanding salsa's that are practically my excuse to order the tortas.
Taqueria Puebla - The most intrepid and dedicated of all Chowhounds, RST found this stand on the NW side of Chicago. Owned by a former sports reporter for a Spanish radio station, the inside is plastered with posters and photo's of Mexican sports stars. It specializes in the street food of Puebla state, and a key part of this street food is the cemita sandwich. The cemita is much distinguished from the torta by roll. Crustier, egg washed and seeded, it has a flavor element that the torta roll, bollilo, does not. Flavor also comes from a spray of Mexican herbs, authentically, the soapy papalo, but they use whatever they can find. Olive oil dresses the sandwich instead of mayo.
Dona Lois - A bit of Mexico City on the far north side of Chicago. Most people get the quesadilla's made from scratch and filled with exotica like squash blossoms, but those with iron stomachs try the pambaso. In Mexico, the pambaso may refer also to a kind of bread, but in Chicago, it mostly refers to the act of drowning any sandwich roll in a vat of bloody chili sauce. It is served with soft cooked potatoes. A great combo!
Tortas USA (a/k/a Dona Torta) - Not so much a specialist in a regional style, but a restaurant selling 30 or so kinds of tortas. Beside a range of interesting fillings, the use a better torta roll, let you grab at will from a bowl of pickled jalapeno's and carrots (take that Rick Bayless!), and toss a few so-so french fries on your plate. Good fried fish, good breaded meat (milanesa), good pork leg, good roasted chili salsa, all finish the allure.
Taqueria Oaxaquena (2 locations)
3382 N. Milwaukee/6113 W. Diversy
3625 W. North
Quesadillas DoÃ±a Lolis
6924 N Clark St
3057 N. Ashland Ave.