A Guadalajara Classic… the torta ahogada. From El Bigotes and Mr Pacos
The Torta Ahogada is almost as synonymous with Guadalajara as an In-n-Out Double Double is with Southern California. It’s a 100% born and bred creation of the Tapatios here in this European influenced City of Roses, the capital of the state of Jalisco.
A torta ahogada [translated literally, drowned sandwich] is basically a french roll with about a quarter pound of wonderful deep friend pork, called carnitas, stuffed inside. It is then dipped, or drowned in a thin non-spicy tomato based sauce and served up hot at your table. With a spoon.
And that’s when the fun begins, because now you’ve got to dress it up, and figure out how to eat it. If you’re a traditionalist, you pour an additional gallon of that yummy sauce all over the sandwich, essentially waterboarding it. Then you cover it with onions, squeeze some lime on it, and then add the chile.
Ahhh… the chile. Not chiles mind you, the chile. Depending on where you’re at, it can be served from a stainless steel bowl, or in some giant squeeze bottle. Either way, don’t get it in your eyes because this delicious indispensable part of the ahogada experience is basically fire starter. For your stomach and the rest of your internal system.
But you’ve got to try it. Failure to do so will immediately get you branded a culture challenged gastronomic gringo in the same way you’d mock a friend for ordering a double double without the cheese. Or grilled onions.
So on a recent visit to Guadalajara, I decided to check out a couple of the places locals regard in pretty good esteem. Think of it as a torta throwdown! Here’s my thoughts.
Carnitas El Bigotes… this place is old school and that means nothing fancy. It also guarantees you’re not gonna be seeing any gringos around very often. Only a few blocks away from the famed Plaza Tapatia, this place reeks of being the local hang out. Whether it is the old guy who shows up once a week, or the two older women who stopped in on their once a month get together, you sensed this was the Cheers version of where you got tortas and carnitas.
Just like any other worthwhile torta ahogada place, El Bigotes serves a nice selection of tacos. But make no mistake, the tortas are the star, starting with the bread, called a bolillo. The bolillos are a great size here at El Bigotes and the sandwich I had was stuffed full with plenty of both chunks and shredded pork. Floating in the delicious sauce and served on a traditional clay plate, it simply bursted with flavor once I added the chile.
At 28 pesos, or about $1.50 US, how could you go wrong? Add a soda for a buck and your out the door and back on the street for under $3.00. And you’ve had an awesome torta.
Mr Pacos… this place is the anti El Bigotes. It’s basically a torta factory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. So good in fact that when the Chivas are playing, this is one of the big local hangouts. The tortas here are just a little smaller than at El Bigotes but that doesn’t mean a thing. The bollilo is still stuffed full of both the wonderful pork and lots of flavor.
Add in the chile, which is a tad spicier here, dress it up and finish off your lunch with an ice cold beer, and you’ve got the Guadalajara Classic! At 38 pesos, Mr Pacos is a little more spendy, but it’s a bigger place and definitely more family friendly if you’ve got kids. And as a bonus, if you are Chivas fanatic, this is your place in GDL.
So who wins, El Bigotes or Mr Pacos? I call it a draw but if I was forced to make a call, it leans towards El Bigotes on a slightly larger torta, a more classic “dive” atmosphere and a better price.
Finally, let me add that not everyone is gonna love the torta ahogada. You might have someone in your group or family that just has to have the classic steak tampiqueña. If that’s the case, and you want a larger selection for the non torta eaters, check out La Chata… great food overall and a pretty good torta ahogada too!
Tortas Ahogadas, a Guadalajara Classic. Basic cost for a torta and an ice cold cerveza… less than $5.00 USD.