Everything about Mexican torta sandwhiches aka Tortas Mexicanas. Plus an easy torta recipe where you can vary the protein.
What is a Torta?
Torta is a word of Spanish origin with multiple meanings that relate to food. Its roots are Latin and mean a round bread, cake, savory pie or Spanish flatbread or omelette.
What is a Mexican Torta Sandwich?
A Mexican torta is a sandwhich made with freshly baked, soft bread roll, a meat and a number of toppings including avocado, refried beans, mayonnaise, cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, shredded lettuce and more. A torta is gloriously messy, ridiculously large and very exciting to eat. It is primarily lunch food and is meant to be eaten on the go.
In Mexico tortas are sold at various outlets, mainly by food stands and establishments known as a tortería. In the US you can find authentic tortas at various taquerias, Mexican restaurants big and small and food trucks.
The tortas photographed here were made by Las 4 Americas in our town. It is a local small business that combines a Mexican bakery (panaderia) with a ‘humble counter-serve taqueria turning out burritos, tortas, quesadillas & other Mexican basics“.
Even the most reluctant sandwich eater can find himself impatient to bite into these large, appetizing food wonders!
Mexican torta bread is always fresh baked and can come in the form of traditional telera or bolillo bread rolls.
- Mexican telera rolls (teleras, pictured above) are by far the predominant choice of bread for tortas Mexicanas. They are incredibly soft and airy, large, round French style bread buns.
- Mexican bolillo rolls (bollilos) are oblong shaped, crusty with a soft interior and are also known as pan francés (essentially a variation of the baguette).
Cold tortas are typically made with a telera, while a hot torta sandwich can be on a telera or a bolillo.
Some people call torta a Mexican hamburger just because the round shape of the telera rolls is similar to those of hamburger buns. This is, of course, incorrect.
Even though many variations of the story exist, it is generally thought that Mexican bakers took inspiration for the telera torta bread from the French during the French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s. They then started using the classic Mexican meat dishes like carnitas and barbacoa to make sandwiches with the flat round bread and the Mexican torta was born.
What Traditionally Comes on a Torta?
The ingredients that comprise this street food Mexican dish can be grouped as follows.
Meat. The meats served torta style are most commonly the very same ones that you would expect to see on a taco but also include a large variety of sandwich meats options. From traditional preparations like carnitas through chorizo with potatoes, breaded and fried cutlets to ham and sausages – the variety is truly astounding.
Vegetables. Most commonly tomatoes, lettuce, onions, chile peppers (fresh or pickled), avocado (or guacamole), pickled carrots.
Mayonnaise. Traditional mayonnaise or sometimes soft butter is typically spread on each side of the torta bread before the Mexican sandwich is assembled.
Cheese. Depending on the type of torta it can be fresh cheese (such as cotija, crumbled) or melted cheese (such as asadero, see the ham torta below).
Refried beans. Typically used with buttered tortas, not always included as a topping.
Salsa. Hot sauce or milder salsas. Do not have to be on the tortas, commonly offered as a side.
Authentic Mexican Tortas (Tortas Mexicanas)
1. Torta de Jamón (the Mexican Ham Sandwich)
Possibly the simplest of torta Mexican sandwiches this one has generous ham slices topped with melted asadero cheese and is accompanied by fresh onion and tomato slices, pickled jalapenos and lettuce. In a fresh telera roll slathered with mayo, served untoasted.
2. Torta Barbacoa de Cachete (Braised Beef Cheeks)
A griddle toasted telera roll with all the fixings, stuffed full of flavorful barbacoa style beef cheek meat.
3. Torta Adobada
This one is made with adobo pork butt (pierna de cerdo adobada). The meat is marinated in a very flavorful concoction of tomatoes, chiles, onion, garlic, spices, and sugar. It is slow cooked until tender and then coarsely chopped.
4. Torta al Pastor
The classic al pastor marinade renders pork shoulder fork-tender and permeated by rich flavors. This is one of the most popular torta meat choices all over Mexico and on this side of the boarder too.
5. Torta Buche (Pork Stomach)
This meat choice may sound bizarre but the way Mexican pork stomach is prepared results in an absolutely delicious treat. You would be hard pressed to guess what the ultra tender protein loaded into this torta is, but you will praise the flavors anyways.
6. Carne Asada Torta
Grilled steak torta is very popular and requires no explanation. The flavors applied to the meat via the marinade work perfectly with the traditional torta toppings.
7. Torta Milanesa
The one shown here is breaded and fried thinly sliced beef. The Milanesa is a style of preparing a cutlet, a variation of the Winer schnitzel. Veal, pork or chicken Milanesa tortas are also very popular.
8. Torta Pollo
A chicken torta can be prepared in many ways. Besides the best known breaded and fried thinly sliced chicken breast Milanesa the torta de pollo below is a frequently sold one. Here thigh meat is chopped and cooked in an array of flavors to finish juicy and tender.
9. Torta Carnitas
Tasty pork shoulder bits slow cooked in their own fat and lard until tender and crispy around the edges. A classic torta Mexicana!
What Are Tortas Ahogadas?
The literal translation from Spanish is ‘drowned’ tortas.
The name is befitting since this is a torta sandwich sliced in two, plated and ‘drowned’ in warm tomato based flavorful sauce that is generoulsy ladled on top. Conceivably, there are as many varieties of torta ahogada as there are different tortas. Here is an authentic recipe for the sauce (salsa para torta ahogada) in case you are interested in smothering your torta with it.
Vegetarian Mexican Torta Sandwiches
A popular option for a vegetarian torta is chile relleno. You can also sandwich grilled veggies, fried egg, soy chorizo or whatever you like in between the telera halves and complete the sandwich with traditional toppings.
The recipe card below guides you on how to assemble the perfect Mexican torta. You can use any protein of your choice – make pork al pastor or beef cheeks barbacoa, chicken Milanesa or simply ham and melted cheese on top.
- 2 telera rolls (or bolillo rolls)
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise (or to taste)
- shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce (to taste)
- 6 oz ham lunch meat*
- 4 tomato slices
- thinly sliced onion, to taste
- 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
- pickled jalapeño slices (to taste)
- Slice the torta bread rolls into two flat halves each. Lightly toast halves in a medium-hot skillet with a little bit of butter (optional). Spread the inside of each half with mayonnaise.
- On each of the bottom halves place lettuce, then ham (or other meat of choice), then tomato slices. Top with sliced onion, avocado and pickled jalapeños.
- Place the top half on top, press and wrap with paper or foil, about 3/4 of the total sandwich to make it easier to hold and eat.
*Or steak asada, chopped, or two breaded and fried chicken or veal cutlets, or approximately the same weight pork al pastor, or beef barbacoa etc.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 376Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 1336mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 7gSugar: 5gProtein: 20g