Two hidden gems in La Mesa
Walking up to the adorable La Torta Café, its sign pretty much says it all: Sandwich heaven, Mexican style, lies straight ahead.
On a recent visit, several diners lingered on the wide, shady front patio. Besides bona fide tortas, this outdoor space is what elevates the café from hole-in-the-wall status to charming al fresco lunch spot. Inside is more like a taco shop; a man at the register will greet you, likely the same one who instructed us to grab a menu, take a seat, and then order at the counter when ready.
Sitting down to look over the menu is absolutely necessary. With 44 tortas from which to choose, deciding isn’t something first timers will want to do at a glance. There’s everything from traditional milanesa tortas to the BLT avocado, and the half-pound hamburguesa topped with BBQ sauce, bacon and ranch dressing.
We ordered our selections by their titles - chicken tortilla soup, plus chile relleno and mole tortas - with the man quickly repeating back their assigned numbers to us. He has memorized the whole menu, which is no small feat here.
The chicken tortilla soup was off the charts. It’s packed with chunks of tomato, onions, pinto beans and corn; the broth lies somewhere between thin and thick, with strips of disintegrating tortillas adding even more body, then the whole thing is crowned with melted cheese, crisp corn chips and sliced avocado. For the comfort food bargain of the century, a large soup and garlic cheese torta roll is $5.
We soon found out why La Torta offers a split plate charge for $2: The sandwiches are humongous. By no exaggeration, one will fill two starving peeps, but, you’ll want the extra helping of home fries - thick cut potato discs - so the extra charge is well worth it.
My chile relleno torta oozed with cheese while avocado and mayo kicked it into caloric overdrive. I think next time I’ll add some bacon into the mix for some crunch. My date’s mole torta was quite nice because the sauce wasn’t overkill on the oh-so-tender chicken. But the toasted telera roll here is what makes the sandwich otherworldly with its light, soft texture that still manages to hold everything together.
La Torta Café is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and serves breakfast all day. For an atypical afternoon, hop on the orange line trolley from Sante Fe Depot in downtown, then get off at the La Mesa Boulevard station. From there, the café is walking distance, with a bunch of cute shops to check out on the way. By car, it’s only a 15-minute drive and totally worth the trip. 8356 Allison Ave., La Mesa. (619) 741-6230
More good eats nearby
OK, it may sound cheesy, but when you’re eating at Himalayan Cuisine, close your eyes and envision Nepal with its Mount Everest backdrop. Between the unfamiliar bouquet of spices and Nepalese music overhead, the experience is downright enchanting. If you’re a fan of Indian food, chances are you’ll love this menu, filled with familiar items like chicken tikka masala and vindaloo. But the real treat here is momo - a Tibetan delicacy - dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables. Kukhura ko momo is filled with chicken, onion and cilantro, and comes served with a tangy sesame dipping sauce that you’ll want to hoard from the rest of the table. The dumpling wrappers, or “buns” that are filled and steamed are very similar to those you’d order in a Chinese restaurant-particularly those used to make xiao long bao (soup dumplings). 7918 El Cajon Blvd., (619) 461-2503
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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