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Trade tacos for tortas

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Region’s Mexican food trucks serve south-of-the-border sandwich
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The “torta caprichosa” is a specialty sandwich served at La Torta Loca in Medford.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The “torta caprichosa” is a specialty sandwich served at La Torta Loca in Medford.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The “Hawaiiana” combines ham and pineapple on a torta at La Torta Loca in Medford.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The “Hawaiiana” combines ham and pineapple on a torta at La Torta Loca in Medford.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Tortas at La Corita in Central Point incorporate such taco fillings as “lengua.”
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Chicken taquitos are among the specialties at La Corita in Central Point.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Fish tacos are dressed with a homemade sauce at La Corita in Central Point.

To complement the rallying cry of “taco Tuesday,” I’d like to propose “torta Thursday.”

Tacos obviously aren’t confined to a single day of the week. And let’s be honest: Many Americans eat them multiple times per week.

So a fair number of taco trucks offer an alternative to break the — dare I say? — monotony of their headlining speciality. A few others locally give tortas pride of place.

For anyone who knows and loves tortas, there’s no mistaking this Mexican sandwich. But the terms alone don’t tell the whole story.

Meaning simply “cake” in Spanish, torta describes diverse dishes — including omelets and egg-based recipes — in parts of the world where Spain established colonies. In Mexico, specifically the state of Puebla, the torta traces origins to the area’s French influence. Torpedo-shaped rolls known as “bolillos,” according to culinary historians, are Mexico’s take on baguettes. Flatter, softer, rounded “teleras” seem to be preferred for tortas in Southern Oregon.

La Torta Loca in southwest Medford arguably offers the widest variety. To its 15 types of tortas, the truck that operates near the intersection of King Street and West Stewart Avenue adds a deep lineup of tacos, burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, nachos, sopes and even huaraches. Pricing nothing over $12, La Torta Loca keeps the majority of items in the $6-$8 range. Tacos are $2 or $3 apiece.

Taco fans find their favorite fillings — asada, carnitas, lengua, chorizo, pollo, al pastor and more — also can be had on tortas. But the latter mixes things up with ham, eggs and “Milanesa,” a beef cutlet pounded thin, breaded and fried. At La Torta Loca, it tasted and looked more like a hamburger patty smashed paper-thin and deep-fried to crisp the exterior.

Whatever its pedigree, Milanesa paired with roast pork and tucked into the “caprichosa” torta ($9) with onions, cheese, avocado and jalapeno tempted my sister. I dithered between the “Oaxaquena” ($8) with egg, ham and beans or the stereotypical duo of ham and pineapple on the “Hawaiiana” ($9). Opting for less protein to aid digestion, I requested the island-inspired torta.

Doing a brisk business for both takeout and on-site diners, La Torta Loca boasts plenty of seats at folding tables under awnings in the large parking lot that hosts the truck. The noise of vehicle traffic and diners’ banter can make it difficult to discern when orders are called, and customers waiting don’t correspond with meals ordered in advance online that fly out the walk-up window.

When my order was announced, it was immediately apparent my sister and I could have happily shared a single sandwich — the largest for the lowest price I’ve seen in Southern Oregon. Fat slabs of bread with nicely toasted exteriors neatly contained the fillings, generously but conscientiously assembled.

The edges of my sister’s Milanesa were addictively crispy, the sandwich’s cheese decadently gooey without being sloppy. Ditto for the avocado mashed into the bread, where it mingled with Mexican crema.

Jalapenos on both sandwiches packed some heat, but we still sampled freshly made salsas — green, red and smoky chipotle — which I initially mistook for ketchup and mustard in red and yellow squeeze bottles. Ketchup couldn’t hold a candle, anyway, to such flavorful salsas and the ruddiest, juiciest tomato I’d encountered on a restaurant sandwich since last summer.

A hearty slice of ripe tomato also defined the torta at La Corita, a truck regularly parked behind the Shell station on the west side of Interstate 5’s interchange in Central Point. I’d heard good things about the truck, its “special torta,” in particular.

But beef tongue ($9.25) exerted a stronger pull than the recommended ham and egg torta. My partner was partial to chicken taquitos ($7.50) while also craving a fish taco ($3). Housemade horchata ($2.50) couldn’t be passed up. Tacos, burritos and tostadas compose the rest of La Corita’s menu from $2 to $9.25.

This truck also erects tables and chairs under an awning with a freeway view. While waiting, we gratefully slaked our thirst on the sweet horchata, nicely spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Freshly fried, the taquitos came out first crowned with crema and shredded lettuce. These easily eclipsed other taquitos we’ve tried this year at food trucks, warranting another trek to La Corita to enjoy them again this summer.

About half the size of my sandwich from La Torta Loca, La Corita’s version relied on a tenderer roll that was beautifully browned on its cut faces. Even more tender was the tongue, which melted on my own, its richness separated from dollops of mayonnaise by the sweet slice of tomato. Everything was so moist and juicy that the roll did start to become soggy before I could finish the sandwich.

The fish taco, albeit a good value, was a fairly pedestrian formula of apparently prebreaded fish, topped with shredded cabbage and carrot. It underscored the fact that plenty of other dishes await at the region’s taco trucks.

Located at 950 King St., Medford, La Torta Loca is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, until 2:30 p.m. Sunday. See orderlatortaloca.com or call 541-292-7001.

Located at 1125 E. Pine St., Central Point, La Corita is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 541-879-8418.

Features editor Sarah Lemon writes The Whole Dish column that runs biweekly in A la Carte. Reach her at slemon@rosebudmedia.com