Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tortas locas

14912 Ambaum Blvd SW, Burien


Normally I dislike Mexican food. It’s not that I dislike the food itself as much as I dislike the people who REALLY LIKE Mexican food. This phenomenon is called “sucking by association,” and it’s the unfortunate reason I hate Pink Floyd.

A prime example of sucking by association is Rick Bayless: he’s so fucking smarmy. I detest the way he leers at those Mexi- paupers on TV. “I love Mexico’s vibrant culture,” Bayless always drools, “It’s so real,” which in his thinly veiled racist code means “These carefree Mexicans are lucky they don’t have the white man’s burden on their shoulders.” Bayless somehow manages to seem simultaneously simpering and superior: it's a perfect example of how Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the “noble savage” has been misinterpreted today. It's like how suburban white tardoes love rap music: they don't ACTUALLY like it; they just want to feel superior to the impoverished fucks who have to live the life they wish they could. But they don't REALLY want to live in the ghetto, they just want to say that they do.

Rick Bayless infuriates me. Noblesse oblige hangs limply from him like a sweaty bathrobe. If Rudyard Kipling, Cecil Rhodes, and Sean Penn had an orgy, and the resulting ass baby got the worst genes from all 3 of them, it would be Rick Bayless: a condescending poser; a thin gouache of liberal guilt dripping from a total imperialist dick.

But for all my criticisms of Rick Bayless, I will say this: he introduced me to the glory that is the torta. Several years ago I caught an episode of his PBS show Mexico One Plate at a Time, in which Bayless ventured into a Mexico City torta shop. The cook constructed a gigantically sloppy Mexican sandwich: the torta. I was instantly hooked on tortas. So when I discovered that Tortas Locas, a real, vibrant Mexican torta shop opened in Burien, I had to go there.

Tortas Locas isn’t cool, and it isn’t hip. The menu, which is printed on big yellow plastic sheets tacked up on the wall, isn’t in English, although the people who work there are extremely helpful and will offer an English menu to those sputtering gringos like me who try to butcher the Spanish pronunciations. That’s because the only Spanish I know is “ME GUSTA LA MUSICA DE WHITNEY HOUSTON!” which, whenever the mood strikes me, I bellow with the joyous gravitas of a Univision futbol announcer declaring “GOOOOOAAAALLLLLLLL!” You go up to the counter, order, and pay in cash (sorry pindahos, they don’t take credit cards). Then you sit down at one of the rickety tables inside and wait. And wait. The service takes forever, and in the afternoon the sun slants in through the windows and heats the place up like a greenhouse. The end result, with all the waiting around, stifling heat, and lack of English, is like an actual trip to Mexico. The illusion could only be more complete if they filled the place with diesel exhaust and threw in some urchins selling Chiclets.

The best torta on the menu is clearly the Cubana ($9.49). This disheveled monster, which was served cut in half and is easily enough for two, had FOUR KINDS OF MEAT: ham, sautéed chorizo, and (incongruously enough) a HOT DOG, which was sliced in half lengthwise and grilled. The fourth and final meat was steak, although it wasn’t real steak: by “steak” they mean the kind of steak you can buy with food stamps, but was still tasty because it was sliced very thinly, breaded, and pan fried. This carnivorous orgy was topped with “Mexican cheese” (which seemed suspiciously like process Swiss), AND queso fresco, lettuce, tomato, and sautéed onions, on a really puffy oblong bun, and if all of that isn’t enough to turn your arteries into a world- class logjam, the bun was slathered in mayonnaise, avocado, and REFRIED BEANS.

The toluquena ($7.49) is like the cubana except without the hot dog and steak: the main ingredients here are ham and chorizo. The only reason I got it was because a misprint on the menu listed one of the ingredients as “leg,” and I was curious to see exactly how they executed that. Would they serve you a sandwich with some dame’s shapely gam protruding from the bun, stiletto heel still attached? Answer: no. It turns out “leg” is just a very literal translation of “ham.” Still, it was very good, even without the hot dog and steak.

The chorizo con huevos ($5.99) was a roll filled with a raft of scrambled egg, studded with chorizo, and slicked with sour cream. This will kill your hangover as brutally as General de Santa Anna killed Davy Crockett. Even better than that was the pambazo ($6.99). The pambazo is a strange sandwich: it’s filled with mashed potatoes and chorizo. The bread is orangey- red and appealingly charred in places because they douse the OUTSIDE with hot sauce, then grill it. The pambazo is spicy, salty, and really fucking satisfying due to the double carb attack.

If you are a total Commie who hates sandwiches, then there’s other, more “Mexican” crap you could order: the quesadilla de picadillo ($3.49) was a huge fluffy hand- made corn torilla (they make the tortillas in house), filled with ground beef, diced carrots and onions, and glued all together with stringy melted cheese. This quesadilla is awesome, and I’m sure is what Taco Bell was trying to emulate when they invented the fucking “Mexi- Melt.” I have to say that the handmade corn tortillas are far superior to store- bought. Grocery store corn tortillas smell like rats, and if you’ve ever smelled a rat, then you know what I’m talking about: they’ve got that stale, sickly, vaguely grainy odor to them. Tortas Locas’ handmade tortillas, on the other hand, smell like the sweet bountiful corny riches of the Great Plains, like a mouthful of Nebraska in every bite. There’s other stuff too: gorditas are $3.50. You can also get smaller, cheaper tortas (5.99- 6.99) with only one meat, but why?

Dessert, if you want it, is a slice of what the dude at the counter kept calling “cheesecake,” but which actually seemed more like a pound cake to me: it had a dense, moist crumb, but wasn’t super sweet. Sorry, I forgot how much the “cheesecake” costs, but does it matter? If you’re still hungry, get another torta, you fucker, and wash it down with one of the many weird Mexican sodas (even Mexican Coke!) available for purchase.

I love this goddamned place. There would be a line out the door if it were in a more obvious location: if Tortas Locas opened up in Wallingford, for instance, satellite images would reveal a gigantic white pool quickly spreading to flood all of Seattle as the so- called “foodies” simultaneously jizzed all over the landscape. And no, I’m not fetishizing Tortas Locas the way Rick Bayless fawns over everything Mexican. It’s good but it isn’t perfect: the tomatoes are frequently mealy, and the chorizo often still has huge chewy pieces of casing stuck in it, so you end up pulling a long sinewy condom of pork casing out of your sandwich when you’re trying to look cool. Some people might also be put off by the utter meatiness of the Cubana. You might ask yourself “do you really need four meats on a sandwich?” Answer: yes, because you don’t always get every ingredient in every bite. Sometimes there’s a hint of ham, other times a spicy Zephyr of chorizo wafts into your mouth, or occasionally a cool puddle of sour cream will well up to soothe your pork- addled tongue. It’s like taking a stroll through an idyllic countryside made of meat. Who wouldn’t want to travel to this delicious carnivorous land?

Rating: 7 noble savages out of 10

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