Earlier this summer I was introduced to the torta.
A torta, my friend Caroline told me after a hunger-inducing day of gardening and home projects, is a Mexican panini: toasted bread, avocado, beans, tomato, a spread of mayonnaise, and a choice of meat. I promptly requested she take me to the best torta around.
Taqueria Mexico turned out to be yet another great eatery in an unlikely place — on an industrial route in Wallingford. My friend has been a regular there for years, and on my first visit she chatted at length in Spanish with the owner.
On a recent trip back, we grabbed a few sodas from the cooler next to the register. The restaurant sports a convenience store-like selection of Mexican snacks, candies, sweets, and frozen treats. From the slew of unfamiliar choices, I went for a bottle of mango flavored "Boing!" soda. My friend grabbed a grapefruit Jarrittos.
There are 11 choices of meat with any menu selection, including tacos ($1.75 each), burritos, quesadillas, tortas, and tostadas (all $6 apiece). Choices include the usual suspects of pollo (chicken) and carne asada (steak) to the deep cuts like suadero (beef flank) and buche (pork stomach).
Décor is fairly minimal. The main room of the restaurant has a lunch counter and a few tables, connecting out to a expansive dining room double the size. Walls are a simple orange with few tchotchkes, and tables are adorned only with only the essentials: napkin holder, salt shaker, and two containers of spicy salsa (chipotle and tomatillo, both delicious).
A bowl of red onions quickly appears at the table. These are pickled to a pink-purple and mixed with hearty slices of habanero peppers. My friend picks out a few addictive slices to taste.
"The onions are strong today!" she says. A quick taste confirms the tangy shifting to sweet before a punctuation of throat-swelling spice. Strong indeed! Most of the bowl would be gone before we left.
After about five minutes the food arrives. With its soft bread crunched down after a quick toasting, my al pastor (marinated pork) torta doesn't exactly look pretty. But then, some of the tastiest foods usually aren't.
Flipping open the soft bread to reveal the pile of pork and beans, I decorate the sandwich with both the smoky chipotle and tomatillo hot sauces. It gets messy and delicious.
My friend's cochinita pibil tostada has the traditional pork stacked with, beans, cheese, avocado, and cilantro on a thick and hearty tostada (similar to a fried corn tortilla). A carnitas taco sits ringside. Everything gets covered in the pickled onions.
But it was the first bite of chorizo taco that forced a double-take. This was good, very good. The meat was more of the sausage filling without its casing, and had an amazing flavor punctuated by allspice. Of the 11 meat choices, I've found the winner.
"The owner's wife is the one who makes everything from scratch," my friend says as we pull out of the inconspicuous lot on Route 5. "She's the secret ingredient of that place."
A spicy and full belly says it's a secret worth sharing.
>>Taqueria Mexico, 850 S Colony Road, Wallingford, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Information: 203-265-0567.