Tortas, a relative newcomer to the American food scene, have been around on Latino menus for a long time in many different forms. The torta we’re referring to is basically a Mexican sandwich served hot on a roll. In Mexico City, as well as in the Philippines, a torta can be an egg dish mixed with meat, potatoes and sauce. Throughout South America, “torta” refers to a sweet cake, like a birthday or wedding cake. You can find tortas (in sandwich form) all over Philadelphia, but the best ones are at the following spots.
38th St between Walnut St and Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Most of the city’s food trucks have a solid fan base, but none has one more solid than Leo Saavedra’s Tacos don Memo, usually parked on Penn’s campus at 38th Street between Walnut and Sansom Streets. Saavedra’s devotees truly don’t mind waiting–sometimes up to 40 minutes!–for their Mexican delicacies, but the pros know to call ahead. The Torta al Pastor tops many fans’ lists with its marinated pork, fresh avocados, tomatoes, onions, black beans, hot sauce, mayonnaise and jalapenos, all stuffed inside a perfectly-toasted roll. And while $7 seems a little steep for a food truck, if you manage to eat the whole thing for lunch, you won’t need to eat dinner later (and maybe even breakfast the next day). Besides the torta, everything else from Tacos don Memo is memorable, from the addictive tacos to the Mexican (read: made with cane sugar) Coke. Follow @TacosdonMemo on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information on specials, locations and hours.
1144 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19195
It sounds strange: a Mexican place in Philly’s Italian Market. But Mole Poblano’s friendly atmosphere and family vibe help it fit right in. Since the sandwiches you can get in the Market are all huge, it’s only fitting that Mole Poblano’s tortas are gigantic as well. The Milanesa de Pollo ($6) is thin and crispy breaded chicken accompanied by all the usual torta toppers: sauce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers and mayo. You’re going to need two hands (and a boat load of napkins) for this one. Another favorite at Mole Poblano is its weekend goat barbecue, which has the locals lining up well in advance. Try a taco filled with the succulent, tender meat and you’ll be hooked, too. Mole Poblano recently changed its name from Acapulco (due to confusion from a similarly-named restaurant).
951 Wolf St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
What looks like a mild-mannered bodega in South Philly that sells rice, dried chilis and colorful bottles of Jarritos, is, upon further inspection, also a restaurant. Los Gallos has a friendly owner from Puebla, Mexico who is eager to answer your questions and help you decide what to eat. For many regulars (and there are many regulars) the hands-down choice is The Cubano torta; a crusty roll stuffed with breaded beef, shredded pork, ham, refried beans, avocado, onions, Mexican string cheese, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, mayo and two salsas (green and red). Two things to take note of: Los Gallos Mexican Taqueria only accepts cash, and be prepared–you will be taking home leftovers.
Related: Top Spicy Food in Philadelphia
940 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
El Costeno is a clean and friendly place where you can sit down with complimentary chips, two incredible salsas (green and red) and an ice-cold cerveza from the large selection of Mexican beer and watch soccer or a telenovela (Latin soap opera) on a big screen. While you’re there, you should order the Torta al Pastor, which is stuffed with pork and pineapple, lettuce, tomato and onions, and comes with a side of French fries, all for $7. If you’d rather watch your telenovela at home, that’s okay, too. El Costeno delivers for free with no minimum order.
1356 N 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19122
At a little hole in the wall in Kensington, the last thing you would expect is perfect flan for $3. But that’s what you’ll find at Que Chula es Puebla, among other yummy curiosities. This place, with a little kitchen that looks like someone’s abuela’s, has turned out an amazingly comprehensive menu that includes 14 different tortas. Try the fan favorite of Hawaiiana ($6.99) with ham and pineapple, or the weird-but-wonderful Beef Head or Tongue tortas. Even the complimentary chips aren’t ordinary; at Que Chula es Puebla, these housemade wonders are drizzled with creamy bean dip. And while you won’t find any cervezas or margaritas here, so feel free to BYOB. Que Chula es Puebla also offers free delivery.
Related: Top Tapas in Philadelphia