Las Tortas
3353 Cambie St.
Vancouver
604-569-1402

lastortas.ca

Open Daily - 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Signature Drink: Tamarind Agua Fresca
Signature Dish: Pierna Torta

Rating: ****
Lunch & drinks for two: $25

My only experience with tortas, prior to visiting the recently-opened Las Tortas on Cambie, was bubkhes. Zip. Nada. Not surprising, really, since Vancouver has never had a dedicated “Mexican gourmet sandwich” shop before (does the now-defunct Duffin’s Donuts count?), and my visits to the Mayan Riviera have been few and far between.

For those of you wondering what makes a Mexican sandwich “gourmet,” think of slow-roasted meats, authentic Oaxaca cheese, refried beans that are good enough to eat on their own, and a perfect, toasty, six-inch bun that is custom-made for the shop. There are also enough jalapeños stuffed in there to clear your sinuses for a solid month, as I discovered on my first visit. I smartened up on my second visit, and ordered heat-free versions -- yes, I’m a spice wimp.

The room is a little lacking in the décor department, and don’t expect any background music. One wall is lined with retro Mexican movie posters, and that’s about it. The focus is all on the food, which is simple, flavourful and ordered by checking boxes on the menu. The latter also doubles as your paper to-go bag.

Apart from a dozen or so sandwiches, there are only a few items on the menu. Agua fresca is a Mexican beverage made from fruit, seeds or grains that are mixed with sugar and water. Las Tortas offers two versions, strawberry and tamarind root ($2 for 16 oz). While the strawberry was a bit sweet to go with my torta, the tamarind was refreshing. Vegetable-based tortilla soup ($5.25) and Mexican salad ($6.50), both of which were middling, are obviously only for those health-conscious crazies who would come to a torta shop looking for salad.

As for the tortas, slow roasted pork thigh, marinated in Mexican spices ($8.50), was rich, moist and abundant. I also tried the roasted beef with Oaxaca cheese ($9.30), and the Cubana ($9.95), a mountain of pork thigh, ham, breaded chicken breast and panela cheese. A second visit included a vegetarian three-cheese wonder, stuffed with Oaxaca, panela and Monterrey Jack. These were deeply satisfying, and intensely fresh.

My main quibble was with the jalapeños, of which—as I mentioned earlier—there were way too many for these delicate buds. Opening up one sandwich, I found no less than seven large strips of green piled on between the meat and the cheese. A little heat is nice, but when it burns the nerve endings, it makes it hard to distinguish individual flavours. And—as the heat-free versions proved—these are ingredients that are just too good to cover up.

There are, surprisingly, a couple of desserts on the menu as well. I tried the tres leches cake ($3.25), which—despite its un-prepossessing delivery in a plastic container—was moist, milky-creamy deliciousness. And in the end, that really describes the tortas here as well. It’s simple comfort food that satisfies the gastric soul. And is worth the line-ups that will inevitably form once word gets out.

 

Arrogant Frog’s New Release

There aren’t many wines in the under-$20 range that can stand serious cellaring, but Arrogant Frog’s 2008 Ribet Red might stand the test. This 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot blend is a deeper, more balanced quaff than the 2007, with a nose of berries, truffles and mocha. It’s versatile with food pairings. Try with roast poultry, wild game, medium cheese and dark chocolate. Cellar from five to seven years. $14.99 at BCLS.

 

Top Shelf

 

Don’t forget to discover your inner tango tonight at the Wines of Argentina event tonight at 7 p.m. at the Sutton Place Hotel (845 Burrard St). More than 48 wineries will be on hand, along with bites form visiting Mendoza chef Federico Ziegler. Tickets $59 at tickets.winesofargentina.ca.

Dining Out

Give Thanks at Elixir
On October 11 and 12, Elixir Bistro (322 Davie Street) will offer a Thanksgiving Day three-course menu for $50. Choices include wild mushrooms on toast with poached egg, butternut and lobster bisque, wild salmon Wellington, daube de boeuf with smoked celeriac puree, roasted turkey with calvados, and honey-roasted pears with almond financier. Call 604-642-6787 for reservations.

Voya Restaurant (1177 Melville St) is now offering any starter, any main and any dessert from the full dinner menu for $38, Monday to Wednesday, every week. Buy a bottle of wine with your meal and get 40-60 per cent off the list price. Call 604-639-8692 or visit voya-restaurant.com.

Food in Brief

Effective immediately, Manuel Ferreira has sold his restaurant Senova (1864 West 57 Ave) to Roger and Nacimce Rasiah. Ferreira still owns his iconic Le Gavroche downtown, and has an eye to future projects.

Whistler’s Araxi Restaurant has released their first cookbook. Executive Chef James Walt’s recipes focus on the regional flavours of ranch, field and sea. Look for it in stores on Oct. 3.