El Abuelo — La Casa de la Madre de Todas Tortas Chilangas

Shoehorned between an auto repair place and a flaking façaded liquor store on Franklin near Fruitridge, El Abuelo – “the grandfather” — does not subscribe to the realtor’s mantra of location, location, location.

Nor is its management squandering profit on ambiance. A few posters – one of Pedro Infante astride a Harley doing his best Marlon Brando The Wild Ones imitation and another of Tintan, the famed Mexican singer and comedian – adorn the two-tone cinder block walls. The booths sag from years of many butts and many backs. Scatterings of hand-lettered signs advertise various items: “Ya Hay! Gorditas de chicharron” and “Ya Tenemos Sabrosos Tacos de Pollo.”

Money isn’t being thrown away on outdoor signage either. A driver searching for El Abuelo will easily miss this well-disguised gem of a tortas shop. In much bigger print is SUPER TORTAS CHILANGAS, the typeface size equivalent of some of the sandwiches of Mexico City offered inside.

As testimony to El Abuelo’s authenticity, there isn’t much English spoken by the waitressing staff – who sport t-shirts featuring Superman’s “S” logo. The owner’s very pregnant daughter-in-law, however, is an exception.

Unfettered from my limited facility with Spanish, recommendations can now be sought. Her favorite is pambaso, as El Abuelo’s name suggests, a Mexico City specialty. At its center is a mix of chorizo and mashed potato, splashed with sour cream, sprinkled with a bit of cheese and a few pickled jalapenos all wedged between slices of bolillos, which, unlike other tortas, features a fat top slice colored with chili pepper.  The pambaso leaves the kitchen hot but cools quickly and falls apart rapidly.

Pambaso can be found on the delight-laden inner two-pages of El Abuelo’s four-page menu.

The front page is devoted to the torta selections, which are legion. Here are a few: alemana, suiza, norteca, hilandesa, dilisiosa. Steak – breaded or otherwise — ham, pork leg, sausage, queso blanco, queso amarillo, quesillo in multiple permutations. There’s even a Hawaiian torta with pineapple.

The back of the menu catalogues the beers available, served in bottles, the varying sizes of fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja and the dizzying array of Jarritos options.

But it’s the pages in between that offer a more exciting exposure to the food of the Distrito Federale. Three $1.70-a-throw tacos isn’t a bad way to go. The chorizo is fiercely greasy and fiery. The el pastor and asada tacos benefit from doses of the lime juice, escabeche, salsa roja and verde offered near the register.

Even better is either a sincronisada or gringas, reminiscent of what the ill informed would consider quesadillas. They’re not. They’re sandwiches. A tortilla below and one above between which, in the case of the synchronisada, is ham, cheese, onions and cilantro. Carne al pastor instead of ham is the primary difference with the gringas, which my pal, Lynda Gledhill, is surprised to find includes pineapple.

Even more better is the behemoth $8 Cubano torta which, sin duda, es la madre de todas tortas. Almost the size of someone’s head, this monster contains pierna, milanesa, salchicha, jamon, quesillo, queso amarillo and an egg. That’s pork leg, breaded steak, a hot link that tastes more like a hot dog, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses and a huevo. The salchicha is a disappointment but, overall, the Cubano is an astounding, far-north-of-ample, assortment.

But perched at the top of the El Abuelo food chain is alambres. It’s a scramble of beef, ham, bacon, bell pepper and onion with a fan of avocado slices in the plate’s top left corner and three folded tortillas in the lower right. Is further instruction necessary? There’s a touch of heat, cayenne probably, but adding the offerings of the salsa bar only perfects perfection.

As previously noted, atmosphere isn’t what El Abuelo is about. What it offers is authentic, comfortably priced alimento chilango that is, just as management advertises, super. Take Gramps up on the offer.  Now.


Filed under: Restaurant Raconteur

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