The first time I sat down to lunch at Tortas Factory del D.F., I wondered if there had been a mistake. My little lunch table was covered with orange cafeteria trays, disposable plates piled high with each dish, and little, bright cups of salsa. I hadn’t even spent $20. Did I really order all of this food? How was I going to eat it all? As it turned out, the answers to those questions were “yes” and “happily.”
If you’re lucky enough to stand underneath the glowing flat-screen TV menu that hangs above the register at this new destination-worthy Mexican joint on Buford Highway, I’d be surprised if the same thing doesn’t happen to you, too.
The kitchen offers a long, varied selection — the full menu of tortas, tacos, huaraches, flautas and other dishes stretches across three screens — and leans heavily on regional specialties of the Distrito Federal (which you might know better as Mexico City). You might be overwhelmed with the options. You might order too much.
After several visits, I’ve found it helpful to think of the Tortas Factory menu as a choice between two grains. There is, of course, corn, the national grain of Mexico that gave us the heavenly, hand-held food vehicle known as the tortilla. But there is also wheat, the grain introduced to Mexico by 16th-century Spanish colonists. Mexico City’s culinary history was forever altered by this European influence, including a long, complicated love for bread. Thus, Tortas Factory’s delightfully large selection of sandwiches, including the decadent pambazo.
History aside, there is nothing particularly complicated about the way I feel about the pambazo served at Tortas Factory. I simply love it. The bread has been dipped in a bright red slurry of guajillo peppers and loaded with a combination of chorizo, potatoes and lettuce, and finished with a cool drizzle of crema that balances the pleasant heat of the bread. The first time I ordered one, I inhaled it as it was. The second time, I loaded it with some additions from the salsa bar — fierce, red salsa and cool, smooth avocado puree — that elevated it to pure, spicy decadence.
History included, I can’t help but be fascinated by the name pambazo, which comes from the Spanish “pan bajo,” or “low bread.” The etymology is so similar to the way that the “poor boy” sandwiches of New Orleans became the po’boy of today, that I found myself marveling at the connection long after I finished eating it.
On a different morning, I was drawn to the bright lightness of a torta made with nopales and a fried egg. Strips of pickled, tender cactus are laid on the sandwich with a smear of refried beans, a layer of avocado, a touch of crema, lettuce, tomato and a slightly greasy fried egg. It is just rich enough to make you almost forget that you’re eating a pickle sandwich.
There are other tortas to be had: a rather nontraditional take on a Cuban sandwich, a very traditional one with carne asada, a combo of ham and pineapple that will remind you of “Hawaiian” pizza. These are all made just a little bit better by the bread, which is baked daily in the same shopping center at Panderia Del Valle.
To focus only on the tortas at Tortas Factory, though, is to miss out on some of the menu’s most interesting dishes. Get acquainted with the huarache de carne asada, a thick, crispy oval of fried masa piled high with refried beans, slivers of beef, and a salad’s worth of lettuce, tomato and queso fresco. Huarache, which is Spanish for “sandal,” is the appropriate name for it. The finished dish is as big as a size 10 shoe and costs only $2.50. That thick masa can be a little dense and flavorless, but loaded with habanero and jalapeño slivers from the salad bar, a decent meal could be made from that single plate alone.
I was happy, too, that I didn’t skip the flauta con chorizo. The cooks here wrap three corn tortillas together into a foot-long, sausage-stuffed cigar and fry the giant thing until it is crisp enough to crack like glass at the touch of a fork. The finished plate comes with two of those dripping in a rich layer of sour cream.
I haven’t even gotten around to mentioning the tacos. Tortas Factory is decidedly not a taqueria. There are only a few options. The lamb barbacoa is reliable and tender, though a little unremarkable. On the other hand, I’ve not been able to leave on any of my visits without a couple of tacos al pastor. Tortas Factory cooks them in the traditional Mexico City style: carved from a revolving spit known as a “trompo,” a Mexican pork variation on Lebanese-style shawarma.
Some days, these crispy, juicy slivers of pork can be the highlight of a meal at Tortas Factory. Other days, the revolving spit seems to have dried out the meat long before it lands on the taco. What’s best is to order them with extra pineapple. Each taco will arrive with lightly caramelized, warm chunks of fruit, dripping a little extra sweetness into each bite.
Sure, you can attempt to stop in for just one of the tortas at Tortas Factory, but you might end up with a table covered in plates. There’s nothing wrong with that.