The Mexican torta is a sloppy affair. In the realm of sandwiches, the torta has the potential to be multi-dimensional, easily creating an almost teetering Carnegie-Deli style sandwich. The Mexican sandwich has evolved from the elemental hands-on delivery system of protein and carbs to something else entirely. Area Latino food trucks offer a lengthy list of all possible ingredients: proteins such as grilled pork, lamb barbecue, grilled chicken and sliced beef tongue, along with finely sliced iceberg lettuce, grated cheeses, jalapeño peppers and tomatoes. Load it up and the filling will spill from the torpedo-shaped eight-inch long loaf of terela, a softer bread, or the crusty bolillo.
The torta ahogada is a sandwich as popular in Guanajuato, a Mexican state, as the Philly cheese steak is here. At Carnitas Guanajuato Mexican Restaurant, owner Juan Gonzales puts together a finely crafted version of this popular sandwich. The bread as well as all the tortillas used here are made locally by a bakery near Gonzales' first location of Carnitas Guanajuato in Monroe. The base of the ahogada is slathered with whole pinto beans, then layered with grilled pork (or chicken) spiked with bits of marinated jalapenos. To this, cheese and shredded iceberg lettuce are added. The deviation of its name is the "drowning" of the sandwich in a spicy chili sauce similar in taste and heat to a Moroccan harissa. The sauce is poured over the sandwich — on top of the bread. Thinly sliced onions provide the crown. The ahogada is assuredly a fork and knife affair.
Ahogada is only one torta on the menu. The usual suspects are offered as well as tacos, sopes and burritos. A simple regional version of a chicken enchilada hits all the bells. Flat corn tortillas are layered with sliced chicken, ranchero cheese and chopped potatoes, then doused with a spunky guajillo chili sauce. This entrée is sided with a bright nopalitos salad.
Of course, carnitas are what many patrons come for, although all menu choices, including the entire list of seafood entrées, are heavily informed by the Guanajuato aesthetic. The best of the carnitas is the roasted Boston Butt pork, which is sold as a singular taco or by the pound with a stack of warm corn tortillas, sauces, quartered lemons, chopped onions and cilantro. The lamb barbecue is less flavorful since it is steamed.
On the beverage roster are beers and Mexican sodas including Jarritos and Mexican (HFCS-free) Coca Cola.
Carnitas Guanjuato is located in the spot once occupied by the Knife & Fork Restaurant (1963–2001). Not much of the interior has changed since its third incarnation as Otto's (Graham) Knife and Fork, which closed in 2004. The dining room walls are lined with red booths, including two large circular ones seating six. Chef Graham upfitted his kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment. Some of this remains, which allows Gonzales' kitchen to achieve flavors not found in many mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants around town.
In June, Gonzales will close due to the impending widening of Independence Boulevard. He has not yet made a determination where he will move his business but would like to stay within a mile of his current location since he has developed a loyal following.
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