Weeknight Cooking

How to Make a Mexican Torta Without a Recipe

Today: Your new favorite sandwich—a Mexican one, called a torta—is the solution to languishing leftovers and overdosing on tacos.

To me, the torta is one of the most perfect sandwiches of all time. I certainly can’t deny the brilliance of a juicy BLT, or even the gloriousness of a simple PB&J (properly ratio-ed 2:1 peanut butter to jelly, of course), but a torta takes the one genre of food that almost always sounds amazing to me no matter my mood or degree of hunger (Mexican) and layers it all into one amazing sandwich. 

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First: What is a torta? It’s a sandwich made with Mexican ingredients. Second: Why is it so perfect? All of the toppings. All of them. You can put so many things onto a torta and they totally work. 

Spreadable things like refried beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and so on can be layered together without creating a sandwich so tall you’re forced to resort to a knife and fork. Soft things like cheese, delicious pickled things, and grilled vegetables get piled on without making the sandwich squish too much when you bite it. And don’t forget crispy additions like fresh veggies, fried meats, and so on that tie it all together. But most importantly, you can make it any way you like it, so let’s dive in and build this torta:

1. The bread. 
Tortas are traditionally made on rolls—usually round, but I’ve seen some that are sort of sub-shaped as well. The roll should have a nice crust, but not be overly crisp—it should be chewy and glossy, and the inside should be pillowy soft. It’s worth the extra effort to find a Mexican bakery near you if you can and buy some of these rolls—they are sturdy enough to hold the fillings, but soft enough that they’re easy to bite when the time comes.


2. The spreads and sauces.
This could be anything and everything you want in the vein of Mexican food. Here are some of my faves (to mix and match with the other toppings you choose):

  • Refried beans (pinto or black, and a great way to use up leftovers of either, I might add)
  • Guacamole
  • Hot sauce
  • Sour cream
  • Queso sauce
  • Salsa (I especially love the kick and tang of a salsa verde layered in with other stuff)
  • Mashed chipotles in adobo
  • Mayo 

While avocado isn’t really a sauce, now is the time to add it. It’s best to keep the soft ingredients together so that the torta doesn’t squish out the back when you’ve bitten in.


3. The protein. 
While there’s enough toppings to go a protein-less route, this is the part of the sandwich that defines it, for me. I either like to choose something soft and slow-cooked or something crispy and crunchy. This is another amazing way to use up leftovers from another meal (I know you love 'em, but no need to do tacos three nights in a row). 


4. The cheese. 
I would say you can leave this off (and really, you can), but cheeses of all kind are the glue to this torta: Melty cheese helps hold things together, and softer cheese can be spread or crumbled for fun textures. Don’t forget the cheese sauce I nudged you toward up above. And if you’re super queso-crazy, using lots of cheese is a great way to go the vegetarian route. Some of my suggestions aren’t super traditional but provide all the necessary, cheesy awesomeness that makes a torta great. 

  • Goat cheese
  • Cotija
  • Queso fresco
  • Jack
  • Any of those super-firm cheeses you can grill/cook without melting (like Halloumi)


5. The veggies and other toppings. 
The final topping of a great torta is all your favorite veggies. Cooked veg have some serious plusses (grill mark char, anyone?), but I really adore the crispness that raw veggies contribute. And don’t forget pickles. The acidity can add so much to any sandwich.

  • Grilled anything: poblanos, onions, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, nopales. 
  • Roasted anything (many of the same suggestions from above, but nixing the romaine and adding in potatoes)
  • Raw, chopped up anything: jalapeños (my always, always addition), lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, green onion, cilantro, avocado.
  • Pickled anything: jalapeños (or any other pepper), ONIONS (my always, always addition #2), nopales, tomatoes.
  • Squeeze of citrus: lime, lemon, or grapefruit. 


6. Warm it up—or don't. 
While there are some tortas that are served cold or at room temp, they can also be warmed up. How you heat it depends on your fillings: For example, you might griddle or panini-press it for something more like a Cuban sandwich. Or you might toast the bread, pile on the cold toppings, then finish it with the warm protein. Or you might throw the whole thing, open faced, into the oven and let it toast all together. Do what your heart and stomach tell you, and you won’t be led astray.

Photos by James Ransom

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  • Heather Zeleny
    Heather Zeleny
  • Love a Lugan
    Love a Lugan
  • Guang Huang
    Guang Huang
  • Angela
  • btglenn
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, is out on November 10th, 2020.


Heather Z. October 30, 2018
Heather Z. October 30, 2018
I never in my life would have though a recipe would be needed for a sorta, a burger, or any other kind of sandwich.
Love A. July 21, 2015
I really enjoyed your explanation of Tortas. You are knowlege, give examples, and are entertaining as well. Now I want a Torta!
Guang H. July 19, 2015
don't matter if it ain't a torta. it's a mexican fried chicken sandwich and it looks dope!!
Angela July 19, 2015
That is not a torta. You white people always try to change something about mexican food.
Sharon July 19, 2015
Yeah, you tell 'em! LOL
Fernando G. July 19, 2015
What has got that to do with color? And that pretty much looks like a torta to me, at least we have them like that in Mexico City... :S
DragonFly July 19, 2015
Colour shouldn't be an issue, lighten up! It fun learning and sharing and sometimes putting a different spin on food!
btglenn July 19, 2015
In Mexico and here in Los Angeles tort as are spindle-shaped -- long, not round, coming to a little point at each end. They were brought to Mexico by Queen Carlotta and King Maximillion. Their reign didn't last very long, but tortas rolls did. For more recipes on tortas (and tacos as well) see if you can get the very good "Pati's Mexican Cooking" on local PBS stations. She also has recipes on her web site. I like scrambled eggs, refried beans, and salsa as my torts filling.
Sharon July 19, 2015
You're talking about bolillo rolls. They're made in both round and football shapes so the choice is yours. Bake your own in any shape you choose. They are readily available in Mexican grocery stores and literally every supermarket here in Oakland, Calif. Our large, vibrant Mexican population blesses us with their wonderful food stuffs. Heaven on earth for me! For the less fortunate, bolillos might be difficult to find. But now that you know the actual name of the rolls you might have better luck. They are great sandwich rolls, period. Certainly any Mexican market will have them.
Charlotte G. July 19, 2015
Tell'em Sharon! Where do you get your favorite Torta in Oakland?
Sharon July 20, 2015
Hi Charlotte. Hey, are you from Phat Matt's BBQ? I know about you guys! Heard great things about your 'Que. Nice to meet you! About the tortas, I personally don't buy tortas because I'm all about the corn. Wrap me up with some corn tortillas and I'm happy. I really love chile rellenos, chile verde, ANYTHING with guajillo chile sauce, stuff like that. I don't fool around with sandwiches much. But I always scoop up a couple of bolillos when I go shopping because we like to have them on hand. I hear the food truck in the parking lot of our Mexican grocery on 23rd Ave., just below Foothill, makes some slammin' tortas. I know they sure smell good and look good every time I walk by. They also make the nicest little quesadillas with corn tortillas instead of flour. Very nice for a change. Will get by for some of your barbecue one day soon, and I'll be sure to come up and say hello. Happy cooking! Sharon
Charlotte G. July 20, 2015
Yep, that's me guilty as charged...lol. Just know that if you come to our restaurant, come early as we are currently selling out everyday. I will have to check out that spot you mentioned, I've been on the great Torta chase for a minute now...lol. Would love to meet you soon.
Indfused July 19, 2015
Great post! I will be looking for that pillowy bread as I have all the other ingredients in my refrigerator!
DragonFly July 19, 2015
Oh my this looks good, I even have all the ingredients waiting in my fridge!
ennui July 15, 2015
Great post! Thanks for the ideas. I made some tortas for dinner tonight, and they were delicious. I'm looking at the picture of your torta on the website, and I'm wondering what sauce is dripping over the chicken cutlet. You mention a "queso sauce." Is that it? Ingredients? Thanks!
Kevin C. July 14, 2015
definitely must share the sandwich, though.....LOL
Fernando G. July 13, 2015
The best thing of making "tortas" is naming them after their ingredients. In tortas stands throughtout the coutry you'll find them named after countries, either because the ingredient is native to a region, or because national stereotyped traits (e.g. in America there are blond people, so an American torta would have cheese to resemble this blondness; or Russians might be perceived as having long legs, then a Russian torta would have pork or turkey haunches).

Examples from the top of my head: an American Torta would have american cheese, a German torta would have saussages, a Swiss torta would have three different types of cheese, a Russian would have cheese and pork haunch, a Hawaiian torta would have pineapples and pork ham with bacon, a Norwegian torta would have codfish, a Spanish torta would have chistorra, chorizo and cheese, an Argentinian torta would have steak with chimichurri sauce and bacon.

At last, every stand has a Cuban torta which has almost every ingredient available to the tortamaker. Don't know why it is named thus, but it is now a common name.
cupcakemuffin July 13, 2015
This is making me sooooooo hungry. :)