Giving A Drowning Sandwich A Man: Tortas Ahogadas

Categories: Dueling Dishes
Dave Lieberman
Last week, we tipped you off to the existence of tortas ahogadas at a new-ish truck on Santa Ana's 5th Street. (That's funny, you don't look new-ish.) These are not sandwiches for the faint of heart: rolls are split open and left to dry out overnight, stuffed with beans and carnitas, then dipped in chile de árbol sauce: halfway for the media ahogada version, and absolutely drenched for the bien ahogada version.

What about Chago, though, the pride of Guadalajara, whose second U.S. location occasioned love from Gustavo in his This Hole-In-The-Wall Life column?

Dave Lieberman
Chago is the name associated with tortas ahogadas in Guadalajara, the way In-N-Out is the name associated with hamburgers in Los Angeles. I've never been to GDL, though, and I'm not blinded by allegiance to any particular kind of torta ahogada.

Dave Lieberman
Tortas Ahogadas Los Primos doesn't use the classic birote roll; their bread appeared to be lengths of a slightly sour baguette, visible through the windows at the truck's order window. Their carnitas were tender and practically juicy, porkier than expected, and shredded. The sauce was smoky, deeper red, and thin, but the onions on top were raw and astringent. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing.) The sauce penetrated the sandwich just about perfectly, so that there was just a quarter inch of chewy, un-soaked bread surrounding the filling and providing structural integrity.

Dave Lieberman
Chago Ahogadas uses the birote, a longer, crustier, tapered version of the telera roll, which is much chewier than a baguette. Their carnitas are chopped to order, but remain in fairly large pieces. The sauce is thicker, almost the consistency (and color) of Frank's Red Hot. The burn of the sauce is more subtle at Chago, but the sauce is carried by excellent red onions that have been marinated in lemon juice, salt and pepper. The bread was so thick that there was an inch of bread that needed to be re-dipped in the sauce in order for my teeth to get through it.

The sandwiches don't seem spicy at first, because the chile de árbol has a slow-acting but meaningful burn; by the time you're done, you'll know what you've done to yourself. Both places serve jericalla, the tapatío answer to crème brûlée (but with the custard itself burned, not a sugar topping), which is a perfect ending to the immensely spicy sandwich and will cool off the burning on your lips.

Both places have really friendly service and fluently English-speaking staff; if you don't know what you're doing, they're happy to guide you. (I did have to insist that I really did want a torta bien ahogada at both places, though; apparently, norteamericano palates aren't ready for a macho sandwich like this.)

You can't really go wrong with either one; while I prefer Los Primos to Chago because of the sauce, Los Primos closes at 5 p.m. and isn't around at all on Tuesdays. Dinner ahogadas will have to come from Chago, which is open until 8 p.m. every day.

Tortas Ahogadas Los Primos, 2301 W. 5th St., Santa Ana; (714) 488-5609;

Chago Ahogadas, 819 S. Main St., Santa Ana; (714) 542-3001;

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