Los Reyes De La Torta is the kind of eatery that habitual lunchers dream of finding. The hostess of the Phoenix location (one of three locations in the Valley) greets the vast majority of customers in Spanish. Grills hiss and spatulas clack as a team of hairnetted cooks hustles together burros and tacos, sopas and chilaquiles. Prices are low; portions are huge. Quesadillas eclipse their entire plates.
Menu options are rich and numerous. Narrowing down the menu’s tome would take a diligent diner time. At places with long menus and, really, at places of any kind, I often ask my server what his or her favorite dish is. Then I order whatever comes back as the answer. My thinking is that someone who has eaten countless meals at a restaurant will be familiar with the good stuff, and will show me the way.
That was certainly the case the other day at Los Reyes.
“Torta” is in the restaurant’s full name. It made sense to go for one. After ordering ceviche tostadas and what I thought was a watermelon agua fresca, I asked my waitress what her favorite torta was. She pointed to the Norteña de Res.
Los Reyes has a colorful and intense menu of agua frescas and frozen libations. Ordering one will most likely drive your lunch over $10 unless you opt for a cheaper torta, like the lengua (tongue) or cabeza (head). But the fresh juice and blended ice will curb upcoming chile heat and round out your meal nicely.
My drink came with ice and a tiny umbrella. I had no idea the drink was frozen or that the umbrella was coming. Drinks with umbrellas aren't my thing. Self-conscious, I looked around to see if any of the regs were scoping me, a non-reg at a no-nonsense place with $8 sandwiches, drinking from a curvy glass with a little umbrella. Nobody noted my existence even remotely. Yep, that's my kind of place.
Ceviche tostadas are roughly the diameter of tennis balls (small) and CDs (large). In 20 minutes, at least five were whisked out to various tables. The smaller costs less than $3. Shrimp chopped and chilled mounds nicely atop a crunchy base. The shellfish is mild and lifted by mild citrus.
We now arrive to the torta.
The Norteña de Res torta graces a plate beside salad, salsa on the side. The torta looked to be on the small end of the sandwich spectrum. But biting in, you realize this sandwich doesn’t need size. Everything between the soft buns is packed with fat: avocado, chipotle mayo, hot cheese, and refried beans. Fat brings softness. Fat brings quicker fullness even when a sandwich veers small-ish.
Fat also brings flavor.
The feeling I got eating this torta is the same one I used to get from my favorite hamburger spot back in the Philly area. In a strange way, the two are almost cultural variations on the same thing. The burger dive, Charlie’s Hamburgers, sizzles thin burgers topped with blocky cuts of cheese on soft buns that are barely there. A thin patty makes the char-to-meat ratio uncommonly high. The burger is a circus of softness and optimal toppings and textures. And so is the torta.
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Razor-thin steak slices allow for maximum, grill-kissed brownness. Each bite brings radiant char and meat oomph that couldn’t be any better. All the soft toppings conspire to deepen the meat, even the wan tomato. There isn’t a single discordant note. Everything works together toward a damn good steak torta, one with almost no chew.
You can add the fiery tomatillo and chile de arbol salsa that comes on the side. You can add toppings, relocating radish rounds or cucumbers from your salad to the torta bun.
Whatever you do, lunch explorer, you'll be thrilled to add this go-to spot.
Los Reyes De La Torta. 9230 North Seventh Street; 602-870-2967.
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.