Introducing a new segment today on Chow Bella: Battle of the Dishes. We try the same meal, but at two different local restaurants. It's an eater smackdown.
Los Reyes de la Torta vs. America's Taco Shop
When a friend suggested "tortas" as the inaugural plate for Battle of the Dishes, we eagerly agreed without knowing what tortas are. We were picturing something along the line of the Mexican pizzas we used to eat at Taco Bell growing up in Orange County in the Eighties. So when we learned tortas are actually hearty sandwiches served on round loaves of bread, we were surprised and embarrassed but also happy and hungry.
In one corner: Los Reyes de la Torta
9230 N. Seventh Street
They call themselves the Kings of the Torta. Sounds promising, right? The waitstaff was attentive and Spanish language programs hummed on overhead TVs scattered throughout the restaurant.
The Mexicana is a grilled steak torta for $6.95. It was just the right kind of spicy - hot enough to almost make your nose run without causing you to hyperventilate. The sandwich was overflowing and shockingly messy to eat. Our dining companion said he especially loved how thick the bread is. A Jewish guy who has lived in Mexico, he said the bread was "almost like challah."
In the other corner: America's Taco Shop
2041 N. Seventh Street
A few miles south of Los Reyes on Seventh Street is America's Taco Shop. Expectations were high heading there because buzz about the place is red hot, coming on the heels of a recent rave in Sunset Magazine. The restaurant is in a quaint house and has a trendy polish lacking at the more modestly decorated Los Reyes.
At America's Taco Shop, you order at a counter and wait for your food to be brought to you. We picked the carne asada torta for $5.95.
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"It looks like a Big Mac," was our dining companion's comment when it arrived at the table. Compared to the mammoth sandwich encountered at Los Reyes, this one looked anemic, not to mention lonely without garnish.
Unfortunately the torta tasted like a Big Mac too. The bun was greasy and thin. The carne asada filling was good, but there wasn't enough of it to take notice. And if there was actually guacamole or anything spicy in the sandwich, it eluded us. It's no fun to pick on America's Taco Shop because Phoenicians love the place, but dang, the tortas need some serious TLC.
The Verdict: Los Reyes de la Torta
Got a suggestion for a future Battle of the Dishes? Tell us which dish, and name a restaurant (or two) that serves it.