A Sandwich a Day: Torta Ahogada at Big Star

A Sandwich a Day

Reviews of Chicago sandwiches.


[Photograph: Tessa McLean]

I took one bite of the new Torta Ahogada ($9) at Big Star and exclaimed "it's like a Mexican meatball sandwich!" This isn't exactly accurate, but the flavors and concept of this sandwich reminded me so much of the Italian favorite, I couldn't get it out of my head.

A heaping amount of roasted, tender beef chuck is stuffed inside a very soft, traditional sandwich roll, which I would normally classify as Italian, but this experience may have changed my views. Then, the sandwich is literally soaked in a spicy arbol chili salsa, so be prepared to get messy. And I don't mean a little messy, I mean this sauce stains your hands orange messy. It's got more spice than you anticipate after your first bite, and the heat from the arbol chilies lingers. The sauce has the consistency of tomato sauce more so than salsa, and the strong tomato flavor only enhanced that similarity in my mind. The generous helping of lime-soaked onions give a punch of acidity to the sandwich, and on their own they'll make your mouth pucker. They add only a slight crunch, so the sandwich could benefit from some more textural variation, but anything soaked is bound to be soggy all the way through. There are thin radish slices on top as well, probably to add even more crunch and some freshness, but they mostly get lost and limp.

It's a very simple sandwich, but that's always been Big Star's strength—nothing too complicated. Just good ingredients and dynamic flavors.

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