South Side Eats: Massive Tortas at Doña Torta in Little Village

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[Photographs: Titus Ruscitti]

The torta sandwich is as common in Mexican restaurants these days as tacos or burritos. Rick Bayless's Xoco made them fashionable, but they've always been a lunchtime favorite of Chicago's Mexican community. Dona Torta in Little Village has been making them since 1990. Originally located in Lakeview, they moved south a couple years ago and haven't missed a beat. It's always been one of my favorites because of their dedication to the torta and the hospitality that comes with it. They offer around 30 varieties and every single one is a challenge to finish. Most reside around $6 and can easily feed two, so when you go for one of the grand daddy $8 offerings you're setting yourself up for a heavyweight fight. The "expensive" ones contain up to four meats and plenty of toppings.

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These come served on a crispy lightly toasted bolillo roll with fries on the side. Although the complimentary chips and spicy smooth salsa are a much better compliment. On this visit I tried the La Bomba torta ($8) which comes with Milanesa (breaded steak), carne de puerco (pork), and jamon (ham), along with cheese, pineapple, and bacon. Everything includes lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a spread of refried beans. The shock doesn't end with the ingredients.

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Once it arrives you cant help but be in awe with its size. A half of this sandwich still requires takes two hands to eat, and it'll still be a mess. The bread holds up well, though ingredients can start slipping out with each bite. But every Chicagoan that knows how to eat an Italian beef will have no problem with a La Bomba. The only dilemma you'll have will be whether or not you want to try and go all 12 rounds with it.

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Still hungry? Try the Perritos Mexicanos ($4) off the appetizer menu. I'd describe these as south of the border state fair food. A hybrid of a Mexican bacon-wrapped hot dog and a Tex-Mex crispy dog. They take three cheap hot dogs and split them down the middle and fill them with cheese and bacon and proceed to wrap them in a corn tortilla. They're then deep fried into a flauta form and topped with a very hot red chile sauce and yellow mustard. Lettuce and limes come served on the side. Just like the torta, it all works in harmony until the heartburn hits you in the chest an hour or so later. Stock up on some Alka-Seltzer at one of the many bulk sale shops along the block.

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