Mexican Sandwiches (Tortas) done right in Monterey Park.
Well, it looked all calm and peaceful when I drove up. Of course, the fact that I couldn’t swing a parking space should have been my first clue.
Inside Cook’s Tortas was a line, and a line of people from all walks of life, businesspeople in suits, Local Firefighters who saw walking up to the place, and everyday normal folk.
Say one thing for ‘em, Cops and Firefighters both know where to find the good inexpensive stuff.
I went for the door on the corner, only to find it…well…locked. Apparently it’s locked all the time. You have to go through the entrance near the outdoor seating to get in. Once inside, you’ll see it, the line. A long line snaking the length of the store. Tables filled with people, all having Mexican Sandwiches, also known as Torta.
Now the precise origins of Mexican Tortas are unknown..or at least I couldn’t find ’em. And notice I’m saying Mexican Tortas, as the word Torta has different food meanings depending on which Spanish colony your country used to be a part of. In the Philippines, a Torta is an omelette. In Italy, Germany or France, it usually means some kind of dessert of sweet cake. At Cook’s Tortas, it usually means the meat (or non-meat) of your choice (They have vegetarian options), on good bread (the bread here felt and tasted as though it were baked in here), with Avocados, Tomatoes, Lettuce, some kind of salsa, and mayo.
I know, creamy Mayo and cream Avocado? Together? Double whammy or uber creaminess? Yeah, but it works.
Navigating the line is no problem, and you’ll have plenty of time to consider your options as Cook’s Tortas has a massive blackboard menu to your left. Step up to the counter, place your order. Choose what side you’re going to have, and have alongside what you’re going to have as Cook’s has prepared a number of fresh made salads and sides. Pick a drink (again, they have house made Aqua Frescas). Once you’re done, you get a number and find your seat.
I would say that walking in, your heart may drop as there are just no places to sit in this place, but worry not. The turnover is rather high. By the time you’ve got your number there should be at least one or two tables available for you.
As you sit, relax, maybe write up a Food Blog entry or two, you’ll notice that one of Cook’s Waitstaff will pop up periodically, and frequently, from the kitchen, shouting a number. So keep your ears open.
But after that, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy one of (if not the) best Torta in town. It’s one kitchen, doing what it does, and doing it very well. You can’t go wrong.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Well, look at the name of the place, and tell me what you’re having.
Seriously, there are Salads and other things on the menu, but if you walk out of here without having at least half of a Torta, you’re insane.
I myself went with the Carne Asada Torta, which is Grilled Skirt Steak, Avocado, Pico De Gallo, Lettuce, and Mayo…all on freshly baked bread.
How do I know freshly baked? Burn marks on the bottom, flat, no markings like it’s been on some kind of machine oven.
I hope no ones freaking out about the Mayo, and–
–oh. It’s only me?
Yeah, it’s just that the double whammy of Avocado and Mayo is like to drown you in a creamy, milky bath of texture and taste. Still, Cook’s is one of the places that has convinced me to eat Avocados, because normally I don’t like them. Let that tell you something.
Cook’s also serves Tech Fries, which are their normal Red (Sweet Potato) fries, with Grilled Onions, Mustard and Spicy Ketchup. Let me tell you, quite possibly the most intense thing I have ever eaten. Yes, I mean it’s good tasting, but it is an almost overpowering flavor. Good, but strong.
But if I were you, I’d just get the regular side of fries. You’re going to need all that room to finish off that Torta.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, POEPLE: Okay, here’s the thing. The main door, the door that you’ll instantly see as you pull up to the restaurant…is more than probably locked. Once you get inside, it’ll make sense. The line to the counter stretches the length of the restaurant, and more than likely there’s someone eating there. Just go to the other door, and wiggle on through.
Yes, some amount of wiggling will be involved.
And yes there are restrooms. (This is a question I get sometimes from certain quarters).
Oh, and remember. The sides come with the Torta no matter what. I thought I could replace the Tech Fries with the normal fries, and found out you couldn’t. No big.
PARKING: Deceptively limited. By the time I got there (admittedly, a little late for lunch), the lot was already full. I would up parking, slightly up the hill on Brightwood. I probably could have explored a bit more along Atlantic, but…I was jonesing for a Torta, so…
All the parking is free, just be aware of any posted warnings.
1944 South Atlantic Boulevard
Monterey Park, CA
Tel: (323) 278-3536
Monday-Thursday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Friday-Saturday: 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm