Tortas La Especial286 Third Ave. #AChula Vista619-422-0616
"We don't use any grease whatsoever," explains Nacho Ituarte, owner of Chula Vista restaurant Tortas La Especial. "The only thing we use is olive oil to fry the tortillas, and that's about it-nothing else. Everything is done in crock pots overnight, then we take all the grease out, then we put [the meat] in the salsas and that's how we do our tacos, our tortas-everything."
Nacho opened Tortas La Especial five years ago after leaving a career as an attorney in Mexico's maquiladora industry. Since then, he has been bringing authentic yet healthful Mexican street food to an ever-growing clientele that comes daily to wolf down his tortas, burritos, tostadas and steamed tacos-the latter rarely seen in this country.
"Nobody makes my tacos, because nobody knows how to make my tacos. It's a secret," says Nacho,with a laugh. "Actually I'll tell you," he continues. "What happens is you put a tortilla at 140 degrees [and] it disintegrates. It disintegrates and then you're going to be eating with a fork. That's not a way to eat a taco," he adds. "The health department makes you have all meat at 140 degrees no matter what."
In Mexico, he explains, tacos are kept at 90 degrees, which, if there's meat involved, can create a health hazard. "What I do is keep the meat at 140 degrees, I keep the tortillas at 90 degrees...and I make the tacos one at time. So that's the trick of being able to sell steamed tacos in the States-and that's the reason why nobody sells them, because nobody knows that."
Unlike a fried taco, the steamed taco tortilla is soft, wrapped around tender meat, lettuce, tomato and Mexican cheese. The shrimp tacos are hands down the best, filled with sizeable, well-seasoned shrimp, and well worth the $1.50 price.
While the steamed tacos are excellent, the tortas that give Tortas La Especial its name are the star of the show, owing largely to the incredible bread used to make them. Dense and crusty, with a wonderfully chewy quality, these rolls are about as far from standard taco-shop bolillos as you can get. Upon this base, the tortas are constructed from tender meats, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and queso fresco-all fresh, and a bargain at five bucks.
"I start at 8 o'clock in the morning," explains Nacho. "I buy things just in time, so that way we have things fresh every day. The bread, we cook it at night so in the morning it's all ready." The end result is tortas unlike anything served at those eateries ending in -erto's. Tortas La Especial's motto promises "The best tortas on this side of the border, and probably the other side too."
Two particular tortas standouts are the Lomo en Chipotle and the Au Jus. The former is roast beef simmered in authentic Mexican chipotle sauce. As Nacho puts it, "The chipotle sauce is very popular in Mexico, but not so much in the States until Jack-in-the-Box and all those stores started digging it up-but it's not even close to what real chipotle is. So I decided to service my country people....You know, people miss the chipotle."
While the Lomo en Chipotle is bold and spicy, the Au Jus is subtle with tender seasoned stewed beef that puts other beef au jus sandwiches to shame. Other choices include turkey, tuna, vegetarian and even bologna. Explains Nacho, "Bologna sandwiches in Mexico are very popular-bologna tortas. Just bologna. Here I put different stuff because it will make it more complete as a torta. We put turkey, ham, and cheese. A torta has to be a whole meal by itself. You don't want to eat anything else."
While one of Nacho's tortas ought to be enough of a meal for anyone, true gourmands should consider starting with one of the ceviche tostadas-a crisp corn tortilla drizzled with crema, covered in fresh ceviche and topped with fresh avocado slices. Equally good, though heavy, is the chicken mole tostada, loaded with tender chicken simmered in Nacho's homemade sauce. "The mole is a special kind of chile which is called pasilla chile," he says. "Then we grind it, we put peanut butter, we put peanut oil, we put chocolate, then we mix it." Yum.Next time you're craving authentic Mexican street food, do your heart (and pocketbook) a favor and hit up Tortas La Especial-all the flavor of Tijuana street food with none of the health concerns.