Torta Ahogada at La Tapatia

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Here’s the moral of the story, right up front: Always try the sauce. Whenever you sample a new food, make sure you get the sauce involved; you might otherwise miss a vital chunk of the experience.

Roseville’s newly opened La Tapatia takeout counter has an extremely short menu, a commendable virtue. Customers can choose from tacos ($5.75 for two), burritos ($8), nachos ($9), or quesadillas ($8) topped with one of ten meats including asada, pollo, cabeza, lengua, tripa, fried cod, carnitas, chorizo, al pastor, or ground beef.

And then there’s the featured entree, the top of the menu, and the heart of the restaurant: the Torta Ahogada ($10) a Guadalajaran specialty that is, roughly speaking, a submarine sandwich served with a mildly spicy tomato sauce.

By itself, the sandwich is fairly bland. It’s a mix of avocado slices, shredded pork, onions, and refried beans on chewy bread. But once it has been liberally dosed up with the accompanying medium hot salsa and dunked, bite-by-bite, in earthy, spiced tomato sauce, it comes alive. The mellow, soothing flavors of the meat, beans, and avocado are boosted by the depth of the tomato sauce and the fire of the salsa, and the bread is robust enough to hold together what might otherwise be a messy dining prospect.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

La Tapatia’s tacos are solid, classic renditions of the form. They’re not so good that you need to divert from Lake Street or Central Avenue to order them, but not a bad choice if you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood. But the Torta Ahogada is something special. The only thing we’ve seen close to it is the Pambazo at Los Portales (above). The Pambazo was potato-focused and more soothing in cold weather, but the Torta Ahogada has the advantage of being dippable bite-by-bite instead of arriving pre-soaked.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

If you head out to La Tapatia, keep your eye on the addresses. There’s no external sign for the restaurant. There’s a massive statue of a gold eagle on top of the tiny strip mall that holds La Tapatia, and that should help you get there. (The gold eagle helps identify the location of a laundromat called — wait for it — Gold Eagle.)

The La Tapatia takeout shop functions as the kitchen for the El Tapatio food truck, and it’s not equipped for in-house dining; be prepared to take your food with you and eat elsewhere.

La Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave W, St. Paul, MN, 651.253.6175

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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  1. Ed Bast 01/10/2018 Reply

    Thanks for the heads up on this new restaurant. I was in Guadalajara recently and tortas ahogadas stands are ubiquitous. Generally they are served with the sauce poured over the sandwich – torta ahogada means “drowned sandwich”. So it’s messy but delicious. The key is the bread – almost like a Vietnamese baguette, sturdy enough to hold up to the sauce but still chewy on the inside. This bread (I forget the name) is supposedly only made in Guadalajara…anyway I’m excited to try this place out.

  2. Michael 01/10/2018 Reply

    There’s a torta ahogada on the menu at La Costa in the West Side of St. Paul that’s very good – I’d love to see a write up of that place to see how the two compare!

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