Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Tortas El Tunero
Torta El Tunero $5.65
Individual taco $1.35
Huaraches $5.25
Pork green stew $5.99
Pozole $5.59
Sandwich in Spanish

You’d be amazed at what Tortas El Tunero can do with some meat and bread.


Tortas El Tunero

1544 Ellis Av, FW. 817-625-6324. Sun-Thu 8am-10pm, Fri-Sat 8am-11pm. MC, V.

If the menu of street food (also called antojitos) offered at Tortas El Tunero represents Mexican food, then Mexico City should be the food capital of the Americas. Tortas El Tunero serves portable delicacies — tortas, or sandwiches, bursting with meat; hearty tacos; refreshing fresh-fruit drinks (jugos); and stews with golf-ball-sized chunks of roast pork — that are authentically Mexican.

Imagine the sandwich of your dreams. It’s probably on a roll that’s hearty but not doughy or thick. This piece of heaven would also perhaps be loaded with meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Add one traditionally Mexican ingredient to this classic — slices of ripe avocado — and you have a torta.

Tortas El Tunero’s special was more than a handful, with roasted pork, grilled ham, melted yellow American cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and avocado all stacked together. The sandwich was almost four inches thick in the middle and was so filling that it sent this person directly from lunch to siesta. And although tortas require a good roll, like the bolillos used by Tortas El Tunero, they’re nothing without good meat. For the special, Tortas El Tunero used two ice-cream-scoop-sized mounds of blissfully moist shredded roast pork. To say that this is the best sandwich in the universe may be a bit of a stretch — but not much.

El Tunero is the name of a cactus as well as the nickname for the people who hail from the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. The restaurant, according to owner Oscar Rodriguez, serves “100 percent Mexican food” — meat stews, steaks, pozole, and menudo (the last two on weekends only), jugos, burritos, tacos, tortas, and huaraches — oblong cornmeal patties named for the sandals favored by visitors to Cancún and by country people south of the border.

Huaraches at Tortas El Tunero are damned near 11 inches long, 5 inches wide, and loaded. They’re spread with refried beans, then topped with shredded lettuce, meat, Mexican cream (like sour cream), crumbles of white cheese, and slices of avocado. My guest and I tried one with barbacoa (slow-cooked beef cheek), and we were overwhelmed. Barbacoa is a strong-flavored meat, like liver (but dissimilar in taste), that when combined with cheese, cream, and avocado becomes almost too rich to finish (even though you’ll likely love every bite). The bottom line: Order the huarache but with a less aggressively flavored meat, like pork or chopped beef.

Tacos are purely Mexican, not the overstuffed Tex-Mex version served in flour tortillas. At Tortas El Tunero, small, 4-inch tortillas are topped with meat and a generous amount of cilantro and raw onion. We tried pastor (chile-seasoned roast pork), lengue (tongue), and carnitas (roast pork). Grilled onion and jalapeño accompanied the plate.

The pastor was moist and tasted like pork tenderloin spiked with hot sauce. The lengue was a bit bland, as if unseasoned, but came to life with a shot of the dried pepper flake condiment on the table. The roast pork was, simply, perfection.

All the pork dishes, in fact, were magnificent. The pork green stew, full of fist-sized balls of lean roast pork in a tomatillo and green chile pepper sauce, was tart and spicy and elevated the already wonderful pork to new heights by wrapping the savory meat in a slightly sour flavor.

The pozole (hominy stew), although somewhat fattier than the green stew, was also flawless. Lean pork shoulder is cooked in chicken stock, with onions, jalapeño, and a seasoning mix made from achiote (also called annatto), which is composed of the musky-flavored seeds of the annatto tree combined with garlic, oregano, and salt. The spice gives pozole a satisfying richness, even though the stock is thin, about the consistency of canned chicken stock. The pozole was served with tostadas (hard, flat tortillas), shredded lettuce, chopped radish, and onion. It’s a classic meal of a soup that deserves a place in the Soup Hall of Fame alongside chicken noodle and pho (Vietnamese noodle soup).

We washed everything down with delightful jugos — pale green melon juice, lightly sweetened orange juice, and real lemonade.

Open for a year, Rodriguez’ Tortas El Tunero is wildly popular, especially at lunchtime and on weekends. So much so that Rodriguez is considering opening a second location closer to downtown. With food this good, Tortas El Tunero can take over the entire city, for all we care.

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