"This is the only trick: always use the same hand to eat the torta and don't clean it [between bites]; that way you'll have one clean hand for your beverage," the chef warned.
In other words, get ready to get messy.
Mexico native Jorge Rojo is a graduate of the St. Philips Culinary Arts program. Along with his wife and other relatives, Rojo owns and runs Ro-Ho Pork & Bread, a quasi-independent operation housed within the Sanitary Tortilla facility on the near West Side.
Recognizing me as a torta first-timer, Rojo felt obligated to delve into a little cultural history of the torta ahogada, his primary product. In Guadalajara, where it's an institution, the sandwich starts with the birote salado, a sturdy, crusty roll that's split, then stuffed with carnitas, dunked into a chile de arbol sauce, then "drowned" with a generous ladle of a mild but deftly seasoned tomato sauce.
Rojo has made some adjustments for an audience that doesn't assume the torta ($7) as a birthright. The chile sauce, for example, is not automatic — the diner can, and should, add it from squeeze bottles on the counters that ring much of the friendly, light-filled space. If the idea of drowning doesn't sound appealing to you, you could ask Rojo to cut the sandwich in half across its equator and stand the halves upright in the salsa puddle, like a couple of aggressive islands.
But I don't recommend going that route. There's something about getting down with a dish that Rojo says "starts out like a sandwich but finishes almost like a soup."
Rojo makes the impressive birotes, the carnitas and the salsas; on weekends, barbacoa from Sanitary also makes an appearance as an optional stuffing. But with this limited palette, he has conjured up several variations on a porky theme. There's a taco dorado, for example, that takes a folded and fried corn tortilla and tops it with carnitas and sauce. Another option offers shredded cabbage for crunch, with the layered soft taco akin to tacos sudados (sweated) sold from cloth-draped baskets on Mexican street corners.
Texturally between the extremes are the Chila-Killers, corn chips topped with tomato sauce (carnitas are an add-on option), showered with freshly grated parmesan and served with a wedge of lime. "We put lime on everything," mused Rojo — good idea that you do the same. An agua fresca is also counseled.
Roho's creativity isn't limited to la cocina, however. He built out the space himself, painted the three-pigs mural on one wall and created a sophisticated folk-art-like piece that hangs on another. Repeat visits may be required to see how all this evolves over time. Like the torta, it might start as one thing but end up as something else altogether.
Ro-Ho Pork & Bread
623 Urban Loop, (210) 800-3487, ro-hoporkandbread.com, 11am-4pm Tues-Sun