Food-truck fare is about as foreign to my diet as leafy greens—mainly, because I’m ideologically opposed to driving to a mobile café, only to grub standing up, or perched at an electrical box, for a meal priced the same as an eatery with a storefront, seats, table-top napkins and a John. The roach coach’s purpose has largely been hijacked by a new, cool generation of food-truck owners who aren’t in the business of catering to customers looking for a quick, cheap bite in an area devoid of food choices. Instead, Salmon Ella’s Fish Truck tweets its location, and you have to go there. Bah!
But there are trucks that were around before the Food Network deemed it a hot trend, and El Gallito Tortas Ahogadas (1008 Industrial Blvd. in Chula Vista) is one of ’em. I’ll happily drive south for one of its authentic Guadalajaran sandwiches, because they’re better than any version I’ve had from a real restaurant. Plus, there are picnic tables.
There are two “drowned” sandwiches to choose from; the namesake is covered with a bright tomato sauce that gets its heat from chile de arbol, and the other, Famoso Lonche “Gemma” ($7), is doused with a creamier sauce that’s smoky with chipotle peppers. The latter also gets ribbons of mayo squirted across it, as if it’s not rich enough.
If you order the original torta ($7), you’ll be asked whether you want it mild, medium or hot. The medium nearly melted my face off, and I like it hot, so consider yourself warned.
The tortas are prepared fast—while you’re still standing at the order window—and they come on a plate that’s covered with a plastic bag. When you’re done, simply peel the messy plastic right into the trash can. Feel free to lift this idea from El Gallito and never do dishes at home again.
Shredded pork loin fills a distinctive bollilo roll—crusty with a slight toughness to its exterior and a salty, chewy center that gets a slathering of refried beans. It’s the ideal bread to drown in sauce, although it’s better if you come famished and ready to chow, because the second half will get soggy if you don’t dive right in and finish within 10 minutes. Needless to say, don’t even think about take-out.
If Phil’s BBQ does one thing right, it’s the signature table-top roll of paper towels. This would be a welcome touch at El Gallito, where you get just one sheet that, by the meal’s end, is as saucy as the torta you just ate. Pro tip: Bring your own wet wipes.
Typically in America, if something’s served wet, it’s to be eaten with a fork and knife. Here, the torta comes with a fork and spoon; you should pick the sandwich up, lick your hands between gasps of air and then spoon the remaining, fiery sauce and stray pieces of meat into your mouth. Oh, and don’t forget to say “si” when asked if you’d like onions; they’re flavorfully marinated, full of oregano and complement the spicy torta to a tee.