Cook’s Tortas: Elevating Gourmet Mexican Sandwiches in SGV

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Restaurant Sign Los Angeles

Captain Cook called the Hawaiian islands the Sandwich Islands, but the name didn't stick.

L.A. native Ricardo Diaz opened this Mexican sandwich shop at the end of February with in-laws Elvira and Antonio Zamora. He jokingly said the goal with Elvira was “to get her out of the house and put her to work.” Diaz owns a ten-year-old seafood restaurant down the street called Dorados, specializing in fish tacos and ceviche, but his focus is clearly on Cook’s Tortas. According to Diaz, Cook’s Tortas is named for two reasons: Captain Cook founded the Sandwich Isles and was funded by the Earl of Sandwich, known for creating the first sandwich. Also, after a long night in the kitchen, cooks have a tradition of making sandwiches.

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The space features lime green walls, twin deli cases, checkerboard tile floors, and plenty of natural light. To get a taste of Diaz’s sense of humor, refer to the framed painting of a monkey in a dress. Order at the counter.

Bread Los Angeles

Cook’s Tortas keeps decorative bread baskets behind the counter.

Diaz pointed to one misshapen roll and said, “That’s our fertility doll. We keep throwing leftover dough in the oven to see if we get the Virgin Mary, but so far we just keep getting pagan symbols.”

Zamora bakes fresh bread and pastries daily. Diaz’s brother in law was head baker at Bouchon in Yountville, working for Thomas Keller. He came down to Monterey Park to help formulate a slightly sour ciabatta. The starter is from Bouchon, which they’ve been refreshing for eight years.

Diaz is a culinary historian. He said a San Francisco bakery has a sourdough starter that’s 108 years old, and there’s one in Egypt that’s been cultivated for 2000 years. Diaz said, “If you compare the breads, a starter cultivated in Napa is different from one in Monterey Park. In Napa, you might have mustard.”

Diaz has built a book of 500 torta recipes, each assigned a different number. All options appear in chalk on a huge blackboard. His favorite torta is #96 – Beef Tongue. I was also tempted by #151 – Mojito – roasted pork, garlic mojo and slow cooked onions – and #10 – Ahogada – slow cooked pork, spicy double dip, escabeche and extra napkins. There was even a sweet option, #71 – Fruity – mango, apples, orange, cream cheese and honey – but I was going savory all the way.

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After deliberating, I opted for #25 – Bacalao ($6.45, with a small side). The 10-inch sourdough ciabatta was just out of the oven and tasted terrific loaded with a skillet full of potato chunks, red onions, garlic, peppers, green Spanish olives and parsley, all braised in olive oil. Diaz said it’s his mother-in-law’s recipe, a Christmas dish that requires de-salting Nova Scotia cod for two days and 6-8 hours of stovetop braising.

Interesting Cook’s Tortas sides include red fries (sweet potato fries dusted with shichimi togarashi), watermelon pickles and this grated carrot salad, sweet from raisins, green apples and cinnamon.

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Ms. Zamora’s moist buttered biscuit with apple-loquat marmalade proved irresistible.

Cook’s Tortas also offered house-made strawberry-orange and pear marmalades. The orange butter cookie, dusted with sugar granules, was a bit too dry.

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Diaz also offers Great Great Grandmother’s Corn Cake, a dense cross between cornbread and corn pudding.

Pig Mural Los Angeles

Diaz said his niece’s pig doll inspired him to illustrate his feelings about the animal’s rightful place.

Sandwich Los Angeles

I returned to drowned my palate in #10: Ahogada, slow cooked pork carnitas in “spicy double dip” a la Jalisco with escabeche and “X-tra napkins.”

Sandwich Los Angeles

#96: Lengua, was tamer with beef tongue, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo and jalapeño. Such a bargain for $6.45 including a small side.

Side Dishes Los Angeles

For sides, I ordered macaroni Primavera and watermelon pickles.

It was also tempting to order #1: Chef’s Special. “You’re at my mercy,” and it read “Hint: Bacon, Egg, Avocado.”

Cook’s Tortas agua fresca roster transcends the typical jugged triumvirate: horchata, tamarindo and Jamaica.

As for the future, Diaz plans to open a second Dorados, on the corner of Main & Garfield in Alhambra. He also plans to expand the hours at Cook’s Tortas, once he can find more cooks. I’m looking forward to eating my way through Diaz’s recipe book.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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