Drowned sandwiches from this week’s District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
These are the wet weeks of the California winter, a time in the state’s single season when morning mist gathers on your hair like dew on grass and when even the driest roads can suddenly become rain-slicked crash courses. Within this short window of weather, appetites actually shift as we turn to steaming soups for some solace during these waterlogged times. But bisques and stews won’t sustain you alone. Thankfully, Downey’s La Chiva Loca is dedicated to the torta ahogada, a sandwich that provides a completely different way to get warm.
La Chiva Loca is about as big as a taco truck—the place probably considers 10 diners something of a crush. Inside, the restaurant doubles as a den for fans of Guadalajara’s Chivas soccer team (thus the name). The walls are completely covered in all sorts of ephemera—posters, stuffed goat mascots and just about everything short of a giant foam finger.
The menu, meanwhile, is similar in stature to the dining room. It’s divided into two primary (if sparsely populated) categories: tacos and tortas. But if there’s any steadfast rule in eating out, it’s to try the food the restaurant takes the time to advertise on its signs. (Or, in this case, the building itself.) And since La Chiva Loca’s dedication to the torta ahogada is plenty visible from Firestone Boulevard (there’s also a second branch mere miles away in South Gate), there shouldn’t be any question as to what to order.
Some restaurants serve timid versions of the Guadalajaran sandwich, their bolillos barely coated in the customary chile de árbol sauce. But at La Chiva Loca, the sandwiches aren’t so much French dipped as they are actually drowned. As soon as you see one, you know La Chiva Loca’s tortas are serious—they arrive almost floating in thatched baskets that are ahogada-proofed with a plastic liner to keep your hands, and your pants, relatively clean.
Carnitas is the classic sandwich filling and, not surprisingly, it’s the best choice at La Chiva Loca. The pork here is as good as any, tender hunks trying their best to do more than simply tread the torta ahogada’s spicy pool. That bath is a little on the beefy side, but there’s a bottle of chile de árbol readily available should you want to adjust the heat to a more proper level.
La Chiva Loca also prepares a carne asada torta ahogada that unfortunately isn’t nearly as good—the finely spiced flavor of the carne asada completely sinks when pushed into the chile de árbol. But the restaurant also cooks up a third and eminently more interesting panela cheese torta ahogada. Panela is resilient enough to undergo a grilling, but it’s still a relatively soft cheese, one that adds a creamy component to the usually meat-heavy torta ahogada. It’s also not an ingredient you’ll often find in an ahogada. Given certain palate preferences, the panela torta might even recall another rainy day classic: grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Tacos take on similar tastes at La Chiva Loca. Carnitas and carne asada are expectedly de rigueur, though there’s also a nice panela taco should you want a few pieces of the cheese untouched by the chile de árbol. Sodas are the drink of choice here, with options including Mexican Coke, imported Pepsi and the usual rainbow display of Jarritos. But if you visit on one of the few cool days ahead, you won’t be looking for a soda to extinguish La Chiva Loca’s heat—you’ll want to savor that whole-body burn.
LA CHIVA LOCA 7952 FIRESTONE BLVD | DOWNEY 90241 | 562.622.1969 | OPEN MON-THURS 10AM-9PM | FRI-SUN 10AM-11PM | FOOD FOR TWO $10-20