America is a great country for sandwiches, there’s no doubt about it. But sometimes I get the sense that our neighbors to the south have been quietly outdoing us at the sandwich game. Take Mexico’s torta ahogada or the pambazo, for example. Those sandwiches are both stuffed to the gills before being dunked in fiery salsas that could scare the pants off your average gravy-soaked French dip or Chicago beef. Or the cemita—upon first glance it looks like a close relative of the hamburger roll. But once you bite into it, you realize that this isn’t just another squishy bun: its got that crackly crust with a delectably tender and soft inside, perfect for holding any number of flavorful fillings con todo.
Mexico’s sandwiches have their roots in the bread baking traditions brought over during the short-lived French colonial period, from which dozens of different types of sandwiches and sandwich breads arose. Tortas, made on oblong telera or bolillo rolls, and hamburger bun-like cemitas are the two most well-known, although you can find sandwiches of myriad shapes and sizes throughout the country. One thing that they all have in common is that they tend to be intricately layered affairs, featuring big ingredients with big flavors. In fact, if you wanted to explore the belly-filling excesses of Mexican cuisine, its sandwiches are a pretty good place to start.
And while nothing beats a fully-loaded creation made by a streetside vendor with impeccable technique, a little ingenuity can lead you to perfectly passable Mexican-style tortas, cemitas, and more at home. These nine recipes will have you layering and stacking your way to sloppy, overstuffed, and unashamedly indulgent sandwich bliss.
1. Mexican Fried Egg Breakfast Torta
When’s the last time you started your morning with a sandwich that’s taller than it is wide and stuffed with oozy layers of fried egg, refried beans, and cheese? Treat yourself to this extravagant breakfast creation that will fill you up until lunchtime rolls around and you’re ready for your next torta of the day. Get our Mexican Fried Egg Breakfast Torta recipe.
2. Mexican Torta with Rajas and Jack Cheese
Between its two pieces of bread, this sandwich packs in some serious greens. Roasted poblanos, tomatillo salsa, avocado, lettuce, and cilantro not only make it (at least somewhat) healthful, they also provide an intriguing mix of contrasting flavors and textures. Get our Mexican Torta with Rajas and Jack Cheese recipe.
3. Grilled Tofu Torta
Tofu may not be the most traditional torta filling, but it soaks up the flavors of Mexican-style hot sauce as well as any meat. Pickled jalapeños, crumbly cotija cheese, and mashed black beans join in here to keep things hale and hearty. Get our Grilled Tofu Torta recipe.
4. Mexican Torta with Fried Zucchini
Even amidst all the other ingredients, it’s hard to miss the slices of fried, panko-coated zucchini in this sandwich, which add a satisfying layer of crunch. Get our Mexican Torta with Fried Zucchini recipe.
5. Torta Ahogada
The torta ahogada, a Guadalajaran specialty, is not for novices or the heat-adverse. Smothered in a fiery arbol chile sauce, each bite gushes with prickly, astringent heat. Get the recipe here.
6. Cemita Poblana with Pork Milanesa
From the outside, it may look like a fairly standard pork cutlet sandwich, but tucking into this cemita reveals its intermingling layers of smoky chipotle, pickled veggies, and cheese. Get the recipe here.
7. Cemita Burger With Refried Beans, Chipotle Mayo, Avocado, and Oaxacan Cheese
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? This sandwich is what happens when the hamburger says adios to the U.S.A. and makes an expat life inside a Pueblan-style cemita, sky-high toppings and all. Get the recipe here.
Pambazos are an everything-and-the-kitchen sink sort of sandwich, with chorizo, potatoes, and a laundry list of other fillings that shouldn’t belong between two pieces of bread, but totally do. Speaking of the bread, it’s dunked in a guajillo chile sauce to take things really over the heat-blasting top. Get the recipe here.
9. Marinated Grilled Chicken Pepitos
The pepito is a variant on the torta that’s unique to Mexico City. It’s usually centered around the pairing of avocado and meat—often shredded, marinated beef, although this recipe lightens it up with thin slices of chicken. Get the recipe here.
Header image: Mexican Veggie Torta with Rajas from Chowhound
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.