The one restaurant in Downey everybody knows is the Nordic Fox. The one restaurant everybody knows in South Gate is... wait, nobody knows any restaurants in South Gate. Nobody mentions Streit's German Bakery (GOD, THE RYE BREAD!)... and nobody ever mentions La Chiva Loca.
La Chiva Loca is a little shoebox that serves one of the unheralded glories of Mexican fast food -- the torta ahogada, or "drowned sandwich". The torta ahogada is to a regular torta what a French-dipped sandwich is to a regular sandwich, except that instead of au jus, it's chile sauce.
The menu is simple -- carne asada, carnitas or panela cheese, as the aforementioned torta ahogada, as tacos, or as a tostada. The meat is cooked in this insanely delectable red chile sauce and so the sandwich is a bolillo roll split open, piled with the meat and enough of the sauce to make eating it a definite boon to your dry cleaner -- hence, "drowned sandwich".
They serve everything in the little "woven" plastic food service baskets tucked inside oversize sandwich bags, basically, so that they don't have sauce running down onto the floor every five seconds. Lean over the basket or you'll have juice all over yourself in two seconds flat.
There are bottles of even more sauce (one green, one red) on each table, and a little bowl of limes (real limes, not green lemons), and a packet of napkins. Do your successive diners a favour and take the napkins BEFORE you start eating.
The sandwiches are great. I mean, just a little greasy, hot, soft bread, fiery chile. Buy a sugary drink (the ubiquitous horchata, Jarritos, etc.) to cool the fire if you're not used to it. The carnitas are better than the carne asada, and the panela is... well, imagine grilled cheese and red chile sauce and you've got the idea.
Prices are low -- it's a sandwich. $6 for a sandwich that dribbles down your chin like the original inspiration for the old Carl's Jr. commercials.
The original is on Firestone Blvd. in Downey, with sister restaurants on East 3rd in LA and the largest of the three on Imperial and Garfield in South Gate. I'm having trouble with the Add A Place, so the third location is 5805 Imperial Hwy, South Gate, just east of the 710.
Then, because your mouth will be tingling, head east on Imperial Highway and stock up on strudel at Streit's on your way back to the 605 or the 5.
La Chiva Loca
7952 Firestone Blvd, Downey, CA 90241
La Chiva Loca
4555 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90022