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Restaurants & Bars 6

Rica's Cubana Torta: The Mexican Dagwood of 116th Street

Polecat | Mar 23, 200803:39 PM

The truck is on the middle of the block, north side of the street, between Lexington and 3rd, one of those shiny metal jobs, one sign to the left of the serving window saying Rica's Tortas, another to right which reads Rico's Tacos. They're both right. No Rica in sight, though. Instead, three guys inside the truck throwing things on the grill, adding condiments, toasting big loaves of bread, stacking fried items on top of each other. Perhaps one of them is Rica, but they were all big guys, so I didn't ask. Rule of thumb with big fry cooks: don't ask them if their name is Rica. I had originally had my heart set on the Taco De Barbacoa, which looked pretty good, until I peeked inside the truck and saw one of the three guys not named Rica placing what looked like a cross between fried pork and a manta ray on top of a small toasty hero-type bread, the insides of which had been slathered with a black mystery spread. On top of the pork, he proceeded to stack a succession of deliriously fatty items on top of each other, so many and so fast it was like an Indy 500 greasebomb pileup; I couldn't keep up, but, by my count and recollection, I picked a thinner slice of pork, a slice of dominican style cheese (the type that are fried up and served up with Dominican style breakfasts), what I could have sworn was guacamole spread, a couple of halved fried pink sausages, and two fried eggs out of the lineup. I then noticed the guy preparing another one of these things, another, and still another - it seemed to be what everyone else was ordering. The barbacoa would have to wait; I ponied up to the window, ordered my Cubana Torta, took a deep breath, preparing for an all out onslaught on my heart, arteries, stomach wall and cholesterol level. Figuring I was damning myself to an early death anyway, I told the guys to lay on the works, and added one of their sweet home-made lime drinks to my order. The non-Rita guys went to work with a swift economy of motion, precision and effort, and, within ten or so minutes, I got my sandwich. It was a good sandwich after one bite, a damn good sandwich after two, all bets off thereafter. The ingredient that I'd missed in my previous lineup count were various peppers, which added a decisive kick and just a tad of sweetness the pile of saltier stuff below. I'd analyze this thing more but what's the point? It's food for the soul; perouse the contents above and you have a pretty good idea whether it's up your alley or not. Suffice to say I haven't been this happy with street food since my last trip to the Red Hook Soccer Fields. Something that's not so surprising about this sandwich: it falls apart very easily before you're halfway done with it, the toasty bread admittedly no match for the tons of fun sandwiched within. I could be wrong, but I think this is part of the point; you're not looking to score points for neatness here. Ask for extra napkins. Something that is surprising about this sandwich: not nearly as greasy as I had imagined. As I proceeded to walk some 70 blocks downtown afterwards - so as to burn off about 1/200th of this thing - I noted no stomach upset. Having planned, in advance, to hail an ambulance by, say, 96th or so, I was surprisingly grumble-free and okay. Strange but true. That said, I could very well have imagined it all. Sleep deprivation will do that to you. Recommendation: have some antacids handy. Not too many. Your basic Costco value pack should do. Another thing about this Cubana Torta: at 6 bucks plus whatever you plan to toss into the tip cup, it will still run you less than what you'll pay for the same sandwich at various nearby restaurants and Tacquerias. Which is great, as you'll still have some change left over for, say, comparable eats at Per Se, Daniel, or a cookout at an oil drum fire. In all, I hope to compliment Rita someday on her Cubana Torta. Mental note: try the Barbacoa taco next time, and place bets as to which of the three guys is Rico. The lime drink wasn't bad either. Chow, P.

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