Smile Politely

A torta tour of Champaign-Urbana

My fellow eaters, if you have never tried a torta, I implore you to go out right now and get one. For those who don’t know what a torta is, a torta is a Latin-American sandwich served on a big roll, filled with your choice of meat and usually topped with beans, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and jalapeños. 

Where should you go for a torta? I went to five different restaurants in Champaign-Urbana to try out their take on the Latin-American classic. All the tortas I ate in this list were delicious, and I can honestly tell you that you can’t go wrong with any of the five locations.

A steak torta with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream with a small plastic side cup of red salsa is in a tin foil lined takeout container. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Mo’s Burritos

My first stop on my torta tour was the Mo’s Burritos truck in a parking lot on the southeast corner of Bradley and Prospect Avenue. I’ve been to the Mo’s truck many times, and they always deliver with delicious food. There’s nothing quite like ordering food at a taco truck in a parking lot. There’s something sacred about waiting in the beating sun while three people are working synchronously in an incredibly small kitchen to give you some of the good food.

I ordered a steak torta with everything on it. That included a smear of refried beans, a thick slice of tomato, slices of onion, a crisp piece of iceberg lettuce, slices of pickled jalapeños, and mayo. The sandwich itself was amazing. The steak was unctuous and seasoned to perfection. The contrast between the chewy steak, soft bread, and crunchy vegetables was outstanding. The flavor of the onion came through nicely and paired very well with the beef. The sandwich also comes with two salsas: a spicy red salsa and an avocado-based salsa verde. Both salsas are egregiously tasty on the torta. This is a big sandwich, but is a great meal for either lunch or dinner.

Mo’s Burrito Truck
1104 North Prospect Ave
10 a.m. to midnight, daily

A steak torta sliced in half with a side cup of red salsa and a side cup of green salsa are in a tin-foiled lined white styrofoam takeout container. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Los Hidalguense

The Los Hidalguense taco truck is a new truck in Champaign. Located in the Hunters Haven parking lot, the truck offers a variety of different Mexican options including — you guessed it — the torta. I ordered a carne asada (steak) torta with everything on it. This torta had all of the same toppings as the one from Mo’s; however, the tomatoes and onion were diced into cubes instead of sliced, and the lettuce was shredded instead of in a single piece. The steak on this torta had a nice charred taste which I very much enjoyed. The part that really impressed me about this torta was the cheese. The cheese appeared to have been put on the plancha and grilled with the top bun to melt together, creating another level of flavor and textural contrast. This torta also came with two salsas: a spicy and smoky red salsa and a tangier tomatillo-based salsa verde.

Los Hidalguense Taco Truck
1040 W. Bloomington Road
11 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily

A steak torta on a ciabatta-like bun from Fiesta Cafe sits on white parchment paper in a to go container. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Fiesta Cafe

My third destination on my torta-eating journey led me to Fiesta Cafe. While I have eaten many times at Fiesta, I had never tried their torta. To keep consistency, I ordered a steak torta with everything on it. The torta came out topped with sour cream, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and onion, and a healthy amount of avocado and refried beans. I should also mention that the steak was sliced into longer strips rather than diced into smaller pieces. This sandwich was also noticeably smaller than the other tortas that I had eaten. The bun was firmer and more ciabatta-like than other tortas I ate, and the sandwich had a creamier texture due to the avocado and beans. On the plus side, the sandwich also came with a bag of chips and a container of salsa that was large enough to feed at least two people.

Fiesta Café
216 S. First Street
11 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily

A large steak torta from Maize Mexican Grill is overflowing with steak and lettuce on a sheet of tin foil. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Maize at the Station

Maize has been a staple for me for as long as I can remember. Their tacos are extraordinary, their sopes are amazing, and their nachos will fill you up for a week. But what about their tortas? I ordered a steak torta with everything on it to find out. At first glance, this sandwich is a behemoth. Chopped steak, sour cream, cheese, avocado, diced tomato, and refried beans were enveloped by a big, soft bun. This was the cheesiest torta that I encountered, and the steak was seasoned really well. Similar to the torta at Fiesta, this sandwich does not come with jalapeños, so if you do not like spicy foods, this one is a good option for you. The sandwich also came with a bag of chips, and two different salsas: a more traditional roasted red salsa, and a spicier yellow salsa that I loved on top of my torta.

Maize at the Station
100 N. Chestnut Street
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A steak torta on a French style baguette from Huaraches Moroleon sits in a white styrofoam container with a side of french fries, a packet of ketchup, and a small cup of red salsa. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Huaraches Moroleon

On my final stop, I headed to Huaraches Moroleon in Urbana. Again, I ordered a steak torta with everything on it, and much to my surprise, the torta came out with a bag of chips and a side of fries. You also have the choice of mild, medium, or hot salsas. I chose the hot salsa which was dark and roasted — and fairly spicy. The torta itself was topped with cheese, refried beans, diced onion and tomato, a few pickled jalapeños, some mayo, and a heap of thinly sliced steak. The bun was also different from the other four restaurants; it was like an oversized, soft French baguette. The slightly firmer bun allowed for more textural contrast between the crunch of the lettuce and onion and the chew of the steak. Every once in awhile I would bite into a salty and spicy pickled jalapeño, which was pretty delightful. This was also the meatiest sandwich I ate out of the five restaurants, and the meat was well seasoned and great on the sandwich.

Huaraches Moroleon
805 Philo Road
M-F 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa+Su 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Top image by Anthony Erlinger.

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