They say the full name of the place is Tortas Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito. Not exactly the kind of moniker you can fit on a marquee. Maybe that's why the signs in the windows of this corner space on Virginia Avenue simply proclaim "Las Tortas," which is the Mexican way of saying "sandwiches." In this case, though, the translation, while not a total loss, comes off as being downright diminutive.
The only thing small about TGDC is the room. On the Friday we stopped by for an early lunch, the place, which has just enough room to cram in a half dozen tables, was standing room only. It was packed with folks perusing the double-sided menu, with more showing up on the sidewalk outside. This created a good-natured strain on the room's overmatched feng shui, not to mention the necessarily small team in charge of making the magic happen – one man, owner Felipe Zarco, in the kitchen along with two unfailingly cordial servers snaking their way through the crowd, including Felipe's wife, Laura. It felt a little like that Marx Brothers bit where they stuff a cabin on an ocean liner with a party fit for an embassy ball.
We were lucky enough to score a table, a good thing because it takes two hands (and plenty of napkins) to manage one of these creations. The foundation is provided by freshly baked telera bread, a light, slightly flaky bun with a hint of honey that measures six inches across, but, when stuffed, seems like it could pass for a delicious shuffleboard puck. This is then packed with a variety of meats, like smoked pork, chorizo sausage, breaded steak, turkey, chicken breast and wieners, as well as cheeses and veggies, including guacamole.
TGDC offers a variety of tortas named for Mexican celebrities, "Las Tortas Famosas de los Artistas." We tried the Luis Miguel ($5.50), a combination of smoked pork, chorizo sausage and mozzarella cheese and the Enrique Iglesias ($5.50), consisting of smoked pork, a wiener split down the middle and, again, mozzarella cheese. Then, because we couldn't resist a challenge, we ordered TGDC's piece de resistance, the Cubano ($7.50), a bigger than life amalgamation of smoked pork, ham, breaded steak, eggs, turkey, sausage, wiener, American cheese, mozzarella, white cheese and, yes! pineapple.
The Luis Miguel and the Enrique Iglesias were, simply put, fabulous. I particularly liked the way the chopped chorizo sausage played off the smoked pork in the former. And when I added a spoonful of the table condiment, a brew of hot pickled chili peppers and carrots, the blend of meats, veg and that pillow-like bread was practically hallucinogenic.
As for the Cubano, it was a voluptuary's dream come true. Sliced down the middle, it resembled the cutaway view of an exotic geological discovery, a cavern of edible delights. Barely manageable, every bite seemed laden with a different constellation of flavors and textures. Was it too much? Yes. Was this a problem? No. It was a meal. That pineapple, by the way, gave the rest of the ingredients a real sense of humor.
You can't get beer or wine at TGDC, but they offer a brightly colored array of Mexican soft drinks. We opted for Jarritos' Grapefruit and Mandarin Orange flavors ($1.25); the bubbles, I have to say, were welcome.
If the crowds of hungry folk in search of the kind of fresh sensations on offer here keep showing up, you'll be wise to allow yourself a little extra time to be served. At least, that is, until they grow out of their little space. For now, Tortas Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito has all the makings of being a big cult hit.
FOOD: 4 stars
ATMOSPHERE: 3 stars
SERVICE: 2.5 stars