Nightmarish nourishment

Torta Letourneau from Tortas Del Rey, 3535 E. Admiral Pl.

Come close, dear reader, for the tale of Letourneau.

Tortas Del Rey sits on the Mexican food highway that runs from downtown to Yale Avenue on Admiral Street and Place. The stretch is dotted by favorites like Pollos Asados Al Carbon, El Rio Verde, and El Burrito, the latter neighboring Del Rey between North Yale and Pittsburgh Avenues.

Del Rey, and the horror of its Torta Letourneau, rest within a small white and green building, the former home of Family Diner.

The table-service restaurant features a salsa bar and offers the usual suspects: tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. But true to its name, Tortas Del Rey specializes in Mexican sandwiches.

Their torta selection is above and beyond that of most joints in town, with choices like milanesa (breaded steak) and pineapple sharing menu space with asadas and pastors. All traditional Mexican meats are available, and most lurk in Letourneau’s lair.

Before we get to the carne-cosmic monstrosity of the sandwich, let it be known that Del Rey makes great food that won’t drive one to madness. On my first visit, I had a simple carne asada torta and enjoyed every bite of meat, mayo, and avocado. A friend let me try his barbacoa tacos, which were also delicious. It was on this trip that I heard the tale of the Torta Letourneau.

I was casually talking to my friend about eating challenges when the waiter told me Del Rey used to feature one.

"If you could eat the Letourneau in ten minutes," he said, "you would get it for free."

Thunder cracked outside.

Why it is called the Letourneau is unclear, though thanks to inventor R.G. Letourneau, the word is global shorthand for earthmoving machinery. This is applicable. The menu description of the Letourneau grotesquely distorts the concept of sandwich-dom. Ingredients, appetizing on their own, are listed in a glossolalial screed of the insalubrious.

"SIX TYPES OF MEATS: SMOKED PORK CHOP, BIZTECK, PORK LEG, BREADED STEAK, HAMBURGER AND T-BONE BISTEK."

Each ingredient ricocheted inside my skull with exponential intensity.

"SIX TYPES OF CHEESE, BACON, CHORIZO HAM, LETTUCE, TOMATO, GRILLED jalapeño, SAUSAGE, AVOCADO." 

The listing of "SAUSAGE" after the disproportionate presence of vegetables on the sandwich informed of an arcane cruelty. It was a spookhouse aberration in the shadows of the exit line. A reminder that hope, in itself, is a mistake. The "sandwich" was taunting me.

I had to face it.

Having once joined me in eating 15 tacos apiece, I asked Stuart Hetherwood to descend into sandwich madness with me. We both hit Del Rey’s salsa bar and nervously sampled the options. Filling up on chips was a rookie mistake we gladly made to calm our nerves.

How often do you order a sandwich and have the waiter ask, "Are you sure?"

I’ve ordered very spicy food and been posed this question with a smile before, but never had I received such a look of concern and dread. When the Letourneau arrived, I understood.

The menu description of the torta—that lunatic poetry from Hell’s sanitarium—did not, and could not prepare us for the consternation of initial confrontation.

Weighing over two pounds, the Letourneau was a carnivorous grimoire of meat demons manifested.

The "SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHEESES" checkered a ghoulish amount of ham and presented foreboding grease levels for the weak. There seemed to be far more than six meats on the sandwich, though details are foggy in the twilight of terror. One half proved nearly too much for human hands.

There was a hot dog on it.

In the days of the Letourneau eating challenge, customers were expected to eat the entire sandwich, right down to the grilled habanero and jalapeño on the side. Hetherwood and I were eating merely for the glory of honor, so we took it easy, though he accidentally ate most of it.

"The only reason to eat this thing," Hetherwood said, "is if you were a vegan who got in a car wreck and had to slam as much protein as possible and go back to being vegan the next day."

Though it was an insurmountable grotesquerie, the Torta Letourneau, like all monsters, lost some power in the light. To see Cthulhu’s tentacles may reduce one to gibberish but would nevertheless demystify one’s more salacious speculations. So it was in devouring the Letourneau.

Yet the horror didn’t quite fade upon consumption.

The sandwich was beyond time—a true manifestation of humanity’s worst desires. The sheer nihility of all universes lay between its two rolls.

You do not eat the Letourneau. The Letourneau eats you.

Anyway, the sandwich is great, though I’d recommend removing the hot dog and eating that afterward. It’s also butterier than their standard tortas, being so loaded with cheese and all. I took half of mine home and ate it cold the next day. You could also use half of it as taco meat supply in your own kitchen throughout the week.

But for the average diner I’d recommend the Black Mamba, a three-meat torta with more pure intentions.

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