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In Medford, Mexico’s take on the sandwich

April 29, 2012
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Tenoch Mexican

24 Riverside Ave., Medford

781-395-2221

Hours: Monday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

All major credit cards accepted (for American Express, purchases must be more than $20)

Accessible to the handicapped

Adios, cubanos. Ciao, panini. Later, subs. There’s a new sandwich in town: the torta. At Tenoch Mexican, a recent addition to Medford, this sloppy, gut-busting, south-of-the-border sandwich is about as good as it gets.

Tenoch, a casual spot that opened on Riverside Avenue last month, offers an array of taquería fare: burritos, quesadillas, and of course, tacos. But the real star here is the torta, which can be ordered several ways. For the uninitiated, the torta is a sandwich on a split white telera or bolillo roll, filled with any number of ingredients and served hot. At Tenoch, the basic torta ($6) features telera bread with your choice of filling (chicken, carnitas, beef, chorizo, or vegetables) along with black bean spread, slices of tomato, fresh avocado, pickled onion, and chipotle mayo. The whole thing is topped with ribbons of mild, stringy queso Oaxaca and browned on a panini press. The torta Tenoch ($6.50) features the same ingredients, plus shredded carnitas and sliced ham.

Tenoch regularly offers multiple torta specials. On one visit we tried the smoky, spicy torta choriqueso ($6.50), with melted queso Oaxaca and ground chorizo. Ours was a bit heavy on the mayo; ask your server to go light so the outstanding chorizo isn’t overpowered. If the choriqueso isn’t hearty enough, step it up a notch with the torta campechana ($6.50), which includes chorizo and carnitas. Healthy? No. Worth it? Claro que sí.

The tortas set a high bar, but the tacos ($2.85, sold individually) are pretty tasty. Tenoch keeps it simple with well-made corn tortillas, your choice of meat or vegetable filling, chopped onions, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a wedge of lime. The smoky pulled pork in the carnitas taco was a little on the dry side, but nothing a good dose of salsa verde couldn’t solve. We also enjoyed the beef taco, with chunks of tender, marinated meat. There were raves all around for the rich, spicy chorizo taco, which packs just enough heat to keep things interesting.

You can dress up your tacos with five homemade salsas, including a killer chile de arbol, a more mild habanero, a bright salsa verde, and fresh pico de gallo. Don’t miss the outstanding mole. The smooth, complex chocolate-chili sauce was so good we went back for . . . well, I won’t disclose how many servings. It’s made from scratch by a Tenoch staffer who hails from Cholula, Puebla, arguably the mole capital of Mexico. Don’t bother asking him for the recipe; it’s a well-guarded secret.

Tenoch also offers enchiladas verdes, rojas, or mole ($7), plated with rice, sour cream, and black beans. Despite the large portion, with only a bit of queso fresco this dish is a light choice compared with its greasy, cheesy, Tex-Mex cousin. Skip the bland rojas in favor of the more savory enchiladas verdes or enchiladas mole. The plato Mexicano ($6), with rice, beans, and your choice of meat or vegetable, is a safe bet for less adventurous eaters.

Despite multiple visits, I never managed to try the elusive tamales ($4), which sell out fast thanks to advertisements on Tenoch’s Facebook page. Flavors rotate regularly and you’ll have to go early in the day if you want one. There are other specials advertised on Facebook, too, all with drool-worthy photos, including tilapia con guacamolillo with sautéed peppers and avocado, and multiple kinds of tortas.

Tenoch is still working on its liquor license but expect to see Corona, Indio, and other Mexican beers coming soon. In the meantime, wash your meal down with Jarritos ($2) or Mexican Coca-Cola ($1.50), made with cane sugar in lieu of corn syrup. The powdery, watered-down horchata ($2) was a disappointment.

The vibe at Tenoch befits its casual menu and fast service: sparse decorations, rough-hewn wood walls, basic bar stools, and a poured concrete countertop.

A roll of brown butcher paper on the wall advertises the daily specials. The owner, Alvaro Sandoval, built and runs the place with help from siblings Andres and Elia, as well as his brother-in-law, Alex Molina. Originally from Veracruz, and a longtime resident of Mexico City, Sandoval is a jovial presence who takes pride in sharing the cuisine of his roots. Long lines, smiling customers, and my picky dining pal from Oaxaca would indicate that his pride is well-deserved.

Emily Turner Simon

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