Casa Azul has gained a lot of local fans for its traditional Mexican fare since opening its doors a little more than two years ago, and the brick-and-mortar restaurant recently launched a new food truck that specializes in tortas – a popular ‘sub’-type sandwich on a crusty roll.
Casa owner Zina Lapi recently told us that tortas have become a low-key fav with her clientele.
“The restaurant is mostly known for tacos, although we do have a lot of other signature dishes,” she said. “We wanted to focus on tortas for the food truck because that’s one of our fan favorites. Everyone who gets one absolutely loves it.”
Sometimes, attempts to faithfully recreate a food result in something new – possibly even better than the original. When Europeans came to the Americas, they brought a lot of culinary influence over with them, but sometimes, factors here didn’t allow for faithful recreations of European foods. In New Orleans, attempts to recreate the baguette ultimately led to what we know as the po’ boy sandwich and in certain parts of Mexico, the baguette translated into the telera roll – and ultimately the torta sandwich.
Using a double-rise method and honey instead of refined sugar, Casa Azul fresh-bakes telera rolls daily. To make a torta, the roll is buttered, grilled and stuffed with fillings like chicken or rotisserie-cooked beef called al pastor. Customers can top their torta with house-made salsas and other accoutrements. Those who want a gluten-free option can have their fillings and toppings on a tostada – a flat, deep-fried tortilla shell. The truck is operated by Brooklyn native Johnny Jeter, and Kevin Harris of Buffalo.
When we recently checked out the food truck’s tortas, we discovered that the telera roll is definitely the star of the show — in the same way a Costanzo’s roll makes your favorite local sub so delicious. One of our crusty, slightly sour telera rolls packed with al pastor beef, tomatoes, pineapple slaw and avocado was the perfect blend of tangy and meaty. The chicken torta was surprisingly herbaceous and both sandwiches were different from the Mexican food you may be used to; not particularly spicy or acidic.
Lapi added that the torta options on the food truck, a converted school bus, are a little different than the brick-and mortar options.
“We do change the menu up sometimes, but you can almost always find chicken, el pastor, goat, beef barbacoa – which we don’t actually do at all in the restaurant, it’s just on the truck – and then a seafood option, which we switch up,” she explained.
In addition to being known for specializing in Mexican fare, Casa Azul also has a reputation for gently pushing diners outside of their comfort zone. Both cricket and sweetbreads (which are glands from cows) have appeared on the restaurant’s menu in the past. Lapi told us the food truck will continue to challenge the expectations of Western New York eaters.
“With the restaurant, we wanted to build up a clientele and have people trust us,” she said. “With the truck, we’re kind of easing them in by putting goat on the menu; because I don’t think any other food truck does that. We’ll soon start experimenting a little more with different and unique products. Once people realize that they can trust us and they enjoy our food, I think it’s easier for people to get things like sweetbreads and beef tongue. We do have tongue tortas sometimes at the restaurant, so that’s something we definitely want to do on the truck as well.”
In addition to tortas, there are also sugary churros for dessert. Mexican coke products and flavored waters called ‘agua frescas’ are the beverage options.
With regular service planned through November, the Casa Azul torta truck is still in its infancy, and everything we heard suggested that the offerings will grow, evolve and change a lot in the next few months. Sometimes, that early experimental period of a food truck finding its footing can be exciting and given the success of the Casa Azul restaurant – now is definitely the time to try the new truck, and possibly try something different outside your comfort zone.