94 University Place, New York NY (at 12th Street; map)
Short Order: Some promising ideas crushed by a terribly overcooked patty
Want Fries with That? Sure—skin-on spuds are fine for a Mexican joint; tortilla chips are overpriced but tasty
Price: Torta Burger, $7.81; spicy fries, $2.53; chips & guacamole, $5
In an early review on NYU Local, a writer called Union Square haute-Mexican joint Tortaria a "little sandwich shop of horrors." The burgers might not terrify and eat you like Audrey II, but they won't have you in an Herbal Essences-level state of rapture either. Instead, the beef burger at Tortaria is a mediocre patty with high quality toppings that somewhat salvage the iffy meat.
If a menu lists Black Angus as its beef, I more often than not lower my expectations significantly. Angus beef, as certified in the USA, doesn't mean a whole lot beyond slightly better marbling and cleanliness in the raw meat. And, unsurprisingly, the beef in Tortaria's quarter-pound burger patties (the sandwich uses two) is nothing special. Suffering from the more-grill-than-meat-flavor syndrome, this burger might have been serviceable. Then you keep chewing and note the fine grind, tight pack, and greyish brown meat. When your meat tastes grey, you know you've got a problem on your hands. And it's a shame that the beef is so poor, as the Juicy Lucy twist (taking two small patties and loading mozzarella between the them) would have been a joy to eat had everything been heated well. But seriously, how does the meat go grey and the cheese stay rubbery? Really, Tortaria?!
Thank heavens for toppings. After deciding that this was in no way, shape or form going to be a good burger, I embraced the bottle of Chipotle BBQ mayo on the table and rendered the burger somewhat edible. The sauce, which was tangy, sweet and somewhat smoky, went well on about everything (fries, chips, burger) despite being unmemorable on its own.
If Tortaria did nail one category, it was the vegetables. Super fresh tomato slices, cilantro leaves, and pickled red onion and jalapeño. No one element dominated, and the pickled red onions were particularly delicious.
The bun, a seemingly fresh-baked white bread, was fine for the burger. I particularly liked the crackly top, although the heel got soggy very quickly. On a piece of meat that wasn't cooked into oblivion, these accompaniments would round out a pretty solid sandwich.
Sides at Tortaria fare a bit better. Skin-on, fresh-cut Spicy Fries ($2.53) are well-seasoned and potatoey, although they could have used another minute or two in the fryer. They are proper vehicles for the Chipotle BBQ sauce or green chile salsa, both of which are worthy sauces.
The guacamole ($5 w/chips) follows a long tradition in haute-Mexican cuisine in which the chips provided could crush two or more card-deck sized tubs of guacamole. Fortunately, the ingredients are fresh, which makes for a verdant, chunky, citrus-heavy guac that may not appeal to some, but certainly appealed to me. Unfortunately, five dollars for a doggy bag of fresh tortilla chips and an avocado's worth of guacamole is never a good deal.
Tortaria is not a burger joint, but that doesn't excuse their generally bad hamburger. A simple minute or two less on the grill would have done a world of good for their sadly overcooked patty. But alas, the folks at Tortaria clearly have minutes to spare and thus their burgers suffer. If you're walking by the Tortaria and your stomach is growling, grab some fries or walk down the street to Morocho for a Latin American fusion burger that delivers flavor and quality far better than the Torta Burger.
About the author: Sam is an intern, college student, food TV enthusiast and has perhaps eaten too many burgers this summer.