If you have spent considerable time in Corona, Queens, in the past decade, no doubt you know of Galdino Molinero. He is the torta master behind Tortas Neza, an emigre from Mexico City whose long path toward minor sandwich stardom started with selling sandwiches out of a backpack. He graduated to a bicycle, then a cart, a truck, and eventually a brick-and-mortar shop, an arc that had him toggling along the main artery of the borough over the course of 10 years, from Woodside to Corona.
These days, during the truck’s off-season, you can find him working out of the compact kitchen of Juan Bar Restaurant (96-15 D Roosevelt Avenue, Queens) on Roosevelt Avenue. His kitchen looks out of an open window to the street, which gives him easy access to foot traffic, an opportunity to field salutations from passersby making their way to the train, and a chance to hear game stats from shouting friends across the street.
Of Molinero’s 19 varieties of tortas — which take their names from teams in the Mexican soccer league — the most thoroughly written about is the Tortas Puma ($15), an assemblage larger than a regulation-sized pigskin that includes a deli-case worth of meats and cheeses. The other tortas ($8) may be smaller in stature but are none the lesser in flavor and composition. Try the gooey Tortas Chiapanecas, with headcheese, fried ham, and quesillo; the Tortas Tuzos Pachuca, with bistec encebollado; or the Tortas Chivas, with a thin slip of omelette speckled with bits of chorizo, gilded with mayonnaise, and packed with shredded lettuce that stays crisp despite the roll spending some time on the griddle.
You can usher your sandwich through the door to the left, which leads into the dark, cramped bar. A pulsating neon-green light emanates from the Virgen de Guadalupe shrine, skipping over wet bottles of Negra Modelo and the patrons, a couple of whom are eating Molinero’s tortas. If it is a weekend afternoon, there might be a child or two playing video games on their parents’ phones. The ska punk of Panteon Rococo’s charges from the sound system. Another round is ordered. A torta tastes even better in black light.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.