Al Dente Mexican Week: Chili-Lime Steak Tortas

Mexican food is a tough get here in Central New York. Yes, I can roll up to Mesa Grande or Chipotle for whatever comes out of their kitchens, but there are no panaderías or torillerías 100 miles of Syracuse. Some meat markets do chorizo and cut beef for asada, but nothing specialized. Now that Boom Boom Mex Mex has shut its doors for good, none of the “taquerías” in Syracuse venture into the exotic (when was the last time you saw lengua on a menu in CNY?).

I recognize that this is very likely due to the makeup of our Latin-American community, and the fact there are more ethnic Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Central/South Americans inhabiting this area than Mexicans. That doesn’t mean I can’t be bitter about it.


So, the closest I get to authentic is what happens in my own kitchen. This means making my own chorizo by trial and error, souring ingredients online, and getting by with store-bought tortillas (the horror). That said, I would sell The Wife’s reasonably priced but expansive shoe collection for a big greasy torta in wax paper like the ones you can get in North Las Vegas or San Diego.


I gave The Wife the choice of chicken and poblano or chili-lime steak tortas for dinner, fully expecting to prepare the former. Naturally, she chose the latter. I picked chili and lime simply because I’ve developed a manageable addiction to Cholula’s chili-lime sauce and figured I could sneak some on the final product.


WHAT WORKED: Flap meat. This is going to be summer 2015’s hot cut of beef. My only evidence is that they are now carrying it in the meat department at Costco. It’s a well-marbled piece of sirloin that is rather inexpensive. It’s perfect for marinating and grilling over high heat. Also, I really like the Better Beans products that Wegmans carries, and I used the refried black beans here.

WHAT DIDN’T: I am a little mad that I cannot find Oaxaca cheese around here. Wegmans had it a long time ago, but the best I can do now is queso fresco. Still good stuff, but it doesn’t melt as well as the Oaxaca. It’s more like a feta in texture, except it doesn’t really melt.


BEST FOR: A different take on a steak or when you are looking for something quick and out of the ordinary.

SERVE WITH: Tortilla chips and guacamole.

Chili-Lime Steak Tortas
  • 1 lb. sirloin flap steak
  • juice of four fresh limes
  • 1/4 cup chili-infused oil
  • kosher salt
  • small handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 bolillo, cemeta, Vienna or kaiser rolls, sliced in half
  • 3 tbsp. refried black or pinto beans, divided
  • 1/2 of one Hass avocado, sliced
  • 4 oz. queso fresco

Using a very sharp knife, slice flap steak into thin strips. Add to a 9x13-inch casserole and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together lime juice, oil, salt and cilantro until well-combined. Pour over the steak and marinate at least 2 hours.

Preheat your grill on high until the surface reaches at least 600 degrees. Reduce half of the burners to medium-high and add the meat to that side. Using a large grill-safe spatula, flip the meat regularly and cook 5 to 7 minutes to medium-rare. In the meantime, toast the top side of the roll on the top rack of the grill.

Spread half of the beans on the bottom of each roll. Then, top each sandwich with avocado, cheese, and flap steak. Wrap the sandwiches in foil and return to the grill surface next to one another

Wrap a brick in aluminum foil and set it so it presses the two sandwiches at once. Close your grill's lid and cook 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

By Jared Paventi

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  • Andrew Meier says:

    My wife and I are big fans of the Syracuse Food Truck Rodeos too. I just found your website while reading about last weeks rodeo. A great recipe you should try is on the dvd extras on Robert Rodriguez’s movie ‘one upon a time in mexico’. He makes a slow cooked pork with lemon, habanero and tequila. I’ve never had anything like it at a restaurant and it’s fabulous with spanish rice and cornbread.

    • jaredpaventi says:

      Welcome to Al Dente! I have a bunch of pork shoulder in my freezer, so I plan to experiment this summer. That lemon and tequila blend sounds excellent.

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