As soccer fans gathered around the new blue food truck, one question buzzed repeatedly in conversation: "Just what exactly is a torta?"
The Casa Azul Torta Truck made one of its first appearances last Friday, serving during FC Buffalo's home game against the Erie Commodores. The mobile extension of Casa Azul, the Mexican brick-and-mortar restaurant at 128 Genesee St., is also owned by Zina Lapi, but the truck is operated by two Casa Azul employees: Johnny Jeter of Brooklyn and Kevin Harris of Buffalo, with rotating help.
Tortas are Mexican sandwiches featuring a special foundation: a roll called a telera, modeled originally after French bread but with different ingredients that produce the contrast of a crusty exterior and soft interior.
Baked daily on Genesee Street and then wrapped, the telera is heated on the truck's flat top and buttered slightly; the Torta Truck's sturdy rolls stood out as the best part of the sandwiches, but only if eaten quickly.
"Tortas aren't as popular as tacos at the restaurant, but they're the unsung heroes of our menu," Lapi said. "They're such an important food to Mexican culture, and we didn't want to do tacos on the truck."
The truck's sandwiches are available in six flavors - chicken, al pastor, barbacoa (beef), fish, veggie and crab - with prices ranging from $7-$10. Each sandwich includes greens and tomato, and several are topped with a cilantro aioli (which looks similar to guacamole).
Each variety may also be ordered as a gluten-free tostada, which was consumed more easily chips-and-dip style rather than trying to take a bite out of the whole vessel.
While the al pastor was more robust in flavor - thanks to thinly sliced pineapple and guajillo (chile pepper) aioli - the chicken torta needed more punch.
A bottle of Casa Azul's housemade hot sauce, stationed next to the napkins near the ordering window, rescued the sandwich; the orange-hued garlic habanero hot sauce, on the hotter side of medium, delivers both heat and flavor.
Ketchup-sized paper cups are next to the sauce, for those reluctant to squirt the hot sauce directly on the sandwich.
More familiar are the churros ($5 for five pieces of varying sizes, fried to order), essentially cinnamon sugar-covered dough piped in a distinct star shape and then fried.
Although churros require a deft hand on the fryer - they were a number of different textures in our early visit - the dessert, when properly prepared, can melt in your mouth. Lapi added that her churro recipe incorporates coconut milk and coconut water, which tweaks the flavor and texture slightly.
Before opening Casa Azul in December 2016, Lapi briefly operated the Blue Balls Bus food truck but then turned her focus exclusively on the downtown restaurant, putting the truck into storage for a few years. After determining a concept for the truck's rebirth and winning $25,000 in the Ignite Buffalo competition, the Torta Truck was born.
Lapi's goal is for the truck to serve five times each week, with a combination of lunch, late-night and special event service.