Between Two Slices: North of the Border

Our sandwich correspondent heads to Red Bank to taste the tortas of Mexico.

North of the Border in Red Bank.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never had a torta before. I know that sounds absurd coming from a sandwich enthusiast like myself. But before you show up at my door with torches and pitchforks, let me try to redeem myself.

I’ve been on the look-out for something new and different. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and outside the world of homemade mozzarella and thinly-sliced meats. There’s obviously nothing wrong with any of that, but sometimes you just have to switch it up. I was fairly undecided about my next sandwich stop for this column. Then a friend of mine told me to try one of the best sandwiches he’s ever had. Upon his recommendation, I raced down the Garden State Parkway in the pouring rain to meet up with him at North of the Border in Red Bank.

Open since 2009, North of the Border is small, unassuming spot located near the Red Bank train station. The shop offers a large variety of Mexican staples like tacos, nachos, quesadillas, burritos—and of course, tortas. But my friend and I came here specifically for the spot’s cemita, a torta that’s usually served on a round sesame roll instead of a long roll.

We ordered the Milanesa de Res (the breaded beef cutlet) and the carne enchilada (marinated pork). Both were topped with beans, cilantro, onions, avocado, Mexican cheese, and either pickled jalapeños or chipotle chili. We sat down inside at a secluded table off to the side with a big bottle of hand sanitizer on the table between us. We caught up a little, making small talk until our sandwiches arrived. I thought I was seeing double. The cemita was as large as the foam plate it was sitting on. I took a minute to admire this work of culinary art.

The bread was so soft and doughy, and resembled more of a brioche bun than a roll. The beef cutlet was slightly crispy and incredibly savory, fusing together perfectly with the fried onions. The Mexican cheese had an interesting texture—a little rubbery, but also light and smooth. The pickled jalapenos gave the sandwich a very satisfying tang and kick that complimented it well.

Milanesa de Res (breaded beef cutlet). Photo by Chris Gennone

Milanesa de Res (Breaded Beef Cutlet):

Bread: 5/5
Filling: 4.9/5
Toppings: 4.8/5
Overall: 4.8/5

The carne enchilada sandwich featured small pieces of marinated pork with all of the same toppings except for the jalapenos. The chipotle chili added just the right amount of heat and the marinated pork was salty but not overpowering. Even though this cemita had most of the same toppings, I feel like it worked better with the breaded beef cutlet. The pork was tasty, but still felt lacking in some way. Maybe the addition of some pickled onions would’ve brought out the flavors a little more.

Carne Enchilada (Marinated Pork):

Carne Enchilada (marinated pork). Photo by Chris Gennone

Bread: 5/5
Filling: 4.5/5
Toppings: 4.7/5
Overall: 4.6/5

For the amount of toppings on these cemitas, things could go south in a hurry. Sure, a few pieces of cheese and pork flew onto the plate here and there, but that comes with the territory. Every element was layered so well that nothing felt out of place. While both were very tasty sammies, I did feel like one was better than the other. Either way, I know this won’t be my last torta or cemita. Immediately after returning home, I laid down and drifted off into a peaceful sleep. Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a big sandwich followed by a long nap.

Between Two Slices Overall Score: 4.7/5

To try next time: Carnitas cemita

North of the Border, 176 Monmouth Street, Red Bank: Open for dine-in, take-out, and delivery daily from 10 am-8 pm.

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