Big Bear Cafe chef Quinten Frye has started a side biz selling tortas. The Texas native, who moved to D.C. about a year ago from Honolulu, recently launched Cocina Tortas, a drop-off lunch catering service that he hopes to eventually turn into a restaurant. Chris Svetlik, one of the guys behind Republic Kolache, is also a partner.
Frye, who was a James Beard award semifinalist for Rising Star Chef in 2013, says he's been focused on Mexican food for the last few years and spent some time traveling around Mexico. In Honolulu, he cooked Mexican street food like huaraches, sopes, tacos, and of course, tortas. "I thought it would be cool to do more of a micro-concept of just tortas. I don't think a lot of people have played around with it much," he says.
For now, Cocina Tortas is mostly targeting groups of office workers. There's a 10-sandwich minimum and an order must be placed via email at least 48 hours in advance. Among Frye's half a dozen offerings is a headcheese carnitas torta with poblano-orange salsa, pickled jalapenos, and cotija cheese. Another popular torta contains crispy chicken with apple pico de gallo, charred orange mayo, and red cabbage.
Customers can get a "lunchbox," which comes with homemade corn tortilla chips and salsa and a Mexican chocolate cookie. Extra sides range from a kale, avocado, and quinoa salad to papas fritas with chili powder, cotija cheese, and homemade ketchup. Frye also makes his own agua frescas. Tortas are $12 each ($15 if you it make a lunchbox), and sides are no more than $8.
Frye is using Big Bear's kitchen to prepare the food for now. "This is just the kickoff, an easy way to enter the market," he says. "I am looking for a brick-and-mortar eventually but definitely want to continue to do the drop-off catering as well."
Photo courtesy Cocina Tortas