Padua Pasta Makers: 300 E Arrow Hwy, Upland
We’re loving the Summer of Sandwich. It’s not always perfect—sometimes those train tracks lead only to heartbreak, or shitty sandwiches, anyway. But more than simply delivering unto us good food, it’s had the ancillary effect of forcing us to do something we do far too rarely: the unknown.
The unknown is terrifying, of course, but also it’s exhilarating, right? (And also more often than either of those, it’s just as boring as the ordinary everyday known.) But still: it’s unknown! Which means: ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Which in and of itself is a good thing, or that’s how we’re feeling today, after two excellent recent sandwich outings. The first of these was midday Saturday, when we decided to drive down Arrow Highway in La Verne, which turns into 9th Street in Upland, and then we took a left on Euclid and then a right on…Arrow Highway…?…which led us to downtown Upland.
Downtown Upland (nee North Ontario, almost Magnolia) is sort of hilarious. It’s a fairly built-up downtown, due almost entirely to the train station, and some buildings likely date to the early 1900s. It has about six solid blocks of business buildings. It has a candy apple store because what burgeoning megalopolis doesn’t need a candy apple store? And a gazebo in the middle of a roundabout! Also most of the businesses are shuttered. The most common open business seems to be the rock’n’roll T-shirt shop (we’re going back, don’t worry). There were a couple bars, a brewery, some coffee shops, tattoo shops…and lots of rock’n’roll t-shirt shops (and a bunch of sort of stray late teenagers wandering with skateboards underarm). Does it feel like downtown Upland was once a thriving spot of commerce? No, it feels like it’s always been this way—a little hungover, a little bored, never quite as exciting as it hoped things would be.
But adjacent to downtown is Padua Pasta Makers—which, who knew?! It’s basically a mini-Eataly without the ass-grabbing ginger in crocs. They make: fresh pasta, sauce, calzones, pizza; they sell 00 flour, spumante, Stracciatella, and all sorts of fun Italian condiments. Padua Pasta Makers is excellent. We will definitely be going back. And even better? Their sandwiches. We ordered a small roasted chicken with roasted red pepper ($7.50) and a small mortadella with provolone (also $7.50). These “small” sandwiches—each well over six inches—came in a complete sandwich roll, and the bread was by far the best we’ve had all summer. The excellent chicken had been roasted with oregano and rosemary, we think, and while it was a little dry, we went sans mayo, so that’s on us—next time we’d get the pesto mayo. The mortadella (with pistachio) was amazing, which is no surprise, because mortadella is the best cured meat. (Read more about mortadella!) Its almost ethereally light savoriness played nicely with a not-overly-funky provolone and that simplest deli sandwich topping: shredded lettuce drizzled with oil and vinegar. Done.
- Overall Balance/Taste: +2 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +2
- Bread: +2
- X-factor: Italian market! +1
Overall: 7 points, or Xoco’s Milanesa Torta
Tortas Ahogadas La Guera: 1205 W 17th St, Santa Ana
Speaking of the unknown: today we went to a zoo! That cost two dollars!
We decided to be brave and venture not only into the unknown but also behind enemy lines, going deep behind the Orange Curtain. Why? We like zoos. Sure, they make us feel weird every time—don’t you, too, feel tempted to free the animals?—but this was a zoo we didn’t know existed until a few days ago. Everyone knows the LA Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park or whatever it’s been rebranded to these days. Most people know about the Santa Ana Zoo and the Santa Barbara Zoo. But…the Orange County Zoo? Who knew this zoo? You? We saw: kit foxes, enormous porcupines, eagles, bears, mountain lions, ocelots (Babu! because apparently Dali had an ocelot?!)…and snakes.
Post-zoo, we thought: sandwiches. Weird, right? The problem with being deep behind the Curtain is that mainly what they sell behind said Curtain is Subway sandwiches. Seriously, do a Google map search in the OC for sandwiches. I’ll wait. See? So. Much. Subway. So we were forced to branch out a bit … not out of our comfort zone so much as squarely in it: we went for tortas.
(Will tortas be the best of all sandwich styles? Tune in at summer’s end to find out!)
We went to Tortas Ahogadas La Guera, a food truck in Santa Ana. Why? Yelp, we admit it. We got there just before the lunch rush and ordered, of course, a torta ahogada (that means drowned, everyone). We got the carnitas, and it was ready almost immediately: a surprisingly high quality half-section of baguette filled with mounds of solid if not spectacular carnitas, the sandwich, yes, drowned in two types of hot sauce and piled high with sliced white onion. It was warm and spicy, just like red kibble, so, yes, it’s basically belter food. Was it amazing? No. Was it good? Mi pensa gut.
Good thing we got a regular torta, too! This one came on a telera roll (sort of like French bread but less puffy: crispy exterior, toasted on the inside, still with a nice chew to it: so it has both a crisp texture and soft pillowy sandwich goodness that keeps the fillings in). All it had on it was their al pastor (not shaved but griddled and chopped to beautiful sweet-spicy-savory caramelization), chopped green lettuce, and some onion and tomato (and a side of great salsa—which is fine with a torta, Mendocino Farms). No cheese. No avocado. No crema. Just the star of the show and some veg accompaniment–and that was enough, because this torta was insanely good. There is something about having a spiciness that underpins each bite of a sandwich—not the occasional heat of a jalapeno slice you get in banh mi but a constant heat, an ongoingness of tingling that gets you sweating just a little, making you want to eat another bite as if somehow that’s going to cool things off…not to mention, again, the big sabor interplay of flavors and textures.
Did we know we were going to see a freaking swimming beaver when the day began, or that we were going to eat a sandwich as good as any we’ve had all summer? We did not. Ah, the power of not-knowing.
- Overall Balance/Taste: +1 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +1
- Bread: +1
- X-factor: food truck! +1
Overall: 4 points, or a perfectly tasty Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak (wit…and yes, this was weighed slightly down by the merely pretty good torta ahogada)