Most believe the torta de chilaquiles is a creation of La Esquina -- though Milan and her sister first told Santa Cruz they got the recipe from their grandmother. That was when he wrote about them in 2011, when they told him their grandmother Doña Nati was the first tamalera in Condesa. "They decided to sell the tortas de chilaquiles as she made for them for school lunch when they were children," he explained.
At least one Mexico City native I know has his own origin theory for the sandwich.
"I think a crazy drunk just put 'em into a bread and suddenly it became popular," says Carlos González Noriega, who owns the restaurant La Burguesa, told me. "It's common that people with not that much money and time to eat, just take one of those for breakfast and work for the rest of the day and handle the workload or studies without stopping to eat."
Noriega's crazy drunk theory parallels, if less elegantly, what the writer Jay Caspian Kang once wrote about the Korean taco: that it's "too simple" to really have been invented. Chilaquiles on bread is, likewise, an obvious solution to a persistent need for a lot of carbs on the cheap. More concretely, Santa Cruz says that he knows for a fact that the family behind La Esquina can't claim to have invented the sandwich. "My grandma also made tortas de chilaquiles for us when we were kids. And I don't think she invented them," he says.
The chef Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil, considered one of Mexico City's very best restaurants, also recalls it from his youth. So does the chef Fabian Von Hauske, who also grew up in Mexico City before landing in New York. He says it was both served at his high school cafeteria and eaten by his father. "This sandwich has been around for ages, I think," Von Hauske says. "I know my dad would talk about having had it in after parties for weddings and such."
What La Esquina did invent, Santa Cruz says, is making the sandwich with milanesa and cochinita pibil. The basic version is just onion, cheese, and cream; if protein was added, it was egg or simple chicken. Epiphany or no, La Esquina is associated with the sandwich for good reason. It is the place that popularized it, that does it very well, and brought it to centerstage in the marketplace of sandwiches. It's popularity is evident in the 32,000 fans it has for its Facebook page.
Now, La Esquina is being given the spotlight in the first cookbook by one of Mexico City's most famous chefs: My Mexico City Kitchen by Gabriela Cámara, who serves delicate raw fish and lots of grilled things at her trend-setting, elegant Contramar. The source for the book's torta de chilaquiles recipe? La Esquina, which the chef writes "is a must-have for many of my regular visitors." Cámara goes so far as to both name the stand and give its address --- quite a distance to travel for the carbo-oddity.
"It is just a delicious bite of something you would never think would work," says Cámara. "And it works."