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story.lead_photo.caption The Torta Pierna Enchilada at North Little Rock’s Tortas Mexico features shredded pork in a red sauce with lettuce, mayonnaise, tomatoes, onions, avocado and jalapeno peppers on an enormous bun. - Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / ERIC E. HARRISON

Central Arkansas has been experiencing another Mexican restaurant boom in recent months, and as usual the cuisine ranges from Tex-Mex to "gringo" Mex (Mexican cuisine fancied up for American tastes) to authentic Mexican.

In the latter category, we present Tortas Mexico, in a two-business cinder-block "strip center" on West 37th Street in North Little Rock, just off Camp Robinson Road. The staff is Hispanic (a sign on the door, in Spanish only, says they're seeking an experienced cook) and so is the vast majority of its customers, which is always a good indication.

Tortas Mexico

Address: 1000 W. 37th St., North Little Rock

Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: No

Reservations: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes (35-cent to-go charge)

(501) 771-1341

It's a clean, bright, pleasant place to eat, with widely spaced two- and four-top wooden tables with travel-type photos of pre-Columbian Mexican artwork and tourist scenes between the wood and a layer of polyurethane sealer, and cane-bottomed chairs just a little too large for the tables (you and the person next to you will likely be bumping elbows). Some of the tables are on a low stage to the back. Tiny vinyl Mexican flags and streamers are among the festive decor highlights. A flat-screen television shows telenovellas and futbol games.

The centerpiece of the menu, as you might expect, is the list of 17 tortas, monster Mexican sandwiches with ample meat of some variety, lettuce, mayonnaise, tomatoes, onions, avocado and jalapeno peppers on an enormous bun.

These are huge -- actually, the portions on everything we had at Tortas Mexico were huge, probably more food than humans should be allowed to eat, and definitely a lot of food for the money.

But, perhaps ironically -- and we admit we probably made poor choices -- we struck out, or at least fouled out, with the two we tried. The marinated pork in our La Brava ($7.50) was a bit chewy and we didn't see much of the cheese that was supposed to be in there. We just couldn't maintain enough interest in the shredded pork in red sauce inside our Pierna Enchilada ($7) to make it through even half the sandwich.

It took us a couple of visits to realize that, yes, there are napkins on the tables, but they're only cocktail napkins, which, in terms of dealing with a messy torta, were inadequate in number and in size.

We fared much better with two of the excellent house Especialidades (specialties). We thoroughly enjoyed our Enchiladas Verdes ($8), three cheese enchiladas (chicken is an option) in a tangy, tart green tomatillo sauce (we had them hold the onions) beneath an enormous pile of lettuce, tomato, guacamole and sour cream.

The specialty items also come with a subtly flavored but nonetheless flavorful red rice and tasty but soupy refried beans. The beans with our enchiladas were particularly soupy and also, unfortunately, lukewarm.

All meals come with complimentary salsa, just our level of heat and with slightly tart -- and wide -- tortilla chips, which we're guessing they make in the morning, because they were much fresher and crisper at lunch than they were for an early supper. Tortas Mexico doesn't serve cerveza, so we spent $2 a half-liter bottle for Mexican Coca-Cola; other Mexican sodas and iced tea are among the other drink options.

We also got better service at lunch, where our server spoke good English and went out of her way to make sure our needs were taken care of, than at dinner, when our server spoke little English and we had a hard time dealing with small needs, like a couple of extra full-size napkins.

Weekend on 06/12/2014

Print Headline: Real Mexican, real big portions

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