Sandwich Smackdown!

MSM Deli's BBC and Vuelve A La Vida's Steak Torta step into the octagon and duel to the death

By Rev. Adam McKinney on October 15, 2009

Can a sandwich hold a grudge? Are its feelings hurt if you get it special ordered? Do sandwiches feel jealousy? Do they ever worry that you’re thinking of another sandwich while you’re eating it? Sandwich-lovers feel all these things. They feel passionately about all things mashed between bread; they feel betrayed if the sandwich doesn’t rise to the occasion. Most of all, they have long asked themselves a very important question: Are sandwiches capable of fighting in a death-match?

In search of an answer, I submit to you two unbelievable Tacoma sandwiches that I will now force to be pitted in battle — imagine Kirk and Spock fighting to the death. Though I’m sure these sandwiches are the best of friends, two will enter and only one will leave.

MSM Deli — “The BBC”

Rarely can sandwiches be brought up in Tacoma without someone intoning the reigning champions known as the Magical Sandwich Makers. Anyone hesitant about the bravado implied by MSM’s title is instantly put in his or her place via a meaty, mustardy smack in the mouth. MSM is a prodigiously gritty slab of that very particular Tacoman antisociality. Contained within what is ostensibly a convenience store, the sandwich makers act as a kind of oasis. More to the point, the convenience store almost seems like a front for the sandwiches. Though it’s vastly clichéd to say, MSM Deli is one of Tacoma’s “best kept secrets.”

I don’t need to convince you to come to MSM based on any merits other than the food, but a ginormous (it’s a real word now) selection of microbrews in the fridges that line the walls doesn’t hurt. Grab a sandwich and a beer and head to the back room where there are tables and a television. It’s the strangest vibe. I’ll never forget getting smashed last year while watching the Vice Presidential debate in that back room, full of friends and strangers all yelling at the screen.

But now to the matter at hand. The sandwich in question is known as the “BBC”—beef, bacon and cheddar. But oh, my friends, it’s so much more than that. First, the bread. Bread is perhaps the most important factor in the success of a sandwich, and the BBC does not disappoint. Soft, slightly chewy French bread surrounds a stack of deliciousness comprised of roast beef, cheddar, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, onions and the all-important bacon. If that sounds pedestrian to you, A. you don’t deserve this sandwich, and B. you must understand that it’s all in the execution. This beast is two fistfuls of messy goodness, accompanied by a quaint pickle spear. I dare you to ask for more.

Vuelve A La Vida — The Steak Torta

On the other side of town, we find the opponent. It quietly resides in a restaurant that’s known for many things, if not sandwiches. I speak, of course, of Vuelve A La Vida, a restaurant with a name so nice I’ve never been able to pronounce it correctly. Vuelve A La Vida started up in 1995. Six months after its inception, the owner sold it to the mysteriously named Senor Douglas, who’s owned it ever since. Most people know the joint for its authentic Mexican food, featuring prizes such as tongue and goat and featuring banners boasting “no chips & salsa.” You get a real feeling that you’re being taken care of by real artisans who know just what they’re doing.

Introducing the steak torta! I cannot tell you how delighted I was when, on my first visit, I discovered the sublime treat known as the torta. Again a lofty sandwich, the torta differs from the BBC in philosophy as much as in characteristics. But first, the specifics: the bread offered up by the torta is soft on the outside, but greasy and crisp on the inside, providing just the right counterpoint of texture to the fillings inside. Shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, avocado, and tomato accompany the shining star of the dish: the carne asada. These little hunks of charred meat explode out of every opening in the sandwich, forcing you to chase after them with your fork. The torta plays hard to get, you see.

How then to compare these sandwich behemoths? The BBC is full of poise and precision, while the torta has all the reckless passion; the BBC is Leonard Cohen writing “Suzanne”, while the torta is Jackson Pollock throwing Thanksgiving dinner across the room. I’ve always had ill will for critics who refuse to make lists, or Little League coaches who say that everyone’s a winner. To be definite is not a handicap. So, while this decision may be one of life’s most difficult, I declare Vuelve A La Vida steak torta the victor. While I’m in the anthropomorphizing game, I’d like to postulate that, while we may care for the BBC, the steak torta cares just as much for us as we do for it.

[MSM Deli, 2220 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4814]

[Vuelve A La Vida, 5312 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.473.7068]