Demographic shifts have profoundly altered the Alphabet District lunch crowd. In the last few months, redevelopment of Slabtown warehouses has brought the neighborhood a hungry and frugal blue-collar workforce. The handful of inexpensive-lunch providers have been inundated. Once, the line for a $5 bento box was short and mostly white. Now, it is long and diverse, with a few impatient old-timers looking as joyful as Karl Rove at a quinceañera.
Down at the Q-19 cart pod things have changed, too. A year ago, some pundits predicted the carts next to the nondescript reboot of the once-divey Quimby's at 19th Avenue were destined for a short term. What kind of lunch crowd would eat among these old warehouses? But Q-19 was doing very well on a recent Tuesday thanks to new demographics and a fresh crop of carts like El Diablito.
Diablito makes tortas, which everyone in the neighborhood probably knows as a Mexican staple shaped like a sandwich but filled like a burrito. Here, they're made with mushrooms, beef, pork or chicken thighs. All are large and cost $7.75. There are no sides.
The vaca loca, grilled steak with tiny slivers of crunchy fried potato, sliced avocado, cheese, sautéed onion and green salsa, is hearty and delicious. The steak is a little smoky, and dipping it into the green salsa—a spicy, silky blend of serranos, cream and cilantro—brings out even more flavor. The cart's eponymous sandwich, which comes topped much the same way, but with a hotter and less-nuanced red chipotle salsa and beans, isn't quite as exciting.
The tortas have changed, too. Often, the bread of traditional tortas is fried with a little chorizo to give the inside an orange glaze. Not here. There's also an excellent vegetarian option unlike anything you'll find at a drive-thru burrito shop. The la flaca torta, which has a heap of earthy grilled portobello and crimini mushrooms along with zucchini, pesto, mozzarella and feta, was our favorite sandwich of all. It's surprisingly complex.
All is well in the Alphabet District and at the Q-19 pod. If this is the future of American lunch, it's a good thing.
- Order this: The la flaca.
- Iâll pass: The red salsa.
EAT: El Diablito, 1502 NW 19th Ave., 781-0081. 11 am-4 pm Monday-Friday. $.