The double glass doors at Tacos El Torito opened, and the aromas of warm tortillas, sizzling meats and fresh cilantro were thick in the hot air. The blast of humidity, the festive party pinatas and the red, white and green mural of Mexico on the wall made my dining companion and I long for the chance to escape on another Mexican vacation. We mulled over the choices on the big menu board above the cash register and talked about our most memorable dining experience in Mexico, when after a long, hot tour of ancient ruins, our group was treated to a coveted meal inside an impressive dining hall. We shuffled through a buffet loaded with tantalizing dishes and the food went down fast, aided by the sounds of a large band blowing their horns and banging on tamboras. The festive music performed at a furious pace created a sense of digestive urgency. Everyone in that room horked down their meals with very little chewing involved. The sights and smells of Tacos El Torito made us a little nostalgic for that meal.
I've ordered the bean and cheese burritos with onion at Tacos El Torito many times, and they register at a nine on my burrito rating scale that tops out at 10. Tightly wrapped tortillas made weighty with saucy pinto beans and mild strings of melted cheese are appealing but wouldn't trigger nostalgic vacation memories like tostados, tamales and tortas would. So instead, we ordered the dinner special ($6), a fish taco ($2.50), a carne asada torta ($4.50) and a chicken tostada ($2.50). We settled in a big private wood booth, slid the radish, carrot and onion garnish to the side and dug into our culinary flashback to paradise.
The dinner deal came with a Taco El Torito (beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, hot sauce and choice of meat), a second taco with seasoned pork, and a fresh side of beans and fluffy rice. I am a fan of sandwiches in any culture--be it Philly, panini or falafel--and the beauty of a torta is all the different ingredients that work together to make a harmony of flavors between two pieces of grilled white bread. The first thing I tasted was the seasoned chunks of beef and a smooth guacamole and sour cream blend followed by the crunch of lettuce, juicy diced tomato and chopped onions. The fish taco with grilled tilapia was stuffed with tomato, lettuce and onion that were held at bay by huge slices of avocado and drizzled with hot sauce that added color and a kick. A spritz of lemon brought out the smooth flavor of the fish encased in a double layer of warm corn tortillas. The chicken tostada had a smear of refried beans that effectively spackled down the chicken on a crunchy corn tortilla, and the firm nuggets of cotija cheese, lettuce, tomato and thick green slices of avocado were piled three inches high. But the standout ingredient in the tostada was the warm, thick slivers of onion that were rosy pink and sweet enough to eat on their own. The tostada was accompanied by a cup of spicy sauce made from chicken alongside a dollop of sour cream that offered cool relief from the spiciness. The cloudy broth with flecks of red floating like buoys in a turbulent ocean served as a warning for the kick to the taste buds we were about to receive courtesy of the cayenne pepper flakes. As soon as I dipped a finger in the sauce to test it, my eyes began to water.
We had ordered far too much food for just the two of us without room to take home some flan for $1.99. As we finished dinner, we could hear the whirl of the jamaica and horchata machines cascading streams of sweet liquid in a trio of colors, soft Mexican music playing in the background and the sound of steady chopping as the cooks prepped ingredients. We both picked up the pace of our chewing and then realized that we were acting like impressionable diners again. During our feast at Tacos El Torito in the Country Club Plaza, we had plenty of time to chew our Mexican food.
--Elaine Lacaillade is a mean, green burrito-rating machine.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Tacos El Torito.