To the foodie conspiracy theorists out there, it may seem that sometime in the 1980s, a group of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and Mexican expat cooks met in secret in Guadalajara to draw up plans for the typical, or authentic, stateside Mexican restaurant.
But there is a much simpler explanation for the ubiquitousness of the decor, menus and attitude at this particular genre of taqueria, at least here in Boise. Workers immigrate, family follows, folks get hungry and someone opens a convenient, cheap and familiar restaurant. And since a large portion of Idaho's Mexican populace hails from the west-central states of Michoacan and Jalisco, familiar cuisine pretty much means tortas on those oversized white rolls, carnitas, mediocre tamales and, on a good day, some fresh tripe.
Such is the deal at Tacos El Torito, a modest Mexican joint that shares a generic shopping plaza with the Reel Theater ($3 movies), a computer parts store and a sewing machine supplier.
(Perhaps Mexicans ask why these gringo shopping plazas all look the same?)
But there are also a few nice surprises thrown in at El Torito, and I'm not just saying that because I went there on my birthday.
The torta ($4.50), which I ordered with carnitas, came wrapped in foil and cut in half for neater eating, though it still, thankfully, fell apart. The bread was toasted perfectly on both sides, yielding a satisfying crunch, enhanced by the crunchiness of the pork bits enveloped inside. I actually prefer the cubed and crunched up carnitas to the pulled pork variety, and the cook at El Torito did something to her pork that made it lightly fried on the surface while retaining the soft warmth of slow-roasted pig.
The pork tamales, which my 4-year-old rejected on a perception of spiciness, were about average, though they actually had some veggies inside, which is unusual. I have tried to impart a deep appreciation of chile peppers to my offspring, but on random days, they parrot a depressing societal aversion to spice in their preferences. Or maybe she just didn't like the tamale ... I am a sucker for conspiracies.
My daughter traded out her tamale for my mild chicken taco, which was a Taco El Torito ($2), the slightly souped-up version of the regular taco. The Torito includes pintos, onion, cilantro, lettuce, tomatoes and, supposedly, hot sauce (don't tell the kids!) and comes on a slightly larger taco shell.
A bite of a grilled shrimp taco ($2.50) also made me quite happy. Though I didn't ask, I'd bet this particular restaurant is informed by a coastal cuisine, because the shrimp were permitted to dominate the taco shell they inhabited, spiced and fried in a manner reminiscent of the playas of Nayarit.
The offerings include a full breakfast taco menu and the typical Mexican restaurant cooler--Jarritos, Corona, Negra and a tank of aguas frescas, including horchata and hibiscus. Since it was my birthday, I had a Bohemia, a light Mexican beer, with lunch.
I'd recommend El Torito as a decent neighborhood joint if you live in the vicinity. It will stick on the taqueria map in my brain, ideally as a prelude to cheap movies or as a proletarian way to balance any potential golf outing across the street were anyone ever to invite me on a golf outing. Or as a pit stop if I ever need sewing machine parts.
And maybe, just maybe, for another cumpleanos.
--Nathaniel Hoffman likes a little bull in his tacos.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Tacos El Torito.