Review of El Toro Bravo Tortilleria
One of Orange County’s Hidden Gems
Sometimes the best food can be found in hole in the wall restaurants; often these restaurants can only be discovered by word of mouth. Several weeks ago I was at a friend’s party and overheard a conversation about the best Mexican restaurants in Orange County. Over the course of the conversation, I heard the names of the usual suspects.
Then I heard someone in the group say, ” My favorite is a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, behind a Mexican restaurant.” My ears perked up
I joined the conversation and asked, “What is the name of this place?
He responded, “it is only the most O.G. Mexican restaurant called El Toro Bravo.”
I am always in the business of finding the best restaurants in Orange County, especially the little known restaurants that have a loyal fan base. Word of mouth is the best advertising, so I paid El Toro Bravo a visit. When I got there, the line was out the door. I knew I discovered a winner.
Finding El Toro Bravo
When my friend called it a “Mexican restaurant, behind a Mexican restaurant “, he meant it. El Toro Bravo isoff 19th street in east side Costa Mesa. As you drive down 19th street, look for a restaurant called Jugos Alcapulco, turn into that shopping center.
Drive down the parking lot and you will see a small sign “El Toro Bravo Tortarilla” You know you are in the right spot when you see lines out the line out the door and standing room only tables on the patio.
Food and What to Order
El Toro Bravo is not a formal restaurant, but rather a takeout counter. The first impression you will have when you walk in is that all the food is sitting on heating tables with heat lamps. Don’t be afraid, the sheer volume of this restaurant ensures all the food turns over quickly and is very fresh. I personally watched the Carnitas turn over at least one while I ate lunch. You will also find that the menu is printed bi-lingual in English and Spanish.
The most common dish ordered is the Carne (meat) or Pollo (chicken) combination plates. The Carne combination comes with your choice of meat, six house made tortillas, fresh salsa, Mexican rice, ranchero beans, and a canned soda. The Pollo combination comes with the the same sides, except with 1/4 chicken. The basic premise is a make your own tacos from the combination of meat, salsas, and sides provided.
Other options include freshly made nachos, taquitos and burritos. All options are served with your choice of meat. They also feature a delicious selection of other Mexican food classics like enchiladas and chile rellano.
One of the best elements of El Toro Bravo is the fact that everything is very inexpensive! The entire combination plate, which feels like over a pound of food only costs $7.99. You can even get a whole chicken meal for only $15. El Toro Bravo is perhaps one of the better deals in town.
Choice of Meats
El Toro Bravo always serve their two top selling meats, Carnitas and Carne Asada. Although the most exciting part is discovering which other types of meat were be served that day. Typically there are two or three choices, from tame to exotic.
Carnitas is slow roasted pork shoulder that results in a soft and tender shreds of meat. El Toro bravos carnitas are deliciously seasoned, although the natural flavor of the pork to shines through. I preferred the carnitas with the verde (green) salsa. The Carne Asada is marinated and grilled flank steak. The carne asada had a nice clean flavor and was perfectly tender. The carne asada went really nice with the salsa roja salsa.
Daily Meat Specials
These meats are rotated on a daily basis and switch of with off-cuts and what some people would consider exotic cuts. Here are a couple that I tried.
Buche – When I first tried the buche, I purposely did not ask what it was. After eating a taco worth of the meat, I discovered it was extremely flavorful and tender; albeit, it did have some resistance. I later discovered it is “Buche” or pig’s stomach. I actually enjoyed it, so I am glad I tried it blind.
Costilla was another type of meat that I tried during another visit. Costilla translates to pork ribs and according to the Yelp reviewers, this is the most popular of the rotating dishes. The cook literally cuts off a section of pork ribs, pulled of the bones and then chops it up to bit sized pieces. The small bits of cartilage may be off putting to some people, but I loved the flavor of the rib meat .
Other cuts that rotate include the mainstream barbacoa (BBQ beef), rotisserie chicken to the more exotic berria (spicy goat), chicharrones (pork belly), cueritos (pork skin), and lengua (tongue). Don’t be afraid of these off cuts, you might be surprised if you like them.
House Made Everything
I chatted with the family members who owns El Toro Bravo and he told me that they make everything in house, except for the canned sodas. Behind the counter top there is essentially a manufacturing plant producing tortillas from scratch.
Literally you can see the vats of hominy that just finished being boiled and transferred to the grinder and being transformed into masa (dough). The masa is used to make the tortillas, which are then used to make their house made chips and tostada shells.
Great Customer Service
One of my favorite elements of this restaurant is their customer service. The owners greet you with a warm smile and a warm welcome. As I ate my meal, the owners came by and thanked me for visiting. They made me feel very welcome; this is the X factor of success for this restaurant.
My Final Thoughts
El Toro Bravo ranks up there as one of my favorite restaurants experiences so far of 2014. I have lived in Orange County for the past 15 years, so I am surprised that I never heard of this place. I love hole in the walls restaurants that serve awesome food. Judging by the high volume of business passing through El Toro Bravo, it is obvious that I am not alone in my love for their food. As the late Huell Howser would say, this place is California’s Gold.
I highly recommend El Toro Bravo to my readers.
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