Home » Restaurant Review » El Toro Bravo Tortilleria – One of Orange County’s Hidden Gems
El Toro Bravo Tortilleria  –  One of Orange County’s Hidden Gems
El Toro Bravo

El Toro Bravo Tortilleria – One of Orange County’s Hidden Gems


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.


El Toro Bravo - Carne Combination Chips tortillas and rice

El Toro Bravo has some of the best Mexican Food in Orange County


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. 


El Toro Bravo Tortarilla is very popular and lines out the door are not uncommon

El Toro Bravo Tortarilla is very popular and lines out the door are not uncommon


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.


El Toro Bravo  - View from street

El Toro Bravo is located at 745 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, right behind Jugos Alcapulco


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.    


El Toro Bravo - is literally one of Orange County's hidden gems

El Toro Bravo – is literally one of Orange County’s hidden gems


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. 


El Toro Bravo -  Meats and Menu

El Toro Bravo works in a take out format with a fresh selection of meats.


Combination Plates 

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.


El Toro Bravo - Chopping the Meat on the line

At El Toro Bravo, your choice of meat is chopped up and served in your combination.


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.


El Toro Bravo - Menu

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.


El Toro Bravo -  Carne Combination 1

The Carne combination comes with your choices of meats, rice, beans, six tortillas, salsa and house made chips


Standard Meats

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. 


El Toro Bravo - Carne Combination Carnitas


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 .


El Toro Bravo -  Carne Combination Ribs and Carne Asada

I personally like to grab a tortilla full of meat and goodies straight from container, it makes a perfect taco


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. 

The daily meat options vary from tame to exotic. I always select the carnitas, carne asada and at least one of the daily meats

The daily meat options vary from tame to exotic. I always select the carnitas, carne asada and at least one of the daily meats


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.


El Toro Bravo - House Made Tortillas

El Toro Bravo’s tortillas are made 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

 El Toro Bravo - 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. 

El Toro Bravo - Standing Room Only

El Toro Bravo on Urbanspoon


Recent Restaurant Reviews





About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


  1. This “hole in the wall” sounds amazing. I definitely will check it out the next time I’m in Orange County!

  2. I love El Toro Bravo. It’s about 2 blocks from where I live, but I don’t go often enough. However, they have a little market across the shopping center (also called El Toro Bravo). If you ever want to just get tortillas or chips, you can go to the market and get them (and not have to wait in the huge line at El Toro Bravo)!

    I love how friendly everyone is (granted I speak Spanish) and the tortillas are probably the best you’ll find in OC.

    • Thanks for chiming in Karla! I love how fast the line moves at El Toro Bravo as well. Really great people who own the restaurant. Family owned for 30 years. I love their market as well!

  3. All the food looks so tasty! Is there anyway to get recipes? YUMM

  4. Definitely agree that Word of Mouth is the best advertising! The food looks absolutely delicious.

  5. I love hole in the wall restaurants, I have always found them to be the best. I also love Mexican food so I definitely think I would enjoy this very much!

  6. Thanks for sharing, this is great info. The funny thing about these diners is when you live somewhere you know the good ones but when traveling you are scared to try them because you are not sure how they are and how clean they are:)

  7. Stephanie Clopton

    What a great write up of this “hole in the wall” that I’d love to try!

  8. Wow what great images and I can’t wait to check it out. Glad you drew me a map!

  9. I’d like to try the Costillo out sounds like my kind of place.

  10. Great review! The food looks great and I love that they make everything fresh!

  11. I just love what you do for a living. Getting to eat at these amazing restaurants and sampling these delicious food has to be a great dream job :-)

  12. Looks like a great place! When are you going to take me:) Loves Mexican Food! Glad you found a great place while I was getting my eyelashes done:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *