Review of “The Matador” Restaurant in Fullerton
The Matador Cantina located in the historic downtown district of Fullerton, just north of Commonwealth Avenue on Harbor (front side at least). But since this is a pedestrian friendly area, you typically walk in the back courtyards and alleys and enter the restaurants from the rear entrance.When writing this blog I wasn’t quite sure how to describe this restaurant/lounge. I would describe the decor and ambiance as a mix of an upscale
Mexican restaurant, Amsterdam Disco and a hispter lounge in Portland. See my pictures below to get a feel for the place. It features weathered brick walls with the obligatory oil paintings of Matadors. Overall, the restaurant has a dark, mysterious and amped up ambiance with candles flickering in the background and house music pumped up.
The staff appears to be young and hip. The bar is back-lit from behind the top shelf-liquor and the bartenders were working on their bottle juggling skills behind the bar when not pouring drinks (think of the 80’s movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise). Looking up you see a large raised area where the DJ is spinning deep house and a disco-ball above is rotating and reflecting light beams against the weathered brick walls. Overall it had an up beat vibe in the restaurant.
If you like beers, then you might like their use of Milk Bottles for their 32 oz beers. Literally these are the 32 ounce glass milk bottles your grandparents would talk about. It was a fun concept and I enjoyed drinking straight out of the container. Plus, the bottle was big, so I got a really big buzz.
The menu at The Matador was Mexican eclectic with influences of Mexican, Spanish, Fusion Fare and even dishes normally reserved for Food Trucks. For example, the standard Northern Mexican dishes included the standard plates like Chille Relleno, Arroz con Pollo, Carnitas and Fajitas. The Fusion dishes included a Chorizo Ravioli and Tequila Lime Baby Back Ribs. The Spanish influenced dishes included a Chimichuri Steak and Sangria based dishes. The Food Truck fare included such items as Bacon-Wrapped Streetdogs (straight out of East Los Angeles), Carne Asada Fries and Fusion style quesadillas with curry, goat cheese and tzaziki. Needless to say, the Matador has a Neo-Mexican menu that goes beyond the standard burrito and Enchilada platters.
I ordered the Sangria Short rib plate, my wife ordered a custom burrito, our friend Lola (the Fullerton native) ordered the Short Rib Taco and our friend Stuart (the English Transplant) ordered the guacamole Burger.
The Sangria Short Rib Plate – This dish stood out to me on the menu, as I was looking for something different. I heard the short ribs at The Matador are amazing as they are cooked for 8+ hours in a slow simmer. What sold me on this dish was the Sangria and Veal Sauce. The meat itself was easy to break up into stringy chunks along the muscle lines. The sauce was both sweet from the Sangria and savory from the Veal Base. The balance between the sauce and the mildly sweet meat made for an amazing dish. This dish was served with roasted potatoes and carrots. I actually cut up the carrots and potatoes in small pieces so that they would suck up the sauce. At the end, I was literally using a spoon to scoop up as much sauce as I could. Since I was with polite company, I had to stop myself from licking the plate.
The Short Rib Tacos used the same slow simmered short rib meat and were stuffed into two corn tortillas with lettuce and Cotija. Lola said the tacos were very good and she liked the balance of the sweet meat, and the cool cotija cheese and lettuce. 20 minutes after the food was served I looked over at her plate was clean. I think see really liked it.
The Guacamole Burger – Nestled between a fluffy torta (Mexican version of a chibatta bread), was a large beef patty with the obligatory guacamole, Oaxaca cheese, green mayo (most likely cilantro and mayo emulsion) and tomato and onions. It was served with sweet potato fries. It was a pretty impressive burger. I couldn’t quite understand what Stuart was saying about the burger because he was too busy eating it. I think he liked it, although I noticed that he didn’t eat the bun. When I asked him why he didn’t like the bun, he responded back, “It was quite good really, but I already ate a loaf of beer and I am cutting back on the carbs” ( *Note this is your author’s reconciliation of Stuart’s quote.)
Daniele got the custom burrito that is really not worth describing in this blog because it was akin to a 24-hour burrito joint. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a slam against The Matador, but rather a commentary on my wife’s ordering habits. In all fairness to the Matador, they did execute a beans, cheese and sour cream burrito very nicely and were very open to making a custom dish. In all consideration to my wife, she knows what she likes and that is what food is all about.
During our meal, the music started getting louder as the DJ started spinning and the disco ball started to spin and rotate light strobes. The staff cleared away the center tables and the local color started to arrive. The mix of people in the Restaurant/Lounge were equal parts of the following::
- Los Angeles Hipsters wearing derbies, sweater vests, big belt buckles and 70’s gay biker porn mustaches and chunky glasses.
- Newport Beach Faux Sleazies wearing tight and barely-there clothing for the women and Ecko button down shirts and Monarchy Jeans for the Guys.
- Huntington Beach/909 style UFC superfans with their Affliction T-Shirts and choice of beanie or broad rimmed baseball Cap.
On a side note, I will say that this part of Fullerton is the cross-roads of civilizations. Ancient Constantinople was the cross-roads of the East and West, bringing in Peoples from all parts of the known world together for trade and merriment. The Commonwealth/SOCO district is the modern-day version, bringing Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to a crossroads of food and culture, but I digress once again, back to my review of El Matador.
I would give this restaurant/lounge a 3 out of 5. I thought the food was delicious and had an innovative menu. The service was good, except we did have to wait a long time for drinks (my only beef). I enjoyed the ambiance and overall upbeat vibe. Next time I really want to try the chorizo ravioli and the bacon wrapped hot dogs.
If you wish to learn more about the restaurant including a full menu go to their website: http://www.thematador.com/@tomsfoodieblog