Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mexican food and flying chairs? (El Toreador, SF)

Last week I experienced some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten at El Toreador. When discussing where to dine, a friend said "Hey, let's go to this great Mexican place in SF." After living in the city for a couple years, I discovered that just about everyone I knew thought their favorite Mexican restaurant was the best ever, yet I had never been blown away. 'Sure,' I thought, 'let's go to this restaurant and have the same plate of enchiladas/fajitas/fill-in-the-blank with rice and beans that I've had at every other Mexican restaurant.' I was not expecting a unique experience, but that's not a bad thing; good food doesn't need to be special, just good.

Wow, I was blown away right when I walked in the door! The place is small and decorated with brightly colored... well, everything! And it was all suspended from the ceiling! There are lights made from colanders, water pitchers and bowls, bright mini-chairs are everywhere, and who knows what else! It looked like a piñata exploded, and actually made me smile; this place is so colorful it's almost dizzying. In addition, there is a massive bottled beer selection displayed in the entry. The server was friendly, but because the place was bustling with both eat-in diners and people dropping in for take-out, he was moving fast! Our thin, super-hot salsa came in a carafe, and was very tasty. The soup that came out before our entrées seemed visually unremarkable: it was a small cup of red broth with a piece of bread floating on top. The flavor was anything but boring, laden with intense flavors of tomato, cilantro, garlic, onion, and that bread was great...I think it was fried, so it was a little crispy and had soaked up more soup, one very mouth-watering bite! The next time I have a cold I'm ordering a gallon of that soup, it'll cure what ails ya!

The menu had the standard staples, but a few other items that were intriguing. A helpful menu note: the items are numbered, so if you don't know how to pronounce something you won't feel like an idiot. My friend ordered spinach enchiladas that came with steamed white rice and black beans, and I had the Molé de Cacahuate, 2 chicken enchiladas smothered in peanut molé sauce. Our entrées must have come out 7ish minutes after we ordered them, despite how busy they were! My friend's spinach enchiladas were filled generously with freshly sautéed spinach (I was already impressed at this point) and covered in delicious tomatillo salsa. My enchiladas were served with refried beans and mexican rice, and the molé sauce was a bit salty for me, but paired perfectly when wrapped up in a bite of the whole enchilada (I couldn't resist the pun;)). Both enchiladas were wrapped in house-made corn tortillas, which had a more pleasant, tender texture than the standard store-bought fare. At the end of this meal we were both stuffed, very satified, and I had put El Toreador permanently on my list of favorite restaurants. Though Brooks may not like this place because it's not located in a catering truck with flies buzzing around, it's definitely delish! So far it's the best Mexican food I've had in the City.

I wasn't able to find a website, but copies of their menu are posted at restaurants.com
El Toreador
50 West Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 566-2673
*thanks to yelp.com for photos!

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