The Dish List: El Toro Bravo

Marlon Castillo | New University

Marlon Castillo | New University

Search on the Internet to find where the best burritos and tacos in the United States are located, and California is guaranteed to pop up as one (at the very least) of the locations. The gospel of burritos and tacos is just one of the reasons why this state is so damn great, and it must be spread. That’s probably why Costa Mesa-based El Toro Bravo — singled out by OC Weekly as having the best burrito in 2011 — recently opened a second location in Tustin, where UC Irvine’s fanatics of these Mexican foodstuffs should visit.

Upon stepping into El Toro Bravo, I became a bit apprehensive about all the praise this place received over the years due to the presence of the warming trays that kept the meats, tamales and taquitos heated. You know which places use warming trays? Janky Chinese fast food restaurants and lukewarm buffets, all of which usually aren’t known for serving exactly high quality stuff. I had expected such a lauded eatery to cook their food made-to-order; after all, the best restaurants make their meals that way. However, most of my doubts were brought to rest when the grub was put to taste.

The burrito definitely deserves its plaudits. Whether it is the best in the OC remains to be seen, as there are many Mexican eateries to be explored. In any case, it is certainly up there, primarily because it is incredibly flavorful.

There are several types of meats to choose from to fill the burrito, namely barbacoa (steamed and smoked beef), carne asada (grilled beef), carnitas (pork) and pollo (chicken). The employee behind the counter told me that El Toro Bravo is best known for its carnitas, so that was the meat for my burrito. Also tucked inside this wrapped flour tortilla were cilantro, Mexican rice, onion, refried beans and salsa.

This burrito is packed with edibles and they complement and amalgamate so well. The savory, pinkish strips of carnitas are juicy and absorb the salsa to become tangy. The rice is quite unique, as it looks and tastes like fried rice without the soy sauce, containing carrots, green beans and peas, and also soaks up the salsa. The rustic beans, in addition to the piquant cilantro and onions, bring their own game to contribute to the body of this burrito. The first succulent mouthful will leave you salivating for the next.

The burritos at El Toro Bravo may be receiving most of the eatery’s accolades, but their tacos are capable of raising some eyebrows as well. On an ingredients level, they seem standard fare at first, as each one consists of a mound of meat, onions, cilantro and salsa atop a double stack of tortillas. However, the similarities to tacos from other places end with the portion size; while standard tacos are usually five inches in diameter and have about a handful of meat, El Toro Bravo’s tacos boast of tortillas nearly seven inches in diameter and comprise of twice the meat.

I was able to try out some of the other meats with my order of tacos, and they’re a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. The soft, delectable chunks of carne asada are moist, a must-try that would make a burrito emphatically scrumptious. The chicken appears to be braised, kept in a tray full of what looks like chicken stock and its juices. Though it is good by itself, it doesn’t sit well in a taco because it soaks the tortilla. The barbacoa is disappointing, as it is rather bland and ultimately made the taco almost pathetically tasteless.

If you order a burrito or taco, El Toro Bravo will present you with a side of chips and some pickled vegetables. The chips here are quite fantastic; made daily, their crispiness and edgy saltiness make them quite delectable, and their thickness is able to make them withstand being under a considerable clump of guacamole, sour cream or salsa. The cool vegetables accompany the warm food nicely and have a bit of spice themselves.

There are plenty of other menu items to explore as well. The taquitos are appropriately crunchy, sumptuous and, at 99 cents each, an absolute bargain, considering that El Toro Bravo gives a substantial amount of guacamole, sour cream and salsa (you must ask for them, of course), even if you buy only one. I will also say that this place boasts perhaps the most aromatic, refreshing and sweet horchata that I’ve ever tasted. Most similar eateries have those horchata machines, but this one keeps a large bucket full of seemingly fresh horchata in their fridge behind the counter.

El Toro Bravo may not have the cheapest prices, but considering their portion sizes and what they have to offer, the pricing is substantially more than reasonable. Throw in the fact that they have a student special in which 50 cents is deducted from the prices of burritos and tacos, and you have a downright bargain, given that a burrito and taco are regularly priced at around $6.50 and $2.50 respectively.

Parking is a bit of a hassle, especially if you decide to come at prime lunch or dinner hours. This eatery is located in a very compact plaza where there are only around 20 or so parking spaces, so it would be best to drop by when it isn’t so busy, like later in the afternoon or early evening.

The presence of El Toro Bravo’s Tustin location is a complete treat for not just us students, but also for California. It helps keep the gospel of burritos and tacos alive and well, and is certainly worthy of multiple visits. I know I’ll be going back sometime.