On a strip mall corner in the heart of Orange County, a multitude of tastes come together, a la Asian fusion. Toro Burger, which opened earlier this year, brings together Angus beef patties and the flavors of Southeast Asia with their wide variety of handcrafted burgers — Noodle Burger, Banh Mi Burger, Waygu and Waffo. Each burger creation is a masterpiece in its own right. Nothing beats a restaurant with its own unique hamburger taste. Joints such as Slater’s 50/50, The Counter, Umami, Crow Burger and The Habit, which each have several locations throughout the OC, serve up unique tastes, from Slater’s half-bacon, half-beef patties to The Counter’s make-it-yourself burgers and burger salads to Umami’s parmesan crisp and shiitake mushroom burger with their own house ketchup.
Just last year, Keizo Shimamoto invented the instantly popular Original Ramen Burger, which Toro Burger has appropriated and transformed into its own version of the dish, renaming it the “Noodle Burger.” It is this particular burger, complete with a bun made from thick layers of chewy ramen noodles, shaved scallions and BBQ pork belly, that has been drawing attention to the small picture-windowed restaurant on 4th St. in Santa Ana. I met my father for lunch there last week and tried a few of their most popular items. Looking for this particular burger joint’s unique flavor, I ordered their signature “Toro Burger” — caramelized onions, bacon, salad, melted American cheddar cheese and special “toro sauce” atop an average-sized beef patty — and asked for a noodle bun instead of the usual sesame.
The burger combo came with a choice of fries — waffle, truffle or sweet potato, and a cup of fresh lemonade, strawberry or spinach. I took my servers’ suggestions and got the waffle fries and strawberry lemonade. My dad ordered the Waygu burger with truffle fries. The food came out hot and melty and the lemonade sweet and cold. The meat tasted fresh, and the tangy toro sauce and melted cheddar melded into one delicious taste. The onions were soft and sweet and made the burger juicier. Yet the bun, the best part of it all, pulled everything together. To create its noodle buns, Toro combines ramen with egg and a few other ingredients and lets the mixture sit and harden overnight, creating a fresh set of buns daily.
The waffle fries, shaped like little ovular waffles, were thick, chewy and a little too potato-y for my liking, but complemented the burger well. I much preferred my dad’s truffle fries, which were sprinkled with cheese and garlic for a crispier and lighter bite. Yet what won me over was the strawberry lemonade. Made fresh daily, Toro’s strawberry lemonade comes topped with an icy strawberry slush, two thin slices of fresh strawberry and a small mint leaf for a sweet and delicious taste. This might have been the best strawberry lemonade I’ve ever tasted. My dad enjoyed his Waygu Burger, which had a thick Korean BBQ sauce, American cheddar, mixed greens and sautéed mushrooms, which he felt “added a nice texture.”
The bad — Toro does not cater to vegetarians at all. Out of all of their burgers –– seven in all — not one is vegetarian-friendly. You also have to love burgers to love Toro, as there is little else, other than fries and somewhat obscure sides, such as “Calamari Fritti” on its complex, yet small, menu. Also, for a restaurant with such an unusual menu, the music was all top 40, including Ke$ha and One Direction, which might disappoint some. Finally, as with most restaurants in Orange County, the food at Toro Burger is slightly more expensive than it is actually worth. My combo of a burger, fries and lemonade came out to $14.50 and the portions were on the small side. I finished my lemonade and fries within five minutes. Toro’s wasn’t the best handcrafted burger I’ve ever tried, but I would certainly give it an honorable mention if there were ever an OC burger place contest and will certainly return if I ever find myself in Santa Ana. Although the meal was delicious, for the price, it probably wouldn’t have been worth the drive if I hadn’t already been in the area.