7845 Leary Way
Redmond WA 98052
Small Time Mexican Done Right
By: Bryan R
Sometimes everything just comes together. The sum total doesn't have to be something especially spectacular, just well honed. Such is the case with the easy to miss Mexican eatery, El Toreador. Here, you'll find generally tasty dishes in a simple but comfortable environment; while no one thing particularly shines (except the prices), everything simply works well together. The result is very satisfying.
Located in downtown Redmond, El Toreador is something of a city landmark, having dished out tasty Mexican food for nearly 30 years. It's owned by a local family and is run by three brothers who earnestly believe that happiness is a warm tortilla. You can't help but be charmed.
Despite its 30 year history, El Toreador has aged well. Although it obviously underwent a remodeling sometime in the recent past, plenty of older bits of charm persist. Softly painted wood paneling dominates the interior texture, infusing much of an 'old world' feeling. A few tasteful bits of Mexican art, such as a handful of impressive vases, are arranged about the restaurant. Fortunately, the decorations are all tasteful; there was nothing gaudy or tacky.
A small mirrored bar occupies most of the back of the restaurant which looks perfect for enjoying a margarita. Overall, it's a casual, comfortable environment perfect for regulars and visitors alike. And maybe most impressively, the prices are remarkable and the portions are generous. El Toreador truly embraces the best aspects of the Mexican restaurant phenomenon.
I liked El Toreador from start to finish, namely for its homey atmosphere and down-to-the-basics attitude, where the food is good, plentiful, and cheap. Up the street, chain restaurants such as Azteca and Los Margaritas charge upwards $12 a plate, while El Toreador is miraculously able to offer meals that are far better for half the price. The restaurant doesn't cut corners either, as you also get a warm plate of thick chips with your meal, including a mild green salsa and a warm, red salsa.
I ordered the tostada with green aauce ($7.50), which arrived as a large plate of Spanish rice, refried beans, cabbage, and four heaping mounds of tostadas made of chicken, cream, and green sauce. My thoughts on the green sauce was that it was quite tangy, with a bit of acidity, sourness, and subtle sweetness from the tomatillo base. The texture was slightly gritty from the chopped garlic bits, which added a sharp flavor to the dish.
While this was definitely a welcome change from the sugar-laden green sauces that seem to permeate many Mexican establishments now, the sauce did have a sour current that I couldn't quite get over. The chicken was completely enveloped by the sauce, and seemed well cooked and not too dry. The rice and beans were pretty standard.
Living in Redmond, El Toreador is definitely on my list of places to try again, especially if I'm on a budget. For the bang per buck, it's hard to beat.
I was rather impressed with El Toreador. The exterior, though nice and well-maintained, isn't exactly striking. So despite having passed the restaurant dozens of times before, I never really noticed it. My mistake! The starter chips and salsa were remarkably tasty and I especially appreciated the warm, spicy salsa that seemed to glow when it touched my taste buds.
For the main plate, I settled on the Chalupas de Jalisco ($7.50). I'm still astonished that it only ran me an amazing seven bucks and change. These chalupas, small tortillas topped with meat, sour cream, guacamole, onions, and grated cheese, were served on a large platter along with rice and brown beans.
The spiced rubbed meat was flavorful but a bit light in terms of portion, while the guacamole appeared to be fresh and homemade. The plate was smothered in a slightly sour, though not unpleasant, sauce that was laced with hints of mint, parsley, and lemon juice. Reminiscent of long-standing traditions, the rice and beans were simple, uncomplicated, and lacked that heavy lard texture that dominates refried beans at many Mexican restaurants. Overall, the dish was decent. In light of the price, it's pretty impressive.