Call me guilty of reading too much Hemingway, but I once romanticized about running with the bulls and living to tell the tale. You don’t have to risk your life or fly to Spain if you want to run with the bulls, though; at the recently opened El Torito Taqueria y Más, at 180 South Union Boulevard in Lakewood, you don't have to mess with the horns to get the bull.
El Torito (Spanish for "the little bull") represents the vision of owner Levy Villa, who brings his artistic and culinary sensibilities from his world travels. Villa's restaurant is a family operation, with his son Arturo helping out. The family has your taqueria cravings covered from morning to night, with a selection of breakfast burritos and tacos as well as coffee, hot chocolate and mochas made using the traditional cafe de olla method.
Beyond breakfast, the full menu sports an array of street tacos, including carne asada, pollo, carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, barbacoa, lengua and tripas, all made from scratch. You can dress your tacos to taste from the salsa bar, which offers four salsas, pico de gallo, lime wedges, sliced radishes and diced onion and cilantro.
There are also tortas, California-style burritos (or smothered) and plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans in addition to a variety of authentic soups and fresh salads. Many dishes, such as the green chile, are also gluten-free.
Before finishing high school, Villa took a year off to visit all the major cities in Mexico and enjoy the different food styles: tacos al pastor from Mexico City, the moles of Puebla, the carnitas of Michoacán, and the banana leaf-wrapped tamales of Oaxaca (to name just a few). He says his goal is to make dishes as authentically as possible from the regions of Mexico from which they are best known. Another case in point is Villa's beef barbacoa, cooked slowly following his mother's family recipe from Guerrero.
Inspired by his extensive travels to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, Villa offers regional favorites such as Yucatán-style cochinita pibil, Baja fish tacos with marinated grilled halibut, and camarones mi tierra (shrimp and jalapeños wrapped in bacon). After three years of living in Spain, Villa loves to showcase seafood in his paella, one of the chef’s specials on the menu. Other Latin American favorites include Argentinean steak with chimichurri and Chilean-style empanadas with picadillo, chicken or cheese. A television monitor behind the counter displays the chef’s daily specials.
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And if there's anyone left who's not on board the whole taqueria experience, there's an American section on the menu with burgers and sandwiches (like a BBBBBLT loaded with bacon).
Unlike many bare-bones taquerias, El Torito is furnished and decorated more in the manner of a full-fledged restaurant, with a colorful dining room and custom furniture and artwork. A full bar adds a festive atmosphere with the clink of margaritas accompanying the sizzle of fajitas and the aromas of grilled steak and seafood wafting from the kitchen. Happy hour runs daily from 2 to 6 p.m., with beers and house margaritas for $2.25. For a little more, you can also get sangria or handcrafted margaritas with fresh-squeezed lime and premium tequilas.
El Torito Taqueria Y Más is located at 180 South Union Boulevard, Unit 108, in Lakewood. The restaurant is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Call 720-596-4766 or visit eltoritoymas.com for more information and menu details.