Sunday, October 5, 2014

The secrets we keep – chilaquiles at El Torito.

Chilaquiles at El Torito. © Ryan Schierling
When we first visited Anna Salinas' El Torito seven months ago, there was no information across the wood shake above the front windows, only a blank open signage slot with exposed fluorescent tubes, waiting to illuminate something, anything.

There was no banner with the tiny restaurant's name, or specials, or letting the public know that the flour and corn tortillas were hand-made. There were only large, hand-written signs in the windows that read "TACOS," "GORDITAS" and "MENUDO."

There is a larger taqueria in this same strip mall, just down the way, and an even bigger Mexican restaurant/cantina across the street where the parking lot always seems to be full. Truth be told, we're not ones for sizzling fajita specials, frozen margaritas and roving mariachi bands, and we've never been the least bit curious about either of those joints. After our first breakfast at El Torito, we were absolutely, unequivocally hooked.

The chilaquiles verdes, served with pinto beans, are right at the top of my list of favorites in Austin. In Italian, the perfect doneness of pasta is "al dente." I don't know if there's a word in Spanish for totopos quickly and gently simmered in sauce until they are at the knife-edge-thin line between completely-crispy and slightly-sodden, but there should be. They need to have just the right tooth. The homemade totopos in El Torito's chilaquiles dance on that razor's edge, every time we visit, and the verdes version is supremely fresh, bright and tangy.

The chilaquiles rojos, served with black beans, have a flavor profile to the salsa that seems to have been in subtle flux the last few visits – alternating between understated and mild, to nicely fiery, to having a little smoky chipotle bite. Regardless, they are still a top-tier red any day of the week. Both red and green versions are given a dusting of white cheese before being crowned by a pair of eggs. Crema is on the side.

The delicious cafe de olla has a bit of piloncillo in it, and the sandia agua fresca (when available) is a morning miracle.

We waited quite a while to let everyone in on this authentic little South Austin gem, wanting to keep it to ourselves and locals in the know. Six months of eating chilaquiles plates and assorted tacos is more than enough time to know that El Torito is just too good to keep a secret any longer. Thank you, Anna.

For some of our other favorite chilaquiles, see The *New* State of Chilaquiles in Austin, Texas.

El Torito, 6616 South Congress. © Ryan Schierling

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