Back in September, El Torito stunned Foodbeast staff by offering a new, limited time ‘Flavors of Baja’ menu that not only tasted good, but seemed to finally break the stale mold of Chain Mexican Restaurant dining. This time El Torito is back at it again, successfully introducing more traditional Mexican flavors not typically seen at your average taco shop. The vehicle is through its new, carefully-crafted Comida Clásica menu that swayed toward the conservative but could boast tradicional roots without destroying the facade of “Mexican Flavors’ the American palette has been trained to love (for better or worse).
In a utopian world, established restaurants with Research and Menu Development budgets, similar to El Torito, would be able to take grandiose and most importantly aggressive steps to introduce new flavors and finally shift the American palette to Mexican cuisine outside of the Asada Taco, Carnitas Burrito and Cheese Enchilada. It’s true, the metropolitan palette in the US has already been shifting due to the success of mainstream ‘Mexican’ like Chipotle/Taco Bell and the Asian-Fusion popularity that took us all by storm (and is still delicious). But will that direction last? Would we want it to?
The Comida Clásica menu takes baby steps in the right direction toward new flavors based in Mexican cultural relevance. Case in point, the Enchiladas de Huitlacoche include a creamy almond Nogata sauce (typically popular during the holidays) and sautéed Huitlacoche, otherwise known as mushroom of the corn or corn smut. By itself, when boiled and sautéed, Huitlacoche could be described as having an intimidating taste, virtually unknown to everyday stateside flavors. However, when delivered through a popular menu item like the enchilada and combined with chicken, manchego cheese and roasted pepitas, the flavor and also therefore its chances for mainstream acceptance — come to life. Of all the dishes, the enchiladas took the most confident step into the unknown, for which I give the Real Mex Executive Team a ton of credit. Branding a new Huitlacoche menu item isn’t easy nor is executing it at 60+ restaurants.
One will start to feel the conservatism expressed through the remaining menu items: Queso Fundido Appetizer, Mahi Mahi Veracruz, Street Taco Trio and the Carne Asada con Mole Tradicional. Of the remaining items, the Carne Asada dish is worth a specific mention because of its attempt to present Mole in a new light. Mole Poblano is the most popularized type of sauce outside of Mexico. If you’ve had Mole in the past, and can’t remember what kind – odds are you ate a Poblano. The Comida Clásica menu twists that script by introducing a traditional Red Mole from the state of Guanajuato, a state smack-dab in the middle of the country. The Red Mole is less sweet than its Poblano counterpart, mainly because less chocolate is used. Red Mole also uses the Pasilla pepper versus the darker Mulatto chiles. For someone opposed to the sweetness of the Pablano, but still interested in Mole flavors — this Red Mole might be the perfect combination. The sauce still adds significant flavor to the seasoned asada without completely overpowering it.
Overall the menu still impresses even if my personal hope would be to see a more aggressive set of food options. Still, I have come to terms with how a new menu item’s success is still dictated by its sales (for the most part). And boy, us Americans — we’re a tough crowd to please.
Check out the photos and menu descriptions of the full Comida Clásica menu below including its featured cocktails: the Margarita Toreada and the Fire Chata. Photos by Peter Pham.
Queso Fundito Appetizer
El Torito’s Queso Fundito uses a hybrid of Chihuahua and Manchego Cheeses as the primary ingredient. Chihuahua Cheese was originally brought to Mexico by European Mennonites and can be compared to a mild cheddar. Manchego, originally from Spain, traditionally is a white, sheep-milk cheese but has since been adapted to a cow cheese here in North America. The combination of these cheeses, lean chorizo, sautéed mushrooms, and a roasted pepper salsa proved to be more than worthwhile.
Enchiladas de Huitalacoche
As previously mentioned, if there’s one menu item you should try — it should be these enchiladas. Similar to many contemporary independent restaurants El Torito also found a good way to implement the ever-popular squash blossoms that sit at the bottom of the plate. Try this dish for the almond Nogata sauce and most likely your first bite of sautéed huitalacoche.
Street Taco Trio
This entree serves a variety set of tacos on corn tortillas including steak, grilled chicken breast and carnitas. The pickled nopalitos add an interesting flavor but the real standout is the side dish. The tacos are served with a restaurant adaptation of esquite de maiz, similar to a Mexican creamed corn. At stands off the highways in Mexico, one can buy the street version of this food: sliced corn off the grill thrown into a cup with lime juice, hot sauce and mayonnaise. The El Torito version has been classed up, but you’ll get the idea.
Mahi Mahi Veracruz
Loreto Alacala, Manager of Training and Development at El Torito, specifically noted the seafood rivalry between two coastal states of Mexico — Veracruz v. Sinaloa. The Mahi Mahi Veracruz ironically combines a Pacific fish that could technically be caught in Sinaloa with the Veracruz culinary style by using roasted vegetables, citrus and tomatoes. Perhaps this was a subconscious decision by Alcala that ends up politically pleasing countryman from both states. The fish itself is light and refreshing, but I’m going to guess most patrons don’t frequent El Torito for it’s lighter fare.
Margarita Toreada and Fire Chata Cocktails
The Margarita Toreada includes Maestro Dobel Tequila, sweet & sour and jalapeño toreado chiles. The Fire Chata brings similar heat with Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and Rum Horchata.
Loreto Alcala, Training & Development – El Torito
No, Mr. Alcala isn’t on the LTO menu, but his worldly expertise and graceful manner in which he communicates should be properly noted. El Torito, he’s a keeper. And the crew is excited to get our hands on his new Mexico City LTO menu.