Mexican Restaurants, a sampler. 5/27/99

El Torito Grill 5/23/99
21321 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, CA
phone 310-543-1896
web site: . . and several other restaurants

Location. Don't let the address fool you, this is not on Hawthorne Blvd. It's on what people and the sign call Restaurant Row, one block west of Hawthorne. From the corner of Hawthorne and Torrance Blvd.'s go one block west on Torrance Blvd., take the first left on a street called Village Lane, and it's a few buildings down on the right.

Description. This is called southwestern rather than Mexican food. Most of the time you order from the menu, but on Sunday they do a good all-you-can-eat buffet with champagne. I know that champagne is not the correct term, I'm sure it was an American sparkling wine, but I call the event a champagne brunch. There are also a few other branches of this restaurant in southern California.

Hours and Prices. The brunch is on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. During the first hour the price is $9.95. After 11 a.m. it's $11.95. These are the adult prices. I always go at 10 a.m., the food is fresher and you don't have to fight the traffic.

Omelets and stuff. As you enter, the room to the right offers made-to-order omelets, beef and chicken tacos, and waffles. I'd skip the omelet, you can make that at home. I skip the tacos also. The waffles sit under a heat lamp and dry out, so try to get a fresh one. The butter and syrups are in the center room between the ice cream and the juice. There are a few salsas here, next to the omelet ingredients. Before the last remodeling, all the brunch food was in this room.

The center room++. As you enter the center room, you may pass someone making fresh tortillas. The food and the plates here are not organized so I'll just describe the room, as you enter, starting on the left at about 5 o'clock. (1) First are three juices; the white stuff tastes good. But, on 6/13/99 it wouldn't mix and sat there like sand in your glass. I did tell them. (2) Next are the toppings for waffles and ice cream and the ice cream. Today the soft ice cream machine was broken, so they had a big container of real ice cream. (4) Next are the plates at about 9 o'clock. (5) Then come three soups with toppings. The fire roasted tomato soup is good, but heavy. I'll sometimes take some menudo broth, just to verify it's not my favorite. The third soup might be call lime soup with a tangy taste. When no one's watching, I put them in juice glasses so I can sip them. I guess you don't get a coffee cup unless you buy coffee. (6) At about 11 o'clock are peel-yourself shrimp and seviche. I did ask the last manager to replace the salsa here with a conventional cocktail sauce, but nothing happened. I just don't enjoy the cold shrimp without cocktail sauce, so I always wish I'd brought my own. (7) From about 12 to 1 o'clock is a medium-sized salad and fruit bar. Good stuff. (8) At about 2 o'clock are the rice, beans, and sweet corn cake. (9) The rest of the room, to the right, is the hot food. This varies from year to year with the managers, and from chef to chef, but from week to week the major change is either chicken or beef fajitas. Starting on the left are beef ribs, cut into small pieces. But they're still to big for me, so I just break off a sample. Next are grilled chicken pieces, which I skip or sample. Then come the fajitas, either chicken, which I prefer, or beef. Today they were slices of grilled chicken breast with a heavy, marinated taste. I hunt around for the seared pieces. Very good. The rest of the hot items include fish, potatoes, mixed vegetables, sausage links, eggs Benedict, cheese enchiladas, etc. I skip or just sample this stuff. (10) In the center of the room are more desserts like cakes and things.

Desserts. I mentioned the waffles, ice cream and toppings, fruit, and other deserts above. For dessert I might do a waffle with ice cream, maple syrup and/or strawberries, and chopped nuts.

Music. Starting about 11 a.m. is a guy playing electric harp with canned accompaniment. You might call it new age or soft jazz. He sets up in the lobby, near the tortilla station. But when he's not playing, there's canned Mexican music over the PA system. Especially under a speaker, it's too loud for me. So select your seat accordingly. I can eat without music and prefer it unless my favorite classical music would be appropriate.

Recommendation. Follow my buffet hints, and go at 10 a.m. for the early-bird price. Select seats appropriate for your tolerance of music and kids. Remember, the brunch includes champagne which is an alcoholic beverage. And don't ask me which brand of champagne; it was cool, wet, and plentiful, so I liked it. Coffee and other drinks are extra. For me, when the chef gets the chicken fajitas right it's a good meal.

++ When I refer to o'clock positions, I mean like around the dial of a clock, where 12 o'clock would be straight ahead.