El Toro Bravo: Burrito Al Pastor

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El Toro Bravo is another outpost of one of my favorite carnicerias, El Toro Carniceria. It’s snugged in that tiny shopping center at Red Hill and El Camino Real, with a Starbucks, a check cashing place, and several other businesses. For those who know the center but have never gone in, the parking lot is actually roomier than it looks from the outside. But this isn’t a parking blog, so on to the food.

I’ll just start by saying that this was one of the best assembled and most tightly wrapped burritos I’ve ever had. Carrying it around, it almost felt like it would bounce if I dropped it, and when I finally ate it, every bite had every ingredient represented. The default fillings-rice, beans, meat, and salsa-make an excellent burrito on their own, but I highly recommend asking for some roasted jalapeño. They were just sitting in an unlabeled tray of the steam table, enticing me with their charred skin and a promise of a nice fruity spice. The guy making my burrito seemed to be taken aback, though, warning me that my burrito would be “mucho hot” before chopping two peppers and adding them. It was indeed, and I loved it!

I also had the opportunity to let this burrito sit out in its wrapper for a little while, which my mom always says makes a burrito taste better as the flavors marry and all that.

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Tacos Ensenada: Costillas de Puerco

We had other eating plans for later in the day, so I opted for something smaller than my usual wet burrito lengua. Their menu is rather expansive, so I just chose the special from a sign on the counter: Costillas de Puerco en Salsa Quemada (pork ribs in salsa quemada).

Salsa quemada isn’t exactly standardized, but the basic idea is that at least the tomatoes and chiles are smoked. Tacos Ensenada’s salsa quemada is indeed nicely smoky, but it also has a great fruity spice from whatever various chiles Tacos Ensenada uses, and he dish overall is hearty and pork-y. Salsa quemada is also available from their salsa bar, but one doesn’t get the benefit of the costillas and all the goodness they bring to the table. It comes with rice, beans, and tortillas, all of which are always good.

It's a good value for $7.95, too.

It’s a good value for $7.95, too.

Taqueria Guadalupana: Torta Lengua

Taqueria Guadalupana is my all time favorite Mexican place, and consistently in my top 5 restaurants of all time. This is the place where I first had lengua many years ago, in torta form, and I haven’t gotten anything else there since. While the lengua is, of course, the star for me, the thing that really elevates this torta is the whole avocado that is simply scooped out of the skin and smashed onto the bread. Taqueria Guadalupana’s lengua is very simply prepared—I don’t taste much of anything other than proper seasoning—so the richness and tang of the tongue really shine.

Torta also with a capital T. Also described by me as "Only the best sandwich ever." Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Torta also with a capital T. Further described by me as “Only the best sandwich ever.” Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

I’ve had trouble finding it in the past, so here’s the Yelp page with the address, map, etc.

This concludes the planned Mexican portion of my tongue survey, unless I somehow happen upon a new place in the next two hours before I go to class.

El Toro Carniceria: Taco Lengua

El Toro Carniceria of Santa Ana is a very well-known spot at 1st Street and Bristol, a stone’s throw from the hip Arts District. It’s actually a two-part affair, composed of the main store and the smaller prepared food annex. The main store is very useful in its own right, but the tacos, among many other things, come from the prepared-food annex. The annex isn’t tiny, but it fills up fast. El Toro’s lengua has pleasant aromatic notes of cilantro and onion, and, like all their meats, is always cut up to order and steaming hot. Like any taqueria, you can of course get any meat in any form, and everyone has their favorite dish with their favorite meat. The star of any taco from El Toro is definitely the meat, although every component has its place in the dish. Usually, I go for a torta, but the first time I went to El Toro Carniceria, I saw some tacos being made for another customer, but it was how they make their tacos that really appetized me. For a taco lengua, the person behind the counter simply grabs a handful of lengua, kept in large pieces in the case, runs a cleaver through it a couple of times, and scoops it into double-layered house-made corn tortillas. A generous pinch of onion and cilantro finishes the simple, delicious, and massive taco. There are a variety of great salsas available, but for me that just detracts from the simple perfection of the meat, tortillas, onion, and cilantro.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Tacos Ensenada: Wet Burrito Lengua

I have no idea how I did not about Tacos Ensenada before a couple of months ago. I had always thought the area around El Toro and the 5 was something of an culinary wasteland – Guitar Center and Smart & Final were always the main reasons to venture to the area. To illustrate just how bleak my perception of the area was, I can say that I was genuinely happy when Lee’s Sandwiches opened there! Tacos Ensenada is somewhat hidden from view off Raymond, a small side street, in one of the many subdivided shopping centers running along each side of that stretch of El Toro. I don’t usually get wet burritos, but the first time I went there, the person taking our order offered the wet option. Without really thinking, I said yes, and chose green sauce over red. Going to a new place always spurs me to try something new, and it turned out I had no idea what I was missing. The burrito is massive, wet or not, and filled simply with meat, rice, and beans. Wet, it comes covered in melted, not to mention activated, cheese and your chosen sauce. Silverware is, of course, needed.

I did say it was big.

I did say it was big.

El Fenix: Burrito Lengua

El Fenix was a godsend when it first opened in little ol’ RSM, but thanks to the city’s weird (or possibly nonexistent) zoning logic, it was slotted in just two doors to the left of a well established Mexican restaurant. Fortunately, El Fenix distinguishes itself from its neighbor not only with far superior food, but with a very useful market, the opening of which spawned my family’s Taco Friday tradition. The Reuben’s Tortilleria tortillas delivered daily, hot off the shelf, their wonderful salsas, and great prepared and pre-marinated meats make every Taco Friday an excellent Taco Friday.

El Fenix’s lengua is a lengua verde—nice chunks of tongue in a slightly spicy green sauce, with the tongue’s richness complementing it nicely. It adds a wonderful saucy element to whatever you use it in. Pictured: burrito lengua with rice, beans, serrano salsa, and guacamole.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it's dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it’s dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

It went very well with Cismontane Brewing Company’s Coulter IPA and Citizen California Common.