Review: Toro Restaurant

And the crowd shouts "Ole!"
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 4, 2014

0606_Dining_top.jpg 
EYE-CATCHING Toro's colorful interior.

I don’t know about you, but $5 appetizers all day Thursdays — not just at appie hour — can make me a regular. And it’s that same price for the classic Margarita at Toro Restaurant, to keep things happy. The space was formerly occupied by Blush Wine Bar, and the glow remains.

As befits a place with the self-confidence or blithe audacity to open on Atwells Avenue, Providence’s restaurant row, you can’t pass by without your attention being yanked to Toro’s unusually colorful interior. The blocky wooden chairs are cheerfully painted in kindergarten colors: warm yellows and hot reds, with a wall-length mural full of saguaro cactuses and mountains against an orange sky. Just looking around makes you need a beer. And nothing against sports bars or ESPN, but it’s refreshing to see only two big flat-screens, tuned to CNN at that.

Call me cheap, greedy, or just hungry, but I appreciate the hospitality of chips and salsa being set down unasked for, and uncharged for, at a Mexican restaurant. My mango margarita was a cooling complement while I munched and perused the menu, though you should ask for yours without ice if you want to sip longer without it diluting. Our server was owner Efrel Lopez, and he’s eager to help.

Let me give a thorough rundown of those eight appetizers, since on Thursdays you can assemble a delightful little tapas meal quite inexpensively from them exclusively. The regular prices range from $6.25 for the pickled jalapeno cheese dip and the shrimp cocktail, to $10.50 for a three-cheese and olives sampler. There are also chicken wings, fried baby shrimp, nachos, and taquitos.

I can highly recommend those last little treats, six half-tortilla-wraps stuffed with marinated and shredded beef, red sauce-topped and accompanied by generous amounts of sour cream, guacamole, and a slightly sweet slaw called escabeche. If you like ceviche, the coctel de camarones, though called a shrimp cocktail, looks more like the former, in pieces rather than whole shrimp. Since they’re not marinated in lime juice, you might want to ask for more than the wedge with which it’s served.

They have black bean, tortilla, and even chicken noodle soups, but no way I wasn’t going to have the pozole ($4.25), a favorite of mine; not every Mexican restaurant serves it. The Toro version is bowl-size at a cup price, but I would have preferred it smaller and thicker, both with ingredients and the fairly flavorful broth itself. Yet there was plenty of pork, plus shredded cabbage and cilantro on the side to add — lots to love.

In addition to the starters, every weekday the lunch specials are quite ample for $8.50. There are 10 choices, from as simple as tostadas, tacos, and taco salad, to as special as the tomatillo pork. One of my lunch companions had the latter, and the plentiful chunks of meat were tender and delicious. All specials are served with refried beans (topped with melted cheese, as it should always be) and jalapeño-packed rice.

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