By Anna-Marie Menhenott
STUART -- With Mariachi music playing in the background and the walls adorned with cactus plants, sleepy donkeys and sombreros, it's easy to feel as if stepping into El Toro Mexican Food and Cantina is nothing short of stepping into a restaurant in a small town in Mexico.
The friendly, attentive staff makes sure that every aspect of the dining experience is covered, from chips and salsa as soon as guests are seated to friendly conversation and offers of scrumptious desserts.
The freshly made chips and salsa were an incredible start to our meal. The salsa was full of chopped veggies that gave a crunch to each bite. The salsa wasn't hot, but it had enough heat to make one appreciate their cold beverage. The homemade chips were delicious. I knew that the beginning of our meal was the start of something wondrous.
"We make everything from scratch," said Herberto Martinez, owner. "We use fresh and natural ingredients that really make a difference in the taste of the food. We use family recipes that have been with us for generations. What you're eating is authentic Mexican food."
As my companion and I enjoyed the atmosphere, we noticed Mr. Martinez making his way around the restaurant, stopping to talk to each party, and offering suggestions from the menu.
"We are a family restaurant. My family works here and we treat our guests like family," Mr. Martinez said. "I want everyone to feel comfortable and I want them to enjoy the experience."
And, that's what it was... a dining experience.
Our first course, after the chips and salsa, was a steaming bowl of Toro soup and a plate of chicken wings. The soup was creamy with chicken, corn, beans, with tortillas and cheese on top. The soup was enough for a meal, but I knew I needed to pace myself in order to enjoy the rest of our dinner.
The chicken wings were deep fried and covered with a Mexican hot sauce. The sauce had a kick to it that made me reach for my water. It was an enjoyable heat that any wing-lover would appreciate.
Our main course was house favorites, steak and chicken fajitas, and a ground beef chimichanga. The meat, onions and peppers of the fajitas sizzled as they were placed on the table, giving off an incredible aroma. They were served with flour or corn tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa and guacamole. The tender meat had a distinct flavor that placed them as one of my favorite dishes of all time.
The deep-fried chimichanga was golden brown and topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. Both were served with beans and rice and the portions made each dish large enough for two.
Other menus items that caught my eye were the enchiladas, Mexican fish tacos and the popular egg dishes such as huevos rancheros, which is eggs on tortillas, covered with salsa and served with rice and beans.
"We've been here for 14 years and we're getting better and better. Business is going great. We want to make sure everyone who walks through the door is happy, no matter what they want to eat," Mr. Martinez said.
Because of his aim to please, Mr. Martinez has included American fare, such as hamburgers and steak, on the menu. There is also a children's menu that includes tacos, burritos and chicken fingers.
As we sat in the restaurant with our appetites satiated, Mr. Martinez brought out dessert. The amazing looking fried ice cream was too good to pass up. The fried tortilla filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with a cinnamon dust and drizzled with chocolate syrup, then topped wih whipped cream and a cherry, was absolutely delicious. When I saw this dessert, I knew pacing myself was a good idea.
The sweet treat hit the spot after such a tasty dinner. The dessert is big enough to be shared, especially after enjoying such a great meal.
The restaurant has a full bar and serves such specialties as margaritas and homemade sangria. There are several domestic beers available as well as imported favorites from Mexico.
The restaurant can host parties and caters. Special occasions, such as Cinco de Mayo, bring out live bands on the spacious patio.
El Toro is the perfect spot to relax, take in the atmosphere and enjoy incredible authentic cuisine.
El Toro is open seven days a week and has daily lunch and happy hour specials. It is located at 1602 S.E. Federal Highway, in Stuart, next to the bowling alley.
For more information, call (772) 287-8161.