El Torito

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Two   ♦   Will I Return?: Sure

El Torito is a chain restaurant – it’s true.  I try to stay away from reviewing chain restaurants as a rule, but eventually I end up at one and I just want to blog about it.  And after patronizing El Torito’s Sunday Brunch for a second time, I think it’s time something was put into writing.

There are almost 60 El Torito’s all around California and one or two in Arizona and Oregon. It’s an established chain; there isn’t a whole lot of mystery lying in wait behind those sandblasted doors.  But being a chain doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality is low or that it is not authentic – it really just means that it’s consistent among the different locations.  Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to mean.  And even though I can’t comment specifically on the consistency (I’ve only been to the San Leandro and Foster City locations), I can say the food is good.  More specifically, the Sunday brunch is excellent.

I’m not sure what you’re feelings are on Sunday brunch.  Maybe you envision poached eggs, rye toast, and smoked salmon.  Maybe you’re a Home Town Buffet sort of bruncher with all the scrambled eggs, greasy hash browns, and bacon you can pack in.  Maybe you like mimosas and omelettes.  Or maybe you think brunch is for sissies and you just eat your normal morning food regiment on Sundays.  Think what you will about brunch, but I’ll testify that Mexican food for brunch really hits the spot.

I don’t usually feel like heavy food in the morning; indeed I am a proponent and advocate of hot and cold cereals, and occasionally eggs with toast.  I sort of groaned when my mom* suggested Mexican brunch, but I’ve seen the light.  The brunch at El Torito has shown me the way.

El Torito, Foster City

For the traditionalists there are fresh omelettes made to order, potatoes, sausage, waffles, and orange juice.  For south-of-the-border hankerings there are enchiladas, rice, beans, chicken, pork, beef, tacos, menudo, pozole, made to order quesadillas, and horchata.  And on the lighter side there’s always the salad bar and fresh cut fruit tray, and unlimited free mimosas and coffee included.  And for the rest of us heathens, there are unlimited combinations to suit whatever brunch-y sort of mood you’re in.  So, as I was saying, there’s quite the selection to fit any palette.

I’ve been to each of the two aforementioned locations once, and found the Foster City one far more pleasant.  The restaurant is newer and nicer (though I would say the San Leandro facility is also nice) and it was far less crowded.  This may have been coincidental, but somehow I doubt it.  The service was pleasant – the hostess gave us a “tour” of the buffet upon arrival and the manager explained each dish to me as I browsed them all.  The servers came around frequently to refill our mimosas and take away our used plates.  The whole staff spoke Spanish, but they were also extremely kind and attentive (not to suggest these are typically mutually exclusive) which made the experience feel both authentic and welcoming.

As for the food, I’m certainly not a Mexican food traditionalist (Fresh Mex is fine with me), but I think the true Spanish-speakers can even enjoy the food here; it’s pretty dang good.  I had a cheese enchilada, rice, beans, and salad to start, continued with some freshly sliced fruit, then did a single teeny waffle with maple syrup for dessert.  I watched as my fellow tablemates devoured plates of omelettes, quesadillas, tacos, beef, rice, salads, and churros and have to say that everyone was very satisfied in the end.  I did hear one lament which had something to do with regretting eating anything else but the waffles (he tried them last – they are superb), but over all it is quite a satisfying start to a Sunday morning. Just because you might need a nap afterward doesn’t mean it wasn’t totally worth it.

Enchilada, rice, beans, and salad from the El Torito brunch buffet.

As for specials, they appear to have a happy hour every weekday from 4-8pm which includes specials on margaritas, beer, wine, well drinks, and also half price on appetizers.  Also, on Thursdays (at least at the Foster City location) they offer a sweet enchilada special: buy one enchilada meal and receive unlimited subsequent enchiladas for 1¢ each.  It wouldn’t work for me since I can’t ever get past the first enchilada, but bring your teenagers for sure (or just prepare for food coma).  It certainly is an overeating type of place, but the food is definitely over-eatable.

*Yeah, I go out to eat with my mom a lot, what of it?!

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