reviews of tacos!

Antojitos el Toril

Madison WI

515 cottage grove rd, madison WI 53714
mon 10am-8pm, tues-sun 10am-10pm

Antojitos el Toril (Madison WI) - taco photo

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Rating: 86
Price: $$

Antojitos el Toril is a restaurant which caused me to crane my neck at 7AM on my first trip out to the east part of town. While I had some porometer measurements to take care of at that date and time (and I believe the restaurant was closed), the decor and signage indicated that a stop was sorely needed. Finally, on the way home from acquiring a table off craigslist, the time was right; I swerved across 4 lanes of traffic into the parking lot, collected myself, and walked in.

El Toril has a very nice decor including a cool patio; unfortunately, it's on a pretty busy street, so I doubt the patio gets much use. There's plenty of seating inside, though, and I was kindly welcomed upon arrival, plus there's a huge TV blasting badass television shows (some sort of Western when I was there). After looking over the menu, I placed my order for 3 tacos: 1 pork, 1 chicken, and 1 campechano (steak + chorizo, a new one for me). Not feeling like paying for table service, per usual, I took my order to go. While I was waiting for some food, I spent my time perusing their corkboard, which was covered in interested materials. Chief among them was an excerpt from what seemed to be a youth publication entitled 'The Bearclaw' interviewing Araceli, who seemed to be the owner. It was quite nice and gave a little background on the restaurant - open since 2007, 4 staff members and they're all family, green enchiladas are the top-selling dish. The is the sort of investigative journalism tacosmog needs on our side! Unfortunately, The Bearclaw is either behind some sort of paywall or hard to find on Google, so I haven't been able to offer these people a lucrative contract. If any of them happen to be reading this, know: you're mine.

My tacos came out after a short wait, and I noticed El Toril's ingenious strategy of charging just 10 cents below the taco-pricing 'paywall', thus allowing them to obtain the maximum amount of cash while still remaining in the $$ category. My 3 tacos came out to $6 even, tax included. I drove down the street to an Ace Hardware, bought some leather gloves, and tucked in to my tacos in the parking lot.

Like my previous Madison taco experience, the tortillas were particularly yellow compared to what I was used to. My first time I was a bit confused; after living here for slightly longer, I think I've had a bit of a realization. You see, Dane County is a corn county. There's lots of corn for sale on street corners and farmers markets at all times. The particular Dane County variety of corn is yellow. Does this indicate that these tortillas are made from local corn? Maybe. Either way, they were prepared well - heated up to the point where they had a bit of rigidity but weren't brittle, double-stacked, and they had some air pockets. The meats were piled on there with cilantro and onions, and limes were on the side along with a couple salsa options.

Salsa-wise, we had the classic 'smoky red and tangy green' duo. The smoky one was an interesting half-vinegar half-smoked vibe, and had a medium degree of spiciness. The green one was strongly citrusy and slightly less spicy. Both were good, if not extraordinary. I started out with my chicken taco. It was very mildly seasoned; so much so that the chicken flavor was the most prominent, with just a hint of chili and black pepper in the background. It was shredded, but left in medium-sized hunks. Unfortunately, it was just a hint overcooked, and had the telltale 'chicken squeak' (does this happen to anybody else? When you try to sever it with your molars it emits a small squeaking noise, much less noticeable than zucchini). I coated it with some green salsa. The two mild flavors working together were quite the sum of their parts: a not-too-crazy good time, but a good time nonetheless.

Next I moved on to the pork. It was cubed and marinated but not too saucy. The pork flavor was very prominent, and the spicing had a hint of cayenne with a hint of cumin and coriander. It, too, was a bit overcooked and chewy. Part of the trouble, I believe, was my Monday arrival - there were only a few customers in the restaurant, and I doubt they were 'moving units' fast enough to have a rapid meat turnover, leading to perhaps some overly length marinades. I would speculate that they don't have a spit in the back, Taco Mix-style.

Glossing over the similar problems encountered with the campechano, it was an interesting eat nonetheless. The chorizo was finely ground, a form I had never tried before, and filled in the gaps between the large hunks of steak like sand between the gravel of a fluvial conglomerate. This may have had the unintended effect of dampening the chorizo flavor slightly, and the campechano was dominated by the steak. As they mixed two meats, I mixed two salsas to top this beast, and it was a nice mix of spiciness, smokiness, and tang.

While I may have accentuated the problems in this review, the only real drawback to Antojitos el Toril was slight overcooking of the meats. So far, El Toril beats out Enrique's for the crown of Madison's Greatest Taco. Unfortunately, my sample size is only two, and there are many more taquerias I have yet to try!

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