Sorry. I can't resist a pun.
Hunger pangs hit me yesterday afternoon as I drove home alone from the Bay Area. I had missed out on the usual Sunday morning breakfast with Katie and her family and, having eaten an early dinner Saturday night, it was apparent that I couldn't drive another hour without stopping for food. Excitement mixed with trepidation - whenever I exit the freeway in an unfamiliar place I always prepare myself for the best- and worst-case scenarios, and in spite of this I usually encounter neither.
I was quickly approaching the Benecia Bridge when I saw a sign for Downtown Martinez. This seemed promising; downtown areas usually have decent restaurants, and although I had never been to Downtown Martinez I was optimistic that there would be something there other than fast food, and that I'd be able to have a quick and delicious lunch - one I could write about, perhaps - before resuming my drive.
Downtown Martinez was a couple miles from the exit, well off of the proverbial beaten path. Though the majority of this drive took me through a quiet industrial park, I was surprised to see a deer standing brazenly by the side of the road. Before long I found myself on Main Street, in the heart of a charming downtown full of antique shops and, yes, small restaurants, most of which were open despite the fact that it was Sunday. Taking a walk down Main Street I came to a farmer's market and briefly considered buying some produce before being distracted by Bulldog BBQ and Catering. I took a look at a take-out menu, and likely would have eaten there had the place not been packed. Still, with pork ribs, brisket, and hot links on the menu, it might have been worth the wait.
By now I was craving Mexican food, despite the fact that the previous night's dinner consisted of twenty-seven pounds of barbecued carne asada (spread out amongst fifty-plus people; it wasn't all for me). I noticed a couple suitable restaurants on my walk, and decided on Taqueria Los Toros. A sign out front proclaimed the restaurant's grand opening, and feeling quite famished - as well as a bit daring - I decided to give these upstarts a shot.
Los Toros wasn't packed; despite its sizable dining area there were at most six people at three tables when I walked in. However, the sound of sizzling from behind the counter and the smell of grilling peppers only whet my appetite further. There appeared to be one employee, serving double duty as counterman and cook. Although I anticipated slow service (and in fact did wait about five minutes before my order was taken), it was actually quicker than I expected. At any rate this one employee was eventually joined by another, so I will assume that there is usually more than one person there at any given time.
I ordered the Los Toros Special Burrito, which consists of meat, beans, rice, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. Though not as creative with their meat choices as Pancho Villa, Los Toros offers carne asada, pollo asado, carnitas, al pastor, chicken in red sauce, chile verde, beef tongue, chorizo, chile colorado and simple ground beef. I ordered al pastor, which for the uninitiated is barbecued pork, not to be confused with carnitas which usually refers to fried or roasted pork. They also sell fajitas burritos (chicken, steak and shrimp), chimichangas, tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and everything else you would expect from a taqueria.
While I waited, I helped myself to some salsa from the salsa bar. Tortilla chips were doled out by the counterman, though in very generous portions. As I opened my bottle of Coke I was pleased to see the words "Hecho En Mexico" printed on the glass; Mexican Coke contains sugar, unlike the domestic version which sadly contains high-fructose corn syrup. I'm a fan of sugar, not sugar substitutes, and it was tempting to drink the whole bottle before my food arrived.
Despite the restaurant being understaffed, the wait for my burrito was not significant. The Los Toros Special Burrito was quite hefty, not as long as some I've eaten but heavier and bulkier without being misshapen. When I peeled back the foil, that familiar burrito smell filled the air, and although it wasn't as steamy as I was expecting, I knew I was about to have a good lunch.
I should point out that, unless I am eating on the go, I prefer to eat my burrito naked. That is to say, I prefer that the burrito be naked, not myself. Therefore, I take the foil all the way off. Although this usually leads to some spillage as the contents of the tortilla make their way to the exit, I have no problem scooping it all up with tortilla chips. However, I was quite unprepared for just how much spillage there was. Within the first two or three bites, the majority of the pork, rice, salsa and other ingredients burst through the tortilla and came to rest in the basket.
Undaunted by this development, I trudged ahead, enjoying what was left of my burrito. The tortilla was crispy in random places and seemed to have been lightly grilled, much like a quesadilla is grilled. The pork was hot and very flavorful, and prominent in every bite. The salsa, though a bit milder than I prefer, was tasty and nicely complemented the spicy pork. Once the burrito itself was finished I made short work of its leavings before washing it all down with the last few sips of my deliciously-sugary Coke. Then I continued on my way.
Taqueria Los Toros is a restaurant I would probably return to, should I ever again find myself in Downtown Martinez. However, I made it to my thirties without ever finding myself there, and I don't foresee many return trips. Whether or not the Amazing Exploding Burrito I ate there was an anomaly, or whether restaurant policy is to overfill their burritos and assemble them poorly so that two bites send the contents spilling forth like a newly-ruptured dam, it was a very good burrito, and worth a stop.
Taqueria Los Toros is located at 802 Main Street, Martinez, CA 94553.
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