For years, a sign just off Canyon Road in Puyallup advertised the future home of El Toro, a chain of Mexican restaurants operating in the South Sound since 1979. Years passed, there was no activity, no construction at the site. Just that weathered sign. Ruben Arias Jr. whose father Ruben Arias Sr. founded the chain, said he received so many emails and calls, he could not respond to a fraction of them. The emailers and callers kept asking the same thing - are you ever going to open?
The answer is yes. El Toro is opening. The 160-seat restaurant should be fully running in the next few days.
While founder Ruben Arias Sr., still watches over the chain of restaurants that now has six locations from Lakewood to Tacoma, son Ruben Arias Jr. handles daily operations. His brother will manage the new Canyon El Toro. Two sisters also work at other El Toro restaurants. The family purchased the Canyon El Toro land in 2007, then leased it to a construction business. Then, as Arias explained, “When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, we dragged our feet,” He added, “We didn’t put a shovel to the ground until 2009-2010.”
At the new Puyallup location, expect a menu just like that at other El Toro restaurants, a mix of typical Mexican-American fare - burritos, tacos and enchiladas and specialties imported from Jalisco, from where the Arias family hails (interesting fact: The owners of several local Mexican chains all come from the same city in Jalisco - Cuautla).
While the menu at El Toro will seem familiar, the restaurant may not. Until now, every El Toro has been retrofitted into existing restaurant spaces. This is the first restaurant the chain has built, said Ruben Arias Jr. in a phone interview.
Arias described a restaurant with an impressive chandelier anchoring a soaring foyer - and over-sized doors at the front entrance. He described the restaurant as a sprawling hacienda. Sound a little like the newly opened Moctezuma’s second location in Gig Harbor? The restaurants have a somewhat similar sense of place, said Arias Jr., who is married to Maribel Arias, daughter of Moctezuma’s founder, Arturo Garcia. In fact, many of the artifacts and items decorating El Toro come from the same town as the decor found at the new Moctezuma’s, which is jointly run by Maribel and her brother Bernie Garcia.
El Toro PuyallupWhere: 12115 Canyon Road E., PuyallupInfo: eltorofamily.com
Chile relleno tip: El Toro is one of a handful of local restaurants that serves a cheese-stuffed poblano chile relleno prepared with a batter coating. El Toro also serves the typical Anaheim chile relleno with an eggy coating in its combination dishes. My pick - if given the choice - always is the poblano, a more snappy chili with a somewhat grassy flavor in contrast to the muted Anaheim. Moctezuma’s in Tacoma and Gig Harbor also serves the poblano rellenos (look for "original rellenos" on the menu). At El Toro, the poblano relleno comes with a tamale, $12.99. El Toro's chile relleno was one of the best I sampled in a year-long quest to find the perfect chile relleno.