TNT Diner

New name, new look, new menu for longtime University Place Mexican restaurant

El Toro in University Place is undergoing a name and menu change.
El Toro in University Place is undergoing a name and menu change.

One of the local El Toro restaurants is splitting from the group of Mexican restaurants by the same name, but it won’t leave family hands.

Enrique and Maria Arias will take over the University Place El Toro and rename the restaurant after Maria. Enrique is the brother of El Toro founder Ruben Arias Sr.

In addition to a new name, the restaurant at 3820 Bridgeport Way W. is in the process of getting a more modernized look and will see some menu additions.

Their son, Enrique Arias Jr., will be operations manager of the restaurant, which will carry the new name of Maria’s Cocina Mexicana sometimes in March if all goes as planned.

“The move will give added value to the community as it will give each family the autonomy to operate their own business and incorporate some fun and exciting changes to each location,” said Enrique Arias Jr.

Under the name El Toro, diners expect the menu to be the same at every El Toro, he said. A name and concept shift will make it easier for them to change up the menu a bit.

He said that his mother Maria for years has created weekend specials on the dinner board at El Toro. Some of those specials will find a home on the restaurant’s new menu.

“We are also currently developing the new menu as we speak. We will keep a lot of the El Toro staples while incorporating many new authentic items from my mom’s cooking that she is excited to introduce from her deep Jalisco, Mexico roots,” said Arias Jr.

Staff members have been telling longtime regulars of the upcoming change.

“I was just chatting to an older couple in UP. They have been patrons for 30-something years since we opened. People like that, we’ve been telling them we’ll still be here,” said Arias Jr. “They’ll see a few changes.”

Those changes include an updated bar.

“We just completed an extensive bar renovation,” he said. “We removed a bathroom and upgraded the space which resulted in doubling the seating capacity. There is a freight truck on its way up from Mexico as we speak with new decor, glass and plate ware, and we have been making improvements to the dining room to invigorate the space.”

Previously, Enrique Sr. and the family were partners in the University Place and Westgate Tacoma locations of El Toro, but this change means that Enrique Sr., Maria and Enrique Jr. now will oversee only the University Place location.

Meanwhile, the Westgate El Toro continues under the ownership of Ruben Arias Jr., son of El Toro founder Ruben Arias Sr. Ruben Arias Jr. has modernization plans for the Westgate Tacoma location this year, too.

“We considered closing, remodeling and changing the name after the close-to-catastrophic norovirus attention,” said Ruben Arias Jr., of the 2018 norovirus outbreak the restaurant experienced at its Westgate and University Place locations.

“However, the community has shown great loyalty and support for our business, so we decided to continue the El Toro name at Westgate and reinvigorate the place with a capital injection that will go towards improving the atmosphere and operational efficiencies. It will be a gradual remodel, working nights, without closing the restaurant, similar to what we did in Lakewood in 2017 and in Parkland 2018,” he added.

El Toro


Locations: University Place (until March), Westgate Tacoma, Parkland, Lakewood and Puyallup.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune

Sue Kidd has been The News Tribune’s restaurant critic since 2008. She dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Sue is a South Sound native. She writes about new restaurants, openings and closures and knows where to find the best tacos in every neighborhood.