We felt like we were in Mexico when we entered Toro Mexican Restaurant, the latest addition of fine restaurants on Federal Hill. Efrel and Erica Lopes greeted us warmly and showed us to an intimate table by the window overlooking Atwells Ave.
We didn’t realize that we were sitting in the former Blush Wine Bar. Mexican music was playing softly in the background as we admired the murals on the wall, painted by friends from Attleboro, and the exquisite individually carved and painted tables and chairs shipped from Mexico.
Crispy corn tortilla chips were brought to the table, along with a spicy salsa that put us in the mood for Mexican food. The attractive, informative menu had a “vocabulary” section for those of us who forget the difference between a burrito and a quesadilla.
Efrel, who spent many years in the restaurant business with his family in Mexico and in a number of establishments in nearby Massachusetts, showed his skill as a bartender with the perfect dry martini and Black Russian. He specializes in a variety of creative Sangria drinks, which we’ll try next time.
The menu has the traditional combinations of burritos, tacos, chile relleno, chimichangas, enchilados and tamales, but we were more intrigued with the house specialties.
Joyce chose the Arroz con Pollo, a delicious marinated chicken sautéed with bell peppers and mushrooms, served over a bed of rice and melted cheese ($13.50).
Soft corn tortillas accompanied the dish. Joyce questioned whether she should make a wrap. Efrel explained that in Mexico tortillas usually accompany the meal and are eaten like Americans would eat bread or rolls.
I chose Birria de Borrego, a Lopez family recipe that features a lamb shank, slowly roasted in a blend of seasonings ($17.25). A cup of the amazing sauce made a wonderful addition, especially on the rice. Most of the house specials are served with escabeche slaw, which has a sweet taste to it and also complements the rice. Add refried beans, available on request for no extra charge, and I had all I could handle.
We skipped appetizers because we heard about the desserts that Erica makes from all fresh ingredients. (All the meals are made fresh and from scratch at Toro). Joyce had the flan ($4.75), which was as good as it gets. She let me have a tiny piece.
I had the Tres Leches Cake ($4.75). We were even able to translate “tres leches” to three milks. Add a dab of whipped cream and you have one delicious, moist cake. Joyce took a big piece.
We’ll be back, because there are other interesting items on the menu we just have to try, like the Pozole Soup, a light broth with pork, corn, dry chiles and Mexican spices ($4.95).
Efrel recommend the paella for two and tells his customers to relax, have a drink and be patient for a half hour while the chef prepares the dish from scratch. The chef is from Mexico, but there’s a Spanish touch to the dish, which includes pork, chicken, chorizo and seafood ($35.)
Toro Mexican Restaurant is located at 332 Atwells Ave., in the heart of Federal Hill. They are open Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m and Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Call 455-2328 for reservations.