Note: El Torito is now in the west part of Ikebukuro. Address below.

Wading through Sunshine City’s field of restaurants on the 3rd floor can be a tad overwhelming, especially with growling tummies that should have at least looked over a menu by now.

When we’d narrowed it down to two choices, added our name to a list, there was still a fifteen-minute wait. The other was a dud, only serving pork. What’s over there? Oh—only cakes. And there? Such a long wait. But then a tunnel of hope opened-up: Mexican Food! El Torito’s neon green bulbs shimmered. My husband literally jogged-over to add our name. No grappling. No wishy-washy thinking. Everyone in our party of eight let-out audible cheers, or at least content sighs.

And on this national holiday, with all of Tokyo out and about, celebrating their day-off and a relaxing, sleep-in Monday? We were the only name on El Torito’s list.  Our appetites clamored at the menu’s vibrant pictures of tortilla soup, table-made guacamole, festive enchiladas spread with red ancho sauce, and burritos stuffed and rolled, brimming with chicken and beef. Gigundo bowls of chopped chicken and avocado salad dressed with snappy cilantro dressing. Ahh, cilantro. It beckoned to me.

A great start: my first-course, garbanzo soup, yielded freshly chopped cilantro floating and mingling with hearty jalapeño wheels, garbanzos, generous chicken chunks, in a well-spiced chicken broth. Cilantro and jalapeño were a power-team to order again. Both the tortilla and garbanzo soup run at 390 yen.

Our hot app of fried avocado-cheese balls were also a hit  (390 yen). Both items secured our notion that among Sunchine City’s so-many restaurants, El Torito was the right choice. I must have shared at least three sips of my prized, zingy-soup. Sometimes you need people to taste and understand. “Why don’t you make this?” my husband suggested. Um…

Ikebukuro, Mexican Food, Lunch, Chicken Burrito, Burrito
Maybe it was the sauce? Every bite balanced flavorful chicken, corn tortilla, and velvety cheese, with the neighboring rice and bean/beef chile.

My chicken enchilada entrée was tender, moist, and highly-flavorful. Oftentimes, chicken burritos or enchiladas are stiff, dry, and generally disappointing to me. I mean, it’s a gamble. That’s a lot of chicken—your whole meal may be quite splendid or quite terrible. This enchilada was a treat. Two of these guys, plus rice, a kind of bean-beef chile sat on either side of my enchiladas. I could have eaten more of the enchiladas, rice, and chile, showered with queso fresca. That’s what happens when I love what I eat. I want a bit more– a testament to my appetite as well as their portions, I believe. Some items, like their chicken fajita burrito are offered in grande size for 200 yen more (980 yen without a drink, or 1,180 with drink. More is sometimes more. Mexican food, amigos. Any chance for cheese in Tokyo is a lovely thing. A fiesta in itself. Wait–they have cheese???!!!

To be fair, my husband and I split both entrees; remembering this caused me to break-out in a smile. Fajitas! No sizzling or smoky, steamy fanfare parading from their open kitchen, but an appetizing sight, nonetheless! A kit, really. One hot, iron pan housing chicken, steak strips and all the the classic fajita veggies. The classic hard-plastic tortilla holder (for six),  one tray for sour cream (luxe in Tokyo), pico de gallo, and guacamole. The beef stands out in this dish; whereas other similar restaurants serve shreds of beef, dry starving-for-juice strands, El Torito serves  well-portioned chunks of beef, soaked in flavor. (The restaurant’s beef hails from the U.S., and is labeled Safe-Fed Cattle). We shared the plentiful half-size for 1,390 yen. Full size is 1,990 yen. The spicy fajitas are only an option as full-size, but we asked for a side of this spicy sauce and came out strong. Fresh, picante, and an excellent addition to the already wonderful fajita-flavors.  This is good date food, too, if you don’t mind escaped juice running down your hand.

Fajitas, Mexican food, lunch, Ikebukuro, Sunshine City
A star of El Torito’s show, the juicy fajita. Carmelized onions, peppers, cool avocado, tomatoes, nestled-in with succulent beef and chicken. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

Established in 1954 in California, the “little bull” has certainly grown.

El Torito’s website advises that diner budget 800 yen for lunch. Twelve lunch items, priced from 680 yen (not including drinks) to 980 yen line the Tex-Mex menu. Items are listed without a drink or with a choice of drink, for 200 yen more. You could do without your soft drink, tea, or coffee, and stick to water. Both coffee and iced tea are refilled. Then again, you could spend 790 yen on a regular (fruity) margarita or 1,190 on the Cadillac, a shot of Grand Marnier on the side.

Speaking of the cantina, Coronas run 690 yen, dressed in their lime wedge. They also stock icy Negro Modelo, Dos Equis, Dos Equis Amber, Sol, Bohemia,  as well as Budweiser (if you must) and other imported beers. Corona and draft beer are 100 yen less when ordered with lunch. In other words, pay 100 yen less if you are not a Corona fan. (Fun fact to sprinkle-in while enjoying your drink, warm salty chips and salsa: El Torito’s founder is credited for popularizing the margarita in America. What a guy!)

Kids meals are hearty, authentic representations of the adult menu, around 600 yen. There are four choices in main dishes, but all come with a drink, orange jelly (like jello), three hot and not-too-sweet churros dolloped with whipped cream, french fries in their skins, with ketchup. The joke was that our friend wanted to order milk for his daughter. Ala carte? 420 yen. For 200 yen more, they won an extra kids’ meal and she obviously got her ice cold milk. A 200 yen meal! Score.

Kids Meals, Mexican Restaurants, Ikebukuro
Kids do really well here! This is one of four well-portioned & tasty kids’ meals. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

At one point, I picked-up a holiday menu, but thought they were simply preparing for December, as the font was green and red. Pity. I would have scored an even better lunch deal! Know this: if you go to El Torito on a weekend or national holiday, choose something from their holiday menu. (Even if your server never even glances at said menu or does anything to steer you closer to premium-value-enchilada-happiness). I quickly adjusted, however, as their normal lunch menu is generally not over 1,000 yen, anyways.

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