Bay Bites
El Toro Bravo:
Spicing up West Street
by Gabby Crabcakes

With the buzz in Annapolis focused on the development of Inner West Street, some new businesses are ahead of the curve. Well over a year ago, El Toro Bravo took over the space previously occupied by Caliente. Since that time, it's been making a buzz of its own.

According to manager, Tom Aguilar, owner Jose Aguirre (his brother-in-law) had dreams of opening an authentic Mexican restaurant in Annapolis many years ago, but the right property wasn't available. Meanwhile, Aguirre and his wife, Maria, opened Plaza Garibaldi in Glen Burnie. It wasn't until Aguirre saw the For Sale sign at 50 West Street, after the closing of Caliente, that he knew the time was right. Maria Aguirre now owns and operates Plaza Garibaldi. El Toro Bravo became his project.

While timing may be a component of El Toro Bravo's success, good food, reasonable prices, colorful decor and friendly staff have been the winning combination to this busy establishment.

Hand-painted murals of Mexican themes (including the namesake bull fight) and Mexican music brightly convey a festive mood. With seating for around 60, high-back turquoise booths offer casual comfort and relative privacy. The waitstaff, some of whom used to commute from Delaware daily, are quietly efficient and usually wear a smile.

This is not a large restaurant, but on busy nights when the line spills out the door, turnover is the name of the game. If you want to linger, better to come off peak or you may feel rushed. On the upside, the kitchen is quick, and I have yet to experience an uncomfortable wait for food.

As soon as you are seated, you are treated to chips and salsa. Both are made in-house daily, and your taste buds will note the difference. The salsa is ruby red and full of flavor you can't find in a jar. While the first serving is complimentary, additional servings are a dollar each.

The menu is full of the traditional Mexican favorites (with a few Tex-Mex offerings), dinner specials and combination platters. While you're munching on your chips and salsa, I suggest you start off with an order of the cueso fundido ($4.00). This bowl of cheesy dip is flavored with chorizo sausage and jalepenos. It's an addictive treat, especially when accompanied by a margarita (several varieties starting at $3.50), Mexican beer (most bottles $2.75) or sangria ($2.50).

When selecting your entree, leave your diet at the door. While the grilled chicken salad ($5.50) looks lovely, it's not why you're here. The dinner specials offer good variety without breaking the bank. Ranchero chef's special ($9.00) with ribeye steak, grilled onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and a chicken enchilada is served with beans, pico de gallo and tortillas. Polo a la Parrilla ($8.75) has two grilled chicken breasts served with rice, beans and tortillas. Both can only be improved with a side order of fresh guacamole ($2.50).

I am usually drawn to the chicken fajitas ($9.25, or a smaller lunch version for $5.60), or the fajitas Texanas ($10.25) a variation on the theme including grilled chicken, beef and shrimp. All are served on a sizzling platter (except the lunch order) with lettuce, sour cream, beans, guacamole and tortillas. While El Toro Bravo is a non-smoking restaurant, on busy nights the smoke from these platters can get very thick!

If you like more control over your meal, create your own, ordering a la carte. Tamales (3 for $5.00 or $2.00 each), burritos (2 for $5.00 or $2.75 each) or chile rellenos ($2.75). You are limited only by your imagination.

Desserts are few, but they do offer flan ($1.75) and fried ice cream ($2.50). I usually forego them for another margarita. Try the Cadillac version ($5.50) with a sidecar of Grand Marnier.

El Toro Bravo is open for dinner seven days a week and serves lunch Monday thru Saturday. Don't show up weekdays between 3:00 and 5pm: the restaurant closes for siesta. And don't use parking as an excuse for not visiting. Park at the Gott lot on Calvert Street and bring your ticket to El Toro Bravo for up to four hours.


50 West St., Annapolis 410/267-5949

Proprietor: Jose Luis Aguirre

Hours: Mon.-Wed. 11am-3pm, 5-9pm; Thurs., Fri. 11am-3pm, 5pm-11pm; Sat. noon-11pm; Sun. 3-9pm.

Reason to go: If you want South-of-the-border, this food kicks that Chihuahua's butt!

Something to think about: Don't confuse festive with fancy or chic.

| Issue 27 |

Volume VII Number 27
July 8-14, 1999
New Bay Times

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