I spend a lot of time reading about food in St. Louis. So usually, I feel like I’m in the know when it comes to what’s opening in my neighborhood. That’s not the case with El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery.
I had no idea it existed until Saturday, when my mom told me about a local newspaper article that called El Toluco one of the best new restaurants in St. Louis. The article said that the chef, who has cooked in St. Louis for more than 20 years, draws on recipes from his hometown in Mexico to create simple, delicious fare. I decided to go check out the restaurant on Saturday night.
Finding El Toluco is not easy. It’s tucked into the corner of a strip mall set off a busy commercial road in suburban St. Louis. If you don’t have GPS or someone in the passenger seat actively looking for it, you could miss it.
When I walked through the front door, I still didn’t see the restaurant. Part of El Toluco is a Mexican grocery store, so when you walk inside there are shelves of products and refrigerators against the wall stocked with everything from cactus and cilantro to queso.
To the left of the grocery store is a large room with a few tables scattered throughout. The cashier in the grocery store gave me a menu and told me to sit wherever I wanted. I chose a seat at the middle of the restaurant so I could observe what was going on around me.
Whenever I go to a new restaurant, especially one that’s known for a certain type of food, I like to see who else is there. Clientele can tell you a lot about a place’s authenticity.
After I sat down at El Toluco, I looked to my right and saw a man speaking fluent Spanish with one of the waitresses. I speak a little Spanish (I wish that I spoke more) so I understood when he thanked her and told her that the food was delicious. I saw that he’d been eating tacos so I decided to order a couple to start.
I got the pollo, or chicken taco with cactus, and the taco al pastor with pineapple. Both arrived at my table piping hot with a sprinkle of cilantro. I decided to try the chicken taco first. When I bit into it, I almost blacked out. “Holy shit,” I said to myself. It was the best taco I’d ever had in St. Louis and once of the best tacos I’d ever tried in the Midwest.
I was excited to see if the al pastor taco would top the chicken. Spoiler: It did. It was spicy, fragrant, and slightly sweet with pineapple. I cupped the soft tortilla around the meat to try to get out more of the juices. I was in a complete state of bliss bordering on shock.
I wanted to tell the waitress who kept refilling my water how delicious the food was, but the only word I could think of was “bueno.” So I kept repeating that and “gracias” to get the point across. I see another foray into Duolingo Spanish on the horizon.
On the way out of the restaurant, I stopped at the front to pay the cashier. She also spoke mostly Spanish, even though she seemed to understand more English than my waitress. “I want to come back here everyday,” I told her, and she laughed. I wasn’t joking, though. If El Toluco were closer to where I worked, I’d be there everyday.
If you’re in St. Louis and you want the best tacos in town, drive to the west suburbs to El Toluco. The food is expertly cooked, delicious, and authentic, and the service is friendly and welcoming. I know that I’ll be back again soon. When you find a place like El Toluco, it’s hard to stay away for long.