Mexican food in Tokyo is a hotly-contested topic in the expat community. Over the last ten years, interest in Mexican food has increased at a slow, but steady pace as more and more Tokyoites become familiar with the bold flavors and strong spices so often associated with Mexican (and Latin) cuisine. Look beyond the recently re-introduced Taco Bell in Shibuya and the Guzman y Gomez in Harajuku for some truly worthwhile locations. One is the recently opened TORO Gastrobar in Higashi-Ginza, run by renowned Latin chef Richard Sandoval.
TORO is a spacious two-story establishment a short walk from Hibiya, Ginza, and Yurakucho stations. Its convenient corner location makes it easy to find, and on a weekend evening, the area is bustling with people heading to delectable dinners in the area. Reservations highly recommended (Mexican food in Tokyo continues to grow in popularity to such degree that without one, you may not be able to get in on a weekend).
Chef Sandoval operates a number of restaurants worldwide, subscribing to an approach that is centered on an introduction of Latin foods, meaning his offerings are not restricted solely to a single country’s cuisine. Find Brazilian, Mexican, and Chilean selections at TORO, in addition to an extensive grill menu. Information is prepared in English and Japanese, and staff are bilingual. The restaurant also offers a very reasonable 7-item course dinner (with all-you-can-drink included) for 5,400 yen (pictured here).
The basic cocktails on offering in the all-you-can-drink menu are weak and watery, but consider trying some of the original items beyond the course menu for something more exciting (and stronger). Shots are not provided in the all-you-can-drink.
Appetizers are avocado dip with lightly fried chips for dipping. Next comes a nacho plate; two flavors are included here. One is a mild, rich cheese melted over toasted chips. The other is a gently spiced, complex cheese sauce. Following these is a dish listed on the menu as “Seafood, Acapulco-style.” It’s shrimp, avocado, cilantro, and red onions intermixed with chickpea and cilantro. A little paprika gives some heat; it’s a light but flavorful step up from the nachos and avocado.
Next up is the TORO house salad, a chopped offering that incorporates egg, blue cheese, and the textural interest of quinoa to create a flavorful dish of great depth, particularly exciting for a salad. The bite of red onion against the tangy creaminess of the blue cheese makes this stand out.
Following the salad: beef tacos. Served open on a corn tortilla, these are small portions. The tender beef topped with cilantro is nicely balanced with crunchy cabbage. Biting into it reveals a juicyness that may prompt a request for a second order.
Perhaps the dish with the most visual punch is the churasco beef. Brought to the table with the roasting spike still through the beef, green bell pepper, and pineapple, staff remove each piece carefully and place it on a hot plate with a side of pico de gallo. The beef is wonderfully tender and gently spiced; the sweetness of the pineapple and the gentle crisp of the pepper create a great blend of flavors.
The course rounds out with a seasoned rice dish interspersed with peppers, red onions, and pork.
TORO’s menu does not shy away from bold flavors, though most dishes sampled did not rank high in terms of spiciness. Taco sizes are much smaller than those offered at other restaurants, but preparation and flavor makes up for it.
Drinks may be a bit slow to come, but if you’re looking for Mexican food in Tokyo (or more accurately, Latin food), consider visiting TORO. You won’t find much else like this in Tokyo (for now).