Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hidden Gem El Toluco Is the Mexican Restaurant You Need To Be Eating at Right Now

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2018 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge Tacos al pastor (pork loin) and res (beef) tacos are cheap and tasty around $3. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • Tacos al pastor (pork loin) and res (beef) tacos are cheap and tasty around $3.

Overwhelmed with emotions and memories from his native Mexico, an elderly man began to cry. He had not reacquainted with a long lost friend or family member, nor had he returned to a meaningful spot in our southern neighbor.

Instead, he had just eaten the carne de puerco with beans and rice, covered in pipian sauce at El Toluco (14234 Manchester Road, Ballwin; 636-686-5444). Such reactions are commonplace among customers of the taqueria and grocery in Ballwin, according to owners Fausto and Maggie Pizarro. Since opening as a grocery store in the summer of 2016 and a taqueria that following December, El Toluco has become a hotspot and gathering place for a budding Latin community in the county, where other signs of traditional cuisine are sparse.

El Toluco's fare takes inspiration from Fausto's own family recipes and upbringing. "Everything we sell, that's what we learned [from home]," Fausto says. Cooking, he notes, is a family affair: His mother and sister both share his passion for cooking, with his sister owning a restaurant herself back in Mexico.



El Toluco is not a one-man show, however. Chefs Cruz and Marcelo Salazar help Fausto in the kitchen. While the Salazars hail from a different city in Mexico than Fausto's native Toluca, he says they still have kindred cooking styles. Their hometowns "are so close they don't change too much," Fausto says.

Cruz single-handedly prepares all of El Toluco's tamales and Marcelo often whips up his own salsas for tortilla chips or other dishes. "Without the [Salazars], I don't think we would be as successful as we are. I think all of us together make a really good team," Maggie says.

click to enlarge Homemade guacamole and salsa pair well with tortilla chips and other dishes. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • Homemade guacamole and salsa pair well with tortilla chips and other dishes.

This collective culinary experience translates to fresh ingredients and authentic, home-cooked dishes. Meats are hand-cut, seasoned in house and cooked to order. Guacamole and various handcrafted sauces, ranging from mild to fiery are prepared daily. Tacos, burritos, chile relleno and other customary Mexican dishes are all available at shockingly low prices.

Mexican sodas, beers and other refreshments are often paired with meals. Some people stop by just for the drinks, such as bottled, Mexican Coca Cola, popular for its use of cane sugar in lieu of high fructose corn syrup.

With the kitchen well-staffed, Maggie works the bustling grocery side of El Toluco. Assorted spices, sauces, snacks and other Mexican delicacies line metal shelves near the entrance and across from dining tables. Meats, juices, desserts and produce form bright, technicolor patterns lining a wall of refrigerators. Regular customers pay close attention to a modest, clear cupboard display stocked with fresh bread from El Chico Bakery on Cherokee. Despite multiple deliveries each week, the popular items still sell out, much to the dismay of regulars.

click to enlarge Fresh baked goods from El Chico Bakery on Cherokee St. are a customer favorite. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • Fresh baked goods from El Chico Bakery on Cherokee St. are a customer favorite.

Traces of Mexico don't stop with the food. Spanish-speaking radio hosts and Mexican pop music play over the soft, chorused hum of refrigerators. Ceramic, talavera-style artwork hung on the wall is available for purchase, along with small holy statues and other decorations. Many patrons even wire money directly to their families abroad through a service available.

The immersive atmosphere helps attract a tight-knit community. "Everybody who comes in knows somebody. They'll stop and talk, have lunch together or sit down and have a beer together," Maggie says.

While El Toluco is well-known to St. Louis County's Latin American population, the same cannot be said for other groups of locals. Somewhat concealed on the far side of its parking lot, many passersby on the busy stretch of Manchester may miss it.

However, some like it that way. "Don't tell too many people about this place now," a member of the nearby West County EMS warns as he dines, hoping to preserve his special spot. With such authentic, homemade Mexican cuisine, he may not be able to keep his secret for long.

Scroll down for more photos of El Toluco.

click to enlarge Maggie and Fausto Pizarro are married with three children. The pair met in a restaurant and dreamt about opening one. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • Maggie and Fausto Pizarro are married with three children. The pair met in a restaurant and dreamt about opening one.

click to enlarge El Toluco's space was formerly occupied by another Mexican grocery, La Morena. When Fausto discovered La Morena had closed while attempting to by ingredients there, he called his wife and the pair moved in on the space for their own venture. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • El Toluco's space was formerly occupied by another Mexican grocery, La Morena. When Fausto discovered La Morena had closed while attempting to by ingredients there, he called his wife and the pair moved in on the space for their own venture.

click to enlarge Fresh produce and juice from are available on the market side of El Toluco. - TOM HELLAUER
  • Tom Hellauer
  • Fresh produce and juice from are available on the market side of El Toluco.



  • Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Tags: , , , ,

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation