Despite having been opened for 10 years, Toro is still one of the toughest restaurants to get into in Boston. This South End hotspot specializes in a mix of both modern and traditional Spanish tapas.
The four of us arrived on a Saturday at 6:30pm and the hostess informed us it would be a 2.5 hour, possibly 3 hour wait. We left our name and number down and they gave us a call when our table was almost ready. There are a lot of great spots for drinks along Washington street, so don’t despair if you’re facing a long wait. We grabbed a couple drinks at The Gallows, which we really enjoyed.
If you’re not one to wait 2+ hours for a meal, you may have better luck during lunch (served Monday to Friday) or Sunday brunch. While reservations are not accepted for dinner, reservations can be made for lunch and brunch if you have a party of 6 or more.
The restaurant has a dark and cozy interior featuring an open kitchen, communal high-tops down the middle of the space and tables along the wall. The restaurant was notably loud from the crowd and music so it might be difficult to hold a conversation. But on a positive note, I loved the old hip hop tunes they were blasting from the speakers.
Toro’s menu is very extensive so I recommend coming with a group of 4 to maximize the number of dishes you can try. But anymore than 4 people and you could be waiting a very, very long time for a table.
The first dish to arrive was the Pan con Tomate – toasted bread with tomato, garlic, Spanish olive oil and sea salt ($7 + $1 for anchovies). I’m always amazed at how something so simple can taste so extraordinary. The thinly sliced bread was spread with tomatoes and lots of garlic and was perfectly seasoned. The addition of the anchovies was worth the extra $1 and gave the pan con tomate an extra little punch. The perfect dish to whet your appetite!
The next dish to arrive was the Gooseneck Barnacles, which was one of the specials of the day. Undoubtedly, this isn’t the prettiest shellfish to look at but boy are they delicious. They have this nice brininess to them and have a clam-like quality. I highly recommend ordering these if they’re being offered.
Up next was the Uni Bocadillo – Pressed uni sandwich with miso butter and pickled mustard seeds ($10). Being a huge uni fan, there was no way I was leaving Toro without trying this. The pressed sandwich was so rich and decadent and oozing with uni flavour. This is an absolute must for uni fans.
In stark contrast to the rich uni sandwich, the Jamon Blanco – La Quercia lardo, marinated jonah crab, black garlic, crispy shallots and avocado on toast ($11) was a refreshingly light bite. It consisted of crostini loaded with crab, creamy avocado and fried shallots. In other words, a bunch of delicious ingredients. It didn’t pack the same flavour punch as some of the other items we ordered but this was still a tasty dish.
Next up was the Gambas al Ajillo – Griddled garlic shrimp with cascabel chilies ($16). This is a classic tapas dish you’ll find at most Spanish restaurants, so we had to give it a try. The shrimp themselves were okay – the one I had was a little overcooked. However, the sauce was a real standout. We used the complimentary bread to soak every bit of it up.
For more seafood, we ordered the Pulpo – Octopus with charred scallion vinaigrette and potatoes ($15). Wow, the octopus was so ridiculously tender that it didn’t even really have the texture of octopus. It just kinda melted in our mouths. I’m not sure if I like my octopus this tender, to be honest… but nevertheless, it was still a solid dish. I particularly enjoyed the charred scallion vinaigrette which reminded of me of Chinese green onion and ginger sauce.
When we’re at a tapas restaurant, we always have to try their Patatas Bravas – Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce ($8). Given the smaller portion sizes of their other dishes, we were all a little shocked when the patatas bravas arrived in a giant bowl. The bite-sized potatoes were well fried and I enjoyed the aioli however I didn’t think the tomato sauce was anything to write home about (surprising, given how well the pan con tomate fared). Overall, decent but I’ve had better.
We also ordered the Asado de Huesos – Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade ($14). It’s hard to tell from the photo but this was one heck of an enormous bone marrow. Topped with the rich oxtail marmalade, this was another truly decadent dish. To eat it, you scoop some of the fatty marrow and oxtail marmalade out and spread it over toast. Delish! But I felt like I could’ve used a salad after this one…
But let’s be honest, I’m not a salad kinda girl. The closest thing we had to a salad during this meal was the Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija – Grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese ($9). It’s one of Toro’s signature dishes, so I highly recommend ordering this. It’s essentially a Mexican street corn dish, like the one at La Carnita. The grilled corn is generously topped with aioli and cheese, making it a very messy thing to eat. Let’s just say, it’s not the kind of thing you’d order on a first date… if you want a second date. But we weren’t here to impress anyone so we went to town. Totally worth the mess.
Up next was the Lengua con Lentejas y Salsa Verde – braised Archer Angus beef tongue with lentils and salsa verde ($12). The sliced tongue was tender and well seasoned. I enjoyed the addition of the salsa verde and the bed of lentils made it a hearty dish.
Since we’re all big fans of tongue, we also ordered the Lengua de Cordero a la Plancha – Plancha seared lamb tongue with bean hummus and mint ($14). Chunks of tongue were sitting on top of a creamy hummus and topped with cucumber and mint leaves. It was a nice dish but the tongue certainly has a bit of a gamey taste to it, so obviously, you’ve gotta like lamb!
The last dish to arrive was the Paella Valenciana – Shrimp, mussels, clams, Spanish pork sausage, chicken and Calasparra rice ($52 whole/$26 half). I love that you can order a half portion – the full sized portion is enormous and would certainly fill up four people, not leaving a ton of room to taste other dishes. While I found the rice to be on the wet side, it was still very tasty and the seafood was perfectly cooked.
Overall, we had a great experience at Toro. The food is packed full of flavour and the restaurant offers a very lively atmosphere that’ll keep you pumped up throughout the meal. It’s easy to see why Toro is so popular. 10+ years and they are still going strong!
At a glance:
- Spanish tapas restaurant located in the South End; open since 2005
- No dinner reservations; lunch/brunch reservations accepted for parties of 6 or more
- Dinner is offered every day; lunch – Mon to Fri; Sunday brunch
- Always a long wait; usually 2+hours for dinner
- Loud and lively atmosphere
- Highlights: Pan con Tomate, Uni Bocadillo, Maíz Asado
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 4 stars
- Service: 3 stars
- Atmosphere: 4 stars