by Eric Ginsburg
The mural would be jarring, I suppose, if nobody gave me a heads up.
The colorful piece takes up a large wall inside High Point’s Taco Toro restaurant, and it’s mostly a pastoral airbrushed-style landscape painting. But the centerpiece — an Aztec warrior with rippling muscles, a cape and loincloth pointing a quivered arrow to the sky as a damsel with visibly erect nipples under her dress appears to nap on a bed of flowers at his feet — could rightfully be called soft-core.
But my colleague Jordan Green, who tipped me off to this restaurant in the back of a Mexican mercadito south of downtown High Point, warned me that in addition to a delicious torta, Taco Toro boasted a suggestive visual display.
It’s not the first thing you notice when you walk into the mid-sized space — actually you’re so busy taking in the market you pass through and then orienting yourself to the restaurant that your eyes would likely glance over it. Instead, if nobody warned you, chances are you wouldn’t really take it in until after the chips and salsa arrived.
I didn’t go because Jordan told me about the mural, though it did add a level of intrigue. I went to Taco Toro because Jordan offered an impassioned endorsement of the chicken torta, describing the crumbled cheese, the peppers, the glory of the large and affordable sandwich. He really sold it, and as I left the High Point courthouse around lunchtime (after narrowly escaping a yearlong service on a grand jury) I zipped around the corner to see how his claims held up.
The courthouse had, as all courthouses do, sucked some of the life out of me, and though I usually ask for chicken in my tortas, I wanted the meal to punch me in the face and bring the color back to my cheeks. So I ordered it al pastor — pork marinated in pineapple and other tasty ingredients — and added some hot sauce.
That’s when things got interesting.
The torta didn’t need any extra sauce, per se; it matched the bar Jordan had set, and then some. But I suddenly had four options in front of me.
When the server asked if I wanted the sauces, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The thin, red sauce and salsa verde each held their own, adding some of that extra punch I sought. But there’s already a bottle of Valentina, a common salsa picante in Mexican restaurants around here, on the table. And next to it, there’s something called A La Brava, a smoky orange-colored hot sauce that asks, “Are you brave enough to try it?”
The answer needs to be yes.
The A La Brava sauce is the closest thing I’ve found in a bottle to one of the house sauces at Villa del Mar in Greensboro, my favorite to date. It doesn’t burn as much as it simmers on your lips and mouth, and should be applied sparingly if you desire a kick. I didn’t realize until later, as I walked through the market’s aisles, that this sauce is actually made in Winston-Salem.
Sorry, Texas Pete. We had a good run together, but there are leagues between the two Camel City sauces.
When I finished, I only knew I was done because the food had disappeared. It didn’t fully register that I’d filled my stomach until later; I just wanted to keep eating. A sign advertised “Tenemos ricas pupusas,” and I would’ve ordered some of the Salvadoran fare with chicharones and cheese had Taco Toro not been out. The Oaxacan cheese in the parent store — a real treat, if you’ve never had it — called out to be taken home, but I held off on it, the treats from the bakery and the meat market, while landing on a bottle of A La Brava.
I could’ve turned lunch into a casual taco crawl, hitting up the Taqueria Taco Corner inside the Pequeño Mexico supermarket and meat market two doors down and a taco truck positioned slightly farther down South Main Street. But as it was, Taco Toro fulfilled my needs, putting enough of a glow on the day to overshadow the courthouse’s early grip on my week.
Visit Taco Toro at 810 S. Main St. (HP), find it on Facebook or call 336.885.5647.