When you drive to El Torito on the weekend, be sure to go with the windows down.
You’ll find the store at the north end of a strip mall set back from Lancaster, just north of Sunnyview, opposite Bi-Mart.
You’re getting close when you can smell the incomparable smell of mesquite grilled chicken. When you leave your car in the parking lot you’ll spot Humberto under a canopy outside manning this three grills. He’ll be working his grilled chicken mastery in a haze of mesquite charcoal smoke.
Congratulations. You have found the best grilled chicken in Salem.
El Torito is like several meat markets and Mexican grocery stores in town that have branched out to serve food. Here the specialty is Humberto’s grilled chicken — available beginning in the afternoon until 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The preparation starts with a marinade — a secret family recipe. It’s not particularly spicy. Just good. The marinated chickens go on the open grill and cook slowly over mesquite charcoal. Humberto watches over his chickens, flipping them and moving them around on the grill until they are cooked to perfection.
Most customers get their grilled chicken to go. A whole chicken with rice and beans and hand made tortillas costs only $15.99 and will easily serve four people. Or you can just buy the chicken by itself for $10.99. You may have to wait a bit for your chicken. Sometimes there can be a short line. Humberto won’t sell a chicken that is not perfectly cooked. If more people in Salem discover this place the line may get longer. It’s that good.
Humberto’s daughter Lili was in charge of the store when we visited. She was very friendly and helpful. The store has operated now for seven years and Lili says, “It’s my life.”
Besides the grilled chicken, El Torito is known for having excellent taquitos de carnitas (roast pork) every day along with other meat choices for their taquitos ($1.50). On the weekends they also offer barbacoa de borrego (roast lamb) and two kinds of birria: de chivo (goat) and de res (beef). Birria is a spicy stewed meat available in a soup or in tacos. All the food at El Torito is inspired by the cuisine of Michoacan in Mexico where Lili’s family comes from.
On weekdays at lunchtime El Torito has an all-you-can-eat buffet for only $6.99. There are different entrees every day, usually made with chicken, pork and beef, along with rice, beans and tortillas. Lili recommends the costillas de puerco, little pork ribs stewed in a green chili sauce.
But the main event here is really Humberto’s grilled chicken. Once you taste it you will be back for it. Again and again. You’ll wish the weekend would hurry up and get here, so you can drive over to Lancaster with your windows down and get in line for the most delicious chicken in town.
EL TORITO MEAT MARKET
2158 Lancaster Drive
Salem, Oregon 97305
Monday – Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m