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El Matador has been doing Mexican right since 1966

June 20, 2003

Greer Wylder

Sandwiched between a Global Tire shop and Cal's Camera on Newport

Boulevard sits the locally beloved El Matador restaurant. After much

hard work and determination, Marcial Gallardo, an immigrant from

Zacatecas, Mexico, opened El Matador here in 1966.

Today, Gallardo still works one or two days a week, his two sons,

Marcial Jr. and Cesar, run the restaurant daily. The funky decor --

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pinatas, sombreros, strands of red and white lights, bright pink

walls, turquoise green ceiling, small red-leather booths -- doesn't

draw in customers. They come for the consistently good Mexican food

and friendly service.

There's a full bar, with six varieties of fruit margaritas ($5)

and four specialty margaritas that will please all. If you don't mind

paying mucho dinero for drinks, try the millionaire Grand Marnier

Centenaire margarita ($14.95), or billionaire Grand Marnier

Cinquantenaire margarita ($19.95), both with choices of premium

tequilas: Jose Cuervo Tradicional, Don Julio Silver, Patron Silver,

Tequila Nacional or Milagro Silver.

The oversized three-page menu has everything you'd want at a

Mexican restaurant -- guacamole, soups, Mexican combination plates,

enchiladas, burritos, taquitos, tostadas, sopas, salads, poultry and

seafood. There's even hola amiguito (younger than 12) plates for

$6.50 to 6.95.

Mexican breakfast is served all day, including the hangover cure

menudo ($5.95), a hearty soup made with tripe, calf's feet, red

chiles, hominy and spices ($5.95) and steak and eggs ($8.95)

For those who inexplicably have to order cheeseburgers and French

fries at a Mexican restaurant, there are those, too.

Appetizers cost $5.85 to $9.95. Mexican combinations cost $8.95 to

$15.95.

Highly recommended is a bowl of consome de pollo ($4.95), a pure

chicken broth-based soup that's spicy; the grilled shrimp soft shell

tacos with liberal slices of avocado, tomatoes and sour cream;

grilled chicken soft shell tacos with pinto beans on request,

guacamole and cilantro.

Starving? Order No. 23, tacos al pastor ($12.95) -- your choice of

top sirloin steak, chicken or pork in two delicious tacos with choice

of refried or pinto beans and guacamole. Or try fajitas a la

Mexicana, marinated tender strips of beef, chicken or pork with

julienne bell peppers and onions. Served with avocado relish, rice,

beans and tortillas. Fresh tortillas chips and one of the best

homemade salsas in town come with all meals.

You'll never leave here hungry, generous portions, but you could

miss dessert. The freshly made flan can sell out, and sometimes ice

cream and sherbet aren't available. Luckily for you, there's a Cold

Stone Creamery across the street.

*

Red Robin, a casual dining restaurant specializing in gourmet

burger and spirits, plans to open at Fashion Island in early July.

Established in 1969, Red Robin is known for its extensive (more than

22) gourmet burgers, all-you-can-eat steak fries and signature Mad

Mixology drinks, served in friendly atmosphere. Burgers can be

ordered with beef, chicken, veggie, fish, pot roast or turkey.

Toppings include grilled pineapple, guacamole, green chilies, honey

mustard, barbecue sauce, fries onion straws, sauteed mushrooms and

more. Other items include salads, soups, appetizers, entrees and

desserts.

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