On the edge of downtown Glendale, Toro Grillhouse is a family-run spot that beams with local pride, offering a cross-section of Los Angeles street foods with flourishes of mixed flavors.
“What we serve here is Mexican-Filipino fusion. But we’re really more than that,” said Toro Grillhouse owner RJ Liquigan. “When people ask me what kind of food we have, I say it’s LA food. Because LA is so diverse.”
RJ and his father, Manny, opened Toro Grillhouse five years ago after taking over the former El Toro Tacos location on Colorado Blvd. Returning customers recognized part of the old name and the Mexican favorites that stayed on the menu: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos. But the list had expanded to include burgers, fries, hot dogs, wings, rice bowls, and egg rolls. With its revamped menu, Toro Grillhouse subtly added a range of regional flavors to make fast food fare feel both familiar and new at the same time.
“I like all types of food,” said RJ. “That’s why I wanted to make it diverse here. We try to accommodate everybody, because people like different things.”
Born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles, RJ’s appreciation for fusion cuisine has inspired several creative mashups on the menu. Drawing directly from his own heritage, he recently introduced a Filipino pork dish called sisig into burritos, on tacos and in a rice bowl. Manny makes the sisig with a mix of crisp fried pork belly, green and red bell peppers, and red onions, seasoned with a tangy lemon and vinegar sauce. On its own, a heap of chopped sisig seems destined to meet a tortilla. But you can get a more traditional taste matchup of sisig with garlic fried rice and fried egg in the breakfast burrito and rice bowl.
“When people try it, they say, ‘Wow. I’ve never had a burrito like this before’ or ‘I’ve never had tacos like this before. It’s so good!’” said RJ. Instead of salsa, Manny mixes together a side serving of Filipino vinegar-based sauce to give the sisig dishes an extra boost of tanginess.
You’ll find another common Filipino snack among the list of side dishes. Lumpia is a crispier cousin of the Chinese egg roll, wrapped in thin layers of rice paper and quickly deep fried. RJ’s grandmother rolls them herself, preparing two different kinds. The smaller-sized lumpia are tightly packed with pork, celery, and carrots and come with five pieces in an order. Or you can get a serving of two larger lumpia filled with chopped vegetables. Each option is paired with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
But Toro Grillhouse is by no means limited to Mexican and Asian flavors. Burgers, hot dogs, french fries, and wings are prepared in classic American styles alongside options that get a unique Toro treatment. For example, you can get regular french fries, or you can try the double-fried Garlic Fries tossed in a house garlic sauce. You can even enjoy fries with asada, stuffed inside the California Burrito. And it’s all made to order from fresh ingredients.
The burgers are made with premium beef, which is ground in-house and formed by hand into wide, flat patties that cook quickly to achieve a juicy center and a smoky outer char. “Before I opened this place, I would always make burgers with my friends. That was one of my specialties when I grilled,” explained RJ.
The top selling Aioli Burger is layered with bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled onions, arugula, and a saucy mix of ketchup and housemade garlic aioli. A close second is the Bulls Eye Burger, which hits the flavor target with savory bacon, grilled onions, and an experimental dose of smooth cream cheese and spicy sriracha.
“I just tried it one time and it was good,” RJ said of the Bulls Eye Burger’s unusual condiment combo. “And if you put a fried egg on it too, oh man, it tastes amazing!”
As a restaurant owner, RJ enjoys every opportunity to indulge in his passion for outdoor grilling. In the summer, he’ll set up his smoker in the parking lot and grill racks of beef ribs, baby back ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. Then he’ll announce it on social media. “Once we have it, it’s gone in three hours,” he said.
Despite the walk-up order window and limited seating in an enclosed outdoor patio, the atmosphere at Toro Grillhouse leans more fast-casual than fast-food. Outside of its busiest times, the restaurant’s two TV screens and video game corner invite you to hang out for a spell. RJ first set up a classic Nintendo console for customers to play while they wait for their food. He soon added Super Nintendo and standalone arcade machines, including Street Fighter II and Pac-Man. “A lot of people like the games. And when I tell them it’s free, they’re even happier,” RJ described.
When Los Angeles sports teams are playing, you can often catch them on the TVs while you enjoy your meal. And there’s no question which teams Toro Grillhouse roots for most. From the moment you pull into the parking lot behind the restaurant, you’re greeted with LA sports icons. A larger-than-life mural of legendary Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully dominates the restaurant wall, painted by Alex Ali Gonzalez. To its left is a dreamlike illustration painted by Gustavo Zermeno, which captures Magic Johnson in midair lifting a basketball-sized baseball, symbolizing his links to both the Lakers and the Dodgers.
RJ’s exuberant sense of LA pride shines through not only in the restaurant’s variety of food but in its overall atmosphere. A prized possession on display at the order counter is a Dodgers cap signed by players Joc Pederson and Austin Barnes. RJ recalls asking for their autographs the first time the players stopped by in 2017: “It was right after the World Series when they lost, and I was so bummed. And then they came in and ordered something!”
Like the interlocking letters of the Dodgers logo, what keeps customers connected to Toro Grillhouse is its array of welcoming comfort food, whether it’s a hot dog, fish tacos, chicken teriyaki, or a Hawaiian bowl of spam and eggs over rice.
“I just want everyone here to be happy. When they come in here, they have a good time. And I make sure everyone leaves happy.”