BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
It is the weekend, at long, long last. The sun is high in the sky when you roll out of bed, reluctantly and only because your stomach is growling, loudly, demanding food. Raisin bran is not going to cut it today. You are hungry for brunch.
The traditional American version would carbo-load you, feeding you enough French toast, pastry, jam, and pancakes to send you right back to bed. But since Jose Salazar’s La Torre restaurant got with the brunch program, you can wake up your taste buds with the rest of your body as you salsa your way into Saturday or Sunday with a happy mouth and some chili fire in your blood.
Start with chilled, plump shrimp bathed in a piquant broth, La Torre’s refreshing take on shrimp cocktail, or with rich and zesty guacamole and chips. Then dine on Chilaquiles de Vincenta, fried tortillas layered with green tomatillo sauce, the tart edge rounded out with cheese; or warm and spicy Rajas Poblanos, strips of roasted chilies in a cream sauce scooped up with warm tortillas; or Carne a la Chona, chunks of pork or beef simmered long and full of flavor. Or play it safe and delicious with huevos—eggs with chorizo sausage, with ham, or with shredded beef.
Brunch may be a new start for La Torre, but the east-side restaurant has fed Bloomingtonians lunch and dinner since 1996 when Salazar, his wife, and three kids moved to the town they had fallen in love with on a weekend trip, returned, signed a lease, and opened for business.
Restaurants have always been a family affair for Salazar. He began at the age of 11 as the official dishwasher at his father’s Chicago tacqueria, and today he is the patriarch of La Torre where he, his wife, daughter, son, and two brothers-in-law work. There must be something in the water of his hometown of Jesus Maria, in Jalisco, Mexico. By Salazar’s estimation, former residents of the town now run 3,500 Mexican restaurants in the United States, including several in Bloomington besides his own. That gives the restaurants a certain similarity, but Salazar makes an effort to break the mold at La Torre, doing the cooking from scratch and using ingredients as fresh as possible, right down to the herbs and chili peppers he grows himself.
The difference shows up on the plate. Highlights at La Torre include all the usual standbys of tacos, enchiladas, flautas, and carnitas, with a wickedly good guacamole and a cheese dip that doesn’t look like much but is packed with chili flavor. But the house specialties, like the sizzling pork spareribs, and the fish dishes, set it apart. Shrimp grilled with garlic and butter, or served with a spicy tomato-based Veracruz sauce, are succulent and sweet. The fish tacos match crispy fish with a tangy cabbage slaw, all rolled up in a warm tortilla.
The warmth at La Torre doesn’t come just from the food—the place is rich in color and welcome from the Salazars. Eat at La Torre and their family restaurant becomes yours, too.