Larry Cano is arguably the father of Taco Tuesday, having celebrated one of the first in his little Mexican restaurant in Laguna Hills named after a clay bowl decorated with a painted bull 65 years ago.
Cano hired only local Mexican cooks, and within three years his El Torito.com became a huge success and the ex-G.I. from California went on to open additional locations. He not only helped popularize Mexican cuisine across Southern California but introduced us to the frozen concoction now synonymous with California – the margarita.
By 1976 Cano had 20 locations, and eventually sold the business to W. R. Grace and Company for about $20 million. They kept him on as president and forged ahead with his vision to become the first authentic Mexican food chain in Southern California.
“Larry was very proud of the fact that El Torito was the first to bring the frosty margarita to guests in the United States,” Randy Sharpe of Xperience Restaurant Group which now owns the chain tells L.A. Weekly.
“He was the first to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and so many other Mexican traditions we celebrate today. Everything in our kitchens is still made from scratch every day.”
Legend has it that the tableside guacamole also originated at El Torito, when Cano himself went over to a table and demonstrated how to make the classic dish for guests unfamiliar with the concoction. It was implemented it into the menu and other restaurants have since followed suit.
El Torito will celebrate the 65th anniversary on Thursday, July 18, with parties at all 31 locations, featuring free steak, chicken and carnitas tacos with fresh handmade tortillas and a salsa bar from 3 p.m. to close. Happy Hour drink specials will include $6 margaritas and $4 draft beers. Live entertainment will be mariachis from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. and a DJ in the cantina from 7 p.m. to close.
Cano passed away in 2015, but in keeping with his vision of always moving forward, all existing El Toritos are undergoing remodels and celebrating 65 years with a new facelift.