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Saturday, August 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
The Paper
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Aracely Aguilar
Owner, with husband José González, of Antojitos El Toril, 515 Cottage Grove Rd.
'We try to keep our food very consistent and authentic.'
Aguilar: 'We try to keep our food very consistent and authentic.'
Credit:Susan Kepecs

Why you should go:Because if you're like me, you love Mexican food.

You're from El Toril, in the Mexican state of Aguascalientes? No, not me. My husband is from El Toril, but the one in the state of Mexico. It's just a tiny pueblo. The toril is the gate on the bullring, and they used to have a lot of bulls there, but not now. I'm from the state of Querétaro, so we're both from central Mexico. Here, we make really traditional central Mexican "antojitos" - the kind of food people sell at fairs and in markets, from the little stands they set up - enchiladas, tacos, gordas, quesadillas.

You're a long way from central Mexico. Yes. I came a long time ago, in '96. I was 19. I came with a neighbor who had family in Madison. I met my husband here - he was my neighbor. He was just 17 when he left the countryside in Mexico with his brothers and landed here. We started going out, to dances or for walks. He was working at the Sunrise Family Restaurant in Stoughton. I got a job at the Sheraton Hotel, and later I worked at Woodman's Foods.

My husband loves to cook. He always wanted to open an American restaurant, but he ended up with a Mexican one. We gave this a lot of thought. After we finally opened last year we kept our regular jobs. It took three months to work up the courage to quit and just focus on Antojitos El Toril. But it's gone pretty well. Lots of people who come in once come back, and we do a lot of takeout business, too.

We also have two carts - that helps make ends meet. One cart is on State Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The other one is licensed just for daytime, and it's mobile. In warm weather we take it to the parks, and other times we set it up on Lake Point Drive or Granada Way.

What's the trick to running a place like this? We've found out it's very hard to sustain a restaurant. We have great days, when we sell a lot, and days that aren't so good. We try to keep our food very consistent and authentic, so no matter how things are going, people are always satisfied. We get a lot of American customers, and sometimes they're surprised, since they're used to Americanized, Tex-Mex tacos. And a lot of them are vegetarians! We had cheese enchiladas on the menu, and people were ordering them a lot. They were always asking what else we had that was vegetarian, so we added avocado enchiladas, rice and bean gorditas and tacos - almost all our antojitos come in vegetarian versions now.

We make very typical guisados, as well as antojitos. They're stews, really - home-cooked full meals, like lamb in salsa verde, or pork in salsa roja. We usually have three on the menu, depending on what we feel like eating ourselves. We have three kids - two boys and a girl - so we cook the same things for you that we make for our family. It makes my day when customers fall in love with our typical foods!

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