December 14, 2018
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A Fiesta of Flavors

Spicy salsa, sweet mole, and smooth cactus (yes, cactus) — a meal at Los Toribio demonstrates the range of Mexican cuisine
Los Toribio serves traditional Mexican dishes such as cactus salad (foreground) and mole poblano.

Ignacio “Nacho” Toribio never planned to work in a restaurant. Nearly three decades ago, living in Atlanta, he spent weekends helping his older brother Ramon run a Mexican restaurant. Arriving early in the morning and staying late at night “was something I didn’t like at all,” Toribio admits. “I was 25 or 26 and enjoying my life. I said, ‘This is not for me.’”

But years later, Toribio learned of a small Mexican eatery for sale in Henderson, Ky. Thinking of his brother’s successful business in Atlanta, he told himself, “At least I’m going to give it a try.” Toribio now owns two Los Toribio Mexican restaurants in Henderson.

Toribio — a native of Jalisco, a Mexican state on the Pacific coast — was 13 years old when he arrived in the United States in 1973. After stints in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, he worked as manager of housekeeping and maintenance for Nordstrom department stores in California. When a relative called to tell him about Cerro de la Silla, a Mexican restaurant for sale, Toribio felt ready for the opportunity to own a business. In 1994, he moved to Henderson with his family.

The original restaurant, renamed Los Toribio, has been replaced by two other locations. In 1996, Toribio opened a restaurant south of John James Audubon State Park on U.S. Highway 41. The ranch-style building, painted a cheerful shade of coral, is a 10-minute drive from Downtown Evansville. In 2005, another Los Toribio opened in a new building on South Green Street. The off-the-beaten-path dining destination requires a slightly longer haul for people north of the Ohio River, but the restaurant’s character makes it worth the drive, as does the menu of traditional Mexican dishes.

The attractive brick building features a patio with a tiered fountain. When I visited Los Toribio with two friends for a weeknight dinner, heavy rain prevented us from sitting outdoors. Still, the brightly decorated interior was a welcome contrast to the dreary weather. Larger-than-life wooden sculptures of a mariachi band line the entryway, and the restaurant has a sunny, south-of-the-border feel with green, orange, and yellow walls; painted murals; tiled tabletops; colorful carved furniture; and a festive bar area.

Toribio gives Gloria, his Colombian wife of 26 years, the credit for the interior design. “I always used to (decorate with) the colors of the flag — red, green, and white,” he says with a laugh. “She said, ‘I don’t want to see that anymore.’”

The menu, too, has a distinct touch. From unique presentation (my margarita was served in an unusually wide, shallow glass) to an unfamiliar dish (cactus salad), my group’s evening was full of small details that set the experience apart from other Mexican restaurants.

The first came when our waiter brought a basket of chips and two dishes of salsa. One salsa was mild with a thinner consistency; the other was spicier and thicker. “In other Mexican restaurants, they serve only one kind of salsa,” Toribio explains. “I made it a little different with two salsas at a time. People can decide what they want.” (As the menu notes, “Not all Mexican food is spicy hot.”)

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