Since Pasadena has been found by the West Side, Pasadenans have a multitude of restaurants to choose from for our dining pleasure. But I can remember a time not so long ago, when there were only a cherished few. Many of those restaurants are gone now, closed to make way for the massive chain restaurants that now line our city streets. But a few do remain; El Portal is one of those old friends.
Located on Green Street in a quaint enclave of cute shops and one-of-a-kind restaurants, El Portal stands as one of the few remaining reminders of the Pasadena Way. A place to meet old friends, share a margarita and enjoy the cool evening breezes. With a large outdoor dining area, complete with booths, it’s a wonderful place to bring the extended family. I’ve seen four generations sitting at the same table all enjoying some of Abel Ramirez’ delicious food, cherishing the day and the company.
Familial ties are not the only reason to come to El Portal, the food and delicious margaritas are the main draws. On the menu you’ll find the usual Mexican fare of enchiladas, burritos and tacos but look closer and you’ll find hints of the Yucatán where Abel is from. Fresh fish, tender pork and special Yucatán Tamales are a few of the specialties he offers.
I love the Enchiladas de Mole: two corn tortillas filled with shredded chicken then topped with a musky, dense, dark mole sauce. Try as I might to order something else it all comes down to the mole for me. I love the complex nature of the sauce with its many herbs and spices, touch of chocolate and breath of heat. The enchiladas are served with black beans and rice, so much to eat, so hard to resist.
My companion ordered the Flat Spinach and Shrimp Enchilada which was filled with bay shrimp and the most flavorful sautéed spinach. The tortillas where served flat with the ingredients piled in between the two layers, some would call them deconstructed. On the top was a glaze of salsa verde, melted cheese and avocado slices. So simple, yet so delicious.
Of course my companion and I washed this all down with a couple of El Portal’s famous margaritas, on the rocks of course. Sweet and sour, simple yet complex, El Portal’s margaritas smooth the edges off a bad day and make a good day better. I also noticed (too late to order one) that they now serve their margaritas sweetened with Splenda for the diet conscious (of which I am one) next trip I’ll have one of those.
I couldn’t leave without having the Flan de Yucatán for dessert. Creamy, rich and dense, the flan is topped with the most delicious sauce, not the usual caramel but more coffee flavored with just a slight alcoholic bite.
So next time you get a hankering for food from South of the Border remember you old friend El Portal and come home again.
El Portal and its associated restaurants: Vanessa’s Coffee and Pastries and Yahaira’s Café are located in the Arcade, 695 E. Green Street, Pasadena. For more information call (626) 795-8553 or visit www.elportalrestaurant.com.