Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Los Portales

201 2nd St
Hillsboro MO

1 Nov, 2009

Our expectations were low. What little we had heard about this place was not at all exemplary. I have passed it hundreds of times as it sits across the street from the county courthouse and that street, Highway BB is how one gets from my house to Hillsboro. I had been in once, to meet a guy about some political stuff I don’t want to get into right now. I think I may have had a glass of tea, but no one I was meeting with had food, so I followed suit.
It does get points for convenience though, it is closer to our house that any other restaurant, in any direction. Being that close we HAD to go.

The Place:

Surely it used to be something else, an office suite maybe. It sits at the corner of Highway BB (Second street) and Highway 21 (Main street). The courthouse shares parking spaces. Next to it are the requisites title companies, law offices and bail bond joints. Hillsboro is the county seat. The building appears to be haphazard, maybe it was once a couple of different buildings sewn together. The style of the buildings seems to be of 1950’s or early 60’s construction, with additional external work maybe in the seventies. The entrance is on the side, near the back, and welcomes you with a couple of flashy arcade machines. The bar is prominent and must be passed by all who enter. The lions share of income is probably the bar itself catering to those involved with matters of the court. The tables and guacamole colored booths were spread around two or three distinct areas, all dimly lit with quick-paced Mexican music blasting from every pore. The ceilings were low, the furnishings old and the carpets worn and faded.
The bartender was running the entire floor, busy when we arrived settling up the checks from a large departing group. We waited and were finally offered the choice of ‘smoking’ or ‘just smells like smoking’ sections. We chose the latter which ended up being the front of the building, a few blinds open on the windows giving us a view of Hardees across Main Street. The d├ęcor consisted mainly of Corona advertisements, small Mexican flags and a few suspended serapes/sombreros.
We were soon given a basket full of fresh, warm nachos, two salsa bowls and two decanters of rather generic salsa. Menus were passed out and drinks ordered. One ice tea, one Diet Coke and one regular Coke, by now you know who got what.
The menu was large, colorful and filled with many, many options. There was even a glossary to explain what some of the terms meant.

The Food:
Angel ordered the Tamale Deluxe, I requested the biggest combo I could find, the Grande Special. After much deliberation Adam finally decided on Nachos Supreme (without tomatoes)
We devoured the chips which individually seemed quite light, but as they piled up proved quite filling. The tea was cloudy, old and disappointing.
The food came pretty quickly. Mine took up two full sized plates. My goal was to try as many different items for comparison even if it meant I wouldn’t like or finish all of it. On my plates were a small crisp taco, two enchiladas, a burrito, a roasted chili pepper, refried beans and a smooth cheese sauce. It was wonderful. The rice, beans and cheese and enchilada sauces formed a thick, artery clogging pool of savory delight. The enchiladas were simple and small, merely lightly seasoned ground beef in a wrap. The ‘burrito’ on the other plate was more like an open faced taco the crisp tortilla a mere appliance to hold the tomato, beef, cheese and guacamole. I managed to almost finish both plates, and yes I did regret it later, but this stuff was really quite good.
What would have made it better is if I, like Angel and Adam had chicken as their protein rather than beef. They both commented on the chicken and even offered me a sample. It was indeed excellent. The chicken was in shredded form for the nachos and tamale plate, it was tender, moist and had a distinct but not overpowering flavor that we could not quite describe, other than that it was very, very good.
Angel liked, but could not finish her tamale plate because of the layers of nacho chips that had preceded it. She did request a box though.


The Service:
Just a grade above minimal. We only ever saw two people, both young and Mexican, the bartender and another guy who bussed the tables. They were friendly, efficient and capable. Drinks were refilled promptly, the check was delivered quickly. The tables were not bussed quickly, a half hour or so passed before the cleanup of the large group’s tables began. The total tab for the evening including a merely modest tip: thirty dollars and eighty one cents.

Summary:

It wasn’t fancy, or shiny, or spit polished at all. But the food was truly excellent, the price also excellent. It does not try to pass itself off as anything other than what it is, a small town hole-in-the-wall without pretentiousness or fanfare serving ample portions of authentic Mexican favorites. Yes we do recommend it and yes, we will go back. I give it a ninety four.

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