Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Los Portales II

Hillsboro, Mo.

Saturday was oppressively hot. I’d slept in very late due to the heat wave that had robbed me of sleep all week. Most of the day Saturday was an empty fog of heat and mental numbness, sweat-lag. Then I took a nap. You'd think that would have helped.

I woke up just in time to go to dinner, still foggy. Adam had chosen the place, a repeat, but a good one. It’s the closest food outlet to our home, on the corner across from the courthouse in Hillsboro.

“How was your day?” Angel asked as we got in the car. She’d been busy with dogs and dog people all day. I pondered for a few seconds, maybe a minute as I tried to comprehend the question. “What?” I finally asked, Adam snickered.

“Did you do anything today?” She sort of repeated, changing it up just enough to make me re-think it.

“Oh, yeah.” I answered and went back to the soothing, languorous hum in my head.

“Well?” She prodded.

“Oh, yeah. I went to the post office, and mailed those three books, I told the lady to send them first class or media mail, whichever was cheaper. She weighed them and stuck labels on them then asked me if I wanted any stamps or insurance or stuff. I said no thanks. Then she said it would be six dollars and sixty three cents, I handed her a ten and she gave me change and a receipt. Then I left.” I explained.
A silent moment went by, she stared at me. “I was expecting a punch line or something, is that it? That’s the whole story?”

“I went to the bank too, want to hear about that?”

“No, I just wanted to know how your day was.” She seemed disappointed.

“Well, that was pretty much it I’m afraid. Sorry it wasn’t more interesting, I’ll try harder next time.” Entertaining people is simply not as easy as it looks. You've just got to turn it off once in a while.

We got to Los Portales in just a few minutes; the SUV hadn’t even cooled down.

“Remind me not to order the Grande Special.” I said to them as we pulled up, I’d really overdone it last time.

“Don’t order the Grand Special.” Adam replied immediately, like a jerk.

The Place:

We stepped in to the old, plain building and were greeted at the small bar by a sharp Hispanic man dressed in nice jeans and a blue polo shirt. He led us to a booth (Angel must have called ahead) and slapped down menus. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke and in a minute or so were handed a basket of warm nacho chips, a decanter of salsa and a small bowl.

The salsa was red and a little lumpy and had an earthy taste. Some heat but not too much, not too sweet.

The place is old and worn, but clean. The floor sags a little, the tables wobble. The walls are covered to halfway up with vinyl faux-brick and painted white above a thickly-painted green chair rail. On the walls are sombreros, murals, a serape or two and lots of Corona beer signs and pennants.

Pleasant ranchera music played from the walls and ceiling, Men singing in Spanish about, well I don’t know, the songs sounded a little sad yet hopeful, maybe it was about their dogs, their wives/girlfriends or their pickup trucks, whatever slightly mournful yet ultimately optimistic Mexican men like to sing about. It was enjoyable because of the atmosphere, I won’t be ordering the CD.

The menu was well laid out, appetizers, drinks, lunches and dinners all separated nicely. I found the combo page, skipped over the ‘Grande Special’. That thing comes on three heaping plates.

The combo page listed thirty-seven numbered choices and clearly stated, ‘no substitutions’ which is fine because chances are at least one in thirty seven that one of the listed will be what you want.

The Food:

I chose #18, an enchilada, a burrito, beans and rice. Angel chose #4, one taco (beef), two enchiladas(1 beef, 1 chicken) and rice. Adam took the Nachos Supreme, without tomatoes.

We plowed through the chips. The food came quickly, in less than five minutes. Mine was just as I wanted it, an oozing flow of lumpy refried beans and cheese mixing with a thin red pool of spicy enchilada sauce.

The rice was well cooked and not as tomatoey as it is often the case. The beans were not completely mashed which is the best way to have them. I carved everything up and let it all run together in a chunky brown-red puddle of Mexican splendor.

We dug in, it was all excellent. We shared a little, Angel decided next time that more chicken and less beef would have been a little better. I discarded some of the burrito housing, didn’t need it. Adam nearly cleaned his plate which is very, very rare. Our entrees came as specified, the tacos had only beef and a little cheese, my enchilada and burrito contained only meat and a little cheese, no tomatoes or lettuce or anything Taco Bell-ish about them. This was working mans’ food, no frills, just texture, flavor and substance.


There was nothing to complain about, nothing at all. If this place just had high speed internet I’d move in. The price? You’ll love this. We were filled to the gills, satisfied completely, for under twenty five bucks. You can barely get a prostitute in Hillsboro for under twenty five bucks, yet this meal for three delivered much more delight (and slightly less guilt). The service was sharp and attentive, the food prepared and delivered perfectly.

We have returned, we have recommended it, we’ve even taken family there (Angel did, I was out of town). It is by far the best restaurant in Hillsboro, and to date the best Mexican food in Jefferson or South St. Louis County.

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