Monday, October 7, 2013

Los Portales

201 Main St.
Hillsboro, Mo.

Angel was out of town, yet again. Her and her training associate, Diana, took off for Elgin Illinois on Friday, some sort of canine professional's seminar. She told me what it was but I don't recall paying attention at the time. Elgin is Northwest of Chicago, which I have learned is also in Illinois.  I used to know someone from there, but that was a long time ago.
Adam had worked some earlier in the day but was home in time for our regular outing. Up until we left the house we still hadn't decided where to go. I mentioned maybe something Mexican, he agreed. That meant, without need for further discussion, Los Portales.
The Place:
By best possible definition, LP is a dive. The building is old, the decor is rough and simple, the floors lean, the tile on the floors is cheap, and many of the furnishing do not match. It's just the kind of place you'd expect would serve excellent Mexican food.
The food there is authentic, it says so right on the sign. We've been there fairly often, it is close to home and  right on Main street.
A lot of people go there for their drinks. On this early evening there were already three or four ladies listing to port side, clutching bright yellow, fruity looking concoctions in massive goblets at the bar.
There's a smoking section by the bar that you have to go through before you get to the second-hand smoking section. Like I said, it's a dive.
We were greeted and then seated at a booth at a window that fronted Main street. A few other tables were loaded with locals. I've lived here long enough now that I had to carefully scan the room to see if I knew anyone. It's a popular place and many of the town's movers and shakers frequent the place.
A member of the purple-shirted wait staff brought us menus and the obligatory chips and salsa. LP's chips and salsa are pretty good, the salsa is not too hot, but it will eventually open up the sinuses.
I looked around the room, soaking in the atmosphere. Overhead the music system played authentic Mexican music, soulful, pleading songs, that sucked you in even though the words were undecipherable. He may have been singing about a lost love, a dying pet, a lonely existence, or he may have just been lamenting a blown piston in his pickup truck, I couldn't tell, but I was certain that it made the poor man hurt. The passion was intense, real and personal.
Mounted on one wall was a coat rack. Stuffed in the top of it were several gaudy sombreros. I told Adam that I imagined that on more formal occasions that if a patron violated the dress code and came in without a sombrero, that these were the loaners, like that box of ugly ties fancy restaurants keep on hand.
He suggested in reply that they belonged to the staff. He laughed, he imagined them greeting each other with a boisterous "Buenos dias!" as they removed their bright serapes and big hats in preparation to begin the days work.
I told him that sort of thing might be considered racist.
The staff is, unmistakably, mostly Mexican. I see this as a huge plus. I thought about Angel in Elgin. I wondered if there were any authentic Mexican or Mexican restaurants way up there. I don't know much about Elgin, but I sincerely doubt that they are nearly as cosmopolitan as Hillsboro. Their loss.
I did read somewhere that Elgin has a large Laotian community. I'm not exactly sure what that is, but it can't be as good as authentic Mexican. I mean, when't the last time you heard anyone say "Hey let's go to that nice little Laotian restaurant!"
About the only thing I know about Laos is that we may or may not have accidentally bombed them during that messy Viet Nam thing. I don't know if they still hold that against us. I'm just glad we never bombed Mexico.
The Food:
It really doesn't matter what you order here. Everything mostly has the same ingredients. The difference lies in the way it gets served up. Enchiladas, tacos, burritos, fajitas, it's all got the same stuff available to be stuffed into them. I prefer chicken enchiladas though. I like the red sauce that tops them. I also like refried beans and rice. So that's what I ordered, otherwise known as Combo #1.
Adam asked for #11, two tacos and an enchilada. Beef in the enchilada, chicken in the tacos. There was something on the side as well, though neither of us can remember what it was called.
There's never a long wait at LP's. Since everything is just a variation on basic ingredients, it's a matter of plating it up more than anything. Five minutes, maybe, and the food arrived. Adam's two tacos took up their own plate. they didn't look at all like Taco Bell tacos, which is good since Taco Bell is basically crap.
My enchiladas swam in the same plate with the beans and the rice, just the way I like it. Generous helpings of white cheese, spicy red sauce, mmmmmm...
I chopped up the enchiladas and let chaos ensue, all the bits mixing together beautifully.
The sauce was excellent, a little, but not too spicy, the chicken still tender and moist, the beans are about the best I've had.
This isn't fancy food. This is working person food. No pretense no garnish, no exotic ingredients or fancy plating. It's hard to compare this to a great steak dinner or a complex pasta/seafood offering. But for what it is, and when it is what you are craving, Los Portales gets it all right.
Just look at those tacos, thick crispy shells, plenty of white cheese. Even the chips and salsa are amazing.
I cleaned my plate, enjoying every bite. There may be better Mexican food somewhere, but i don't know how.
Yeah, it's good. It's also cheap. Adam and I stuffed ourselves, enjoyed every bit of it, and it only set us back eighteen dollars and eighty five cents. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the tea. My expectations were low. The worst as I can say is that I've had better and I've certainly had worse, which means for all intents and purposes it ranks on the PJTea scale about in the middle. I'm going to give it a +.25 though since the tea came in a larger tumbler than at Pizza Junction. It's only fair.
Hillsboro is not much of a destination town, well unless you have a court date, so I don't expect a lot of out of towners to go there. Too bad, you'd probably really like it, especially if you also like fruity rum or tequila drinks.
While there, Adam and I toasted my oldest son Matthew. He couldn't join us because he lives in Tempe, Arizona. It was his birthday though and what with him living in a state that loves authentic Mexican stuff, (except for many of the authentic Mexicans) I'm sure he would have wanted to join us.

Los Portales‎ on Urbanspoon

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