Monday, February 3, 2014

Los Portales

201 Main St.
Hillsboro, Mo

My choice, a last minute decision. Once again, we'd put off making the choice, then the weather got iffy, so Angel said she didn't want to risk going too far in case it started getting icy again. On Friday I had slid the car into the front yard as she happened to be outside watching. She didn't know at the time that this was, though less than ideal, a fairly well controlled situation. The car had lost traction on the glazed pavement, but I'd already slowed it down to next to zero and I sort of leaned it toward the yard where it would regain grip immediately as opposed to the various stands of oak trees that were my only other option. I've actually done this before. Adam was watching the first time. The look on their faces, priceless.
So she didn't want to go to far, which meant Hillsboro, which seriously limited our choices. I just up and answered. "Mexican." That won immediate approval.
Los Portales can be described as a margarita joint that happens to serve food. Their fruity tequila drinks are quite popular. They come in various sizes, the larger version looks like a cereal bowl on a stem. I don't care for fruity mixed drinks much, ever since I discovered the satanic 'hurricanes' that I drank way too many of in New Orleans several years back. I loved those things, really sweet and fruity and you couldn't even taste the alcohol, and then next thing I know I'm stuffing my torn shirt into my pocket and swearing at some enormous trumpet players and my knees are bleeding and I'm pretty sure I just set fire to a dumpster . . .  well, not exactly. It wasn't really that bad, but I have learned to really, really limit the drinks I consume that mask or delay the alcohol or its effects.
Nearly every occupied table at LP held a big goblet of margarita. There were signs posted about offering special ones on certain evenings.
The Place:
LP is sort of a dive. An old building that certainly used to be something else entirely, uneven floors, low ceilings, dark. It has character though and is a very popular local watering hole and they make really good 'authentic' Mexican food. The people that work there are pretty much all Hispanic, Latino, or whatever you choose to call people from Central or South America. A recent study I heard on NPR said that the preference as to what to be called varies quite a bit among that population, though they'd mostly rather be referred to as being from the country they came from, Nicaraguan, Mexican, Bolivian, Canadian, etc. But the problem for us not from there is that all those places seem a lot more alike than the vast differences that there really are, so we tend to lump them all together as if they were one people. I didn't ask the people at LP where they were from, so I really don't know for sure. I apologize to them for my blatant ignorance.
The bottom line though is they make good food. I air quoted around 'authentic' again. I don't know how authentically Mexican the food is since I've never been to Mexico, but they are certainly, if there is a God, more authentic than Taco Bell.
We sat at a booth in the second-hand-only smoking section. Hillsboro hasn't banned smoking in restaurants, so in an old, low ceiling-ed place, the acrid, stale odor is palpable throughout.
We sat beneath a red serape and sombrero, a theme on several of the walls. The booths there are well worn and kind of low to the table.
Along the front wall most of the tables were full, with families, with more often than not, Mom sipping on a big, bright green drink.
Overhead were the happy guitars, trumpets and soulful, mostly male voices of songs sung in Spanish. It fit nicely.
The Food:
The gentleman who waited on us was polite and professional. He had brought the chips and salsa, which caused me to salivate openly. We perused the menus as we downed the drenched chips. The chips were thin and crispy, the salsa spicy and rich, though not too hot. We responded to his query with Tea, sweet tea (raspberry) and Coke.
It's easy, for me at least, to overdo it at LP. A couple of times I've ordered the big special platters that they drag through a little of everything they make. I've never been able to finish one, so I decided to be more surgical about my choice.
#1 Enchiladas
Enchiladas, mmmm. There it is known as Combination #1. Two enchiladas, rice and refried beans. Perfect.
Angel asked for the Enchiladas Del Mar, which she said contained shrimp. Adam split his order between Nachos Supreme and a chicken taco.
LP serves pretty quick, most of the stuff is batch made and assembled onto a plate when ordered. So it doesn't take a long time to dine there.
The plates arrived, exactly as ordered.
Enchilada Del Mar
White, molten cheese floating in a dark, muddy river of beans. Lightly tomato-sauced rice, tender and well cooked. I didn't recall specifying I wanted beef enchiladas, but that's what I got. After I took the picture I chopped it all up and stirred it all together. A piggish thing to do, but I like the depth of flavors and textures in every bite. Pretty much the same way I eat my eggs, hash browns and bacon at Huddle House. Angel's plate looked prettier than mine, it included a small lettuce, tomato and guac salad. She dug out and devoured the small shrimp.
Taco, Nachos Supreme
Adam excavated and discarded the tomato chunks from his nacho plate. The Taco went pretty quick. For some reason I finished before everyone else, this rarely happens what with me taking time out to make copious notes for these reviews. The flavors got the best of me though. I was hungry, lusted for Mexican and was being satisfied.  It's hard to slow down under pressure like that.
 Summary:
Angel said hers was quite good, Adam nodded his head. Yeah the food was good. The service was mostly good. We ran out of chips and were never offered a refill. Which is odd since the chips serve to make the customers thirsty and this place easily makes more from their drinks than from the food. Speaking of drinks, my tea was not very good, a minus 2 on the PJTea scale, Angel said the raspbery in hers tasted like raspberry Kool-Aid, she rated it a 'fail'.
Los Portales is pretty good, at least locally good. It's consistent, inexpensive (our bill came in under $30.) and very close to home. There are a few other Mexican places a little further out and most of them are pretty good, but why bother when this one is so close?
If you find yourself in Hillsboro, for courthouse reasons or to bail your idiot friend or spouse out of jail again, you really should stop in and give the place a try. Either for a tall green tequila drink, one of the many fine Mexican beers they serve, or maybe just a sloppy pile of enchiladas. It's good food, bargain priced, and nobody cares if you dribble sauce on your shirt.




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