Monday, February 15, 2016

Los Portales

201 Main St.
Hillsboro, Mo.

Angel was in the mood for Mexican, 'nuff said. By any measure, Los Portales (LP) is the closest eatery to our house, beating out Hardee's by the width of one intersection. This place has been here since before we moved to Jefferson County ten years ago. So has Hardee's, but it says more about LP than a burger franchise. Hillsboro is not a big town. One or two thousand at most. Hillsboro was created to provide a more central county seat. Industries popped up along the river and the railroad tracks, neither of which run through Hillsboro. It's primary industry is county seat stuff, the courthouse, jail, various government offices and of course, lawyers and bail bond shops. Hillsboro does not even have a hotel or Walmart. There are a few strip malls, but with only a few exceptions, shops come and go in those fairly often.
So keeping an independent restaurant open for more than ten years is quite an accomplishment. It may have changed ownership, but I don't recall it ever not being open.
The Place:
We've actually been there several times. I don't always write about it for the same reason I don't write about Ruby Tuesday every time. At both places we get pretty much the same thing and enjoy what we have. It's hard to be fresh in a review doing that.
It's on the corner of Main and Business 21. You can't miss it, If you can see the courthouse and Hardee's, you're there.
An older building, perhaps a bit past its prime. You enter in the back and end up in the bar area. The main dining area is further forward towards the intersection. On a good day you can get a couple of bars of Hardee's WiFi. We were told to seat ourselves, there weren't many customers yet. We took a seat near a window, romantically lit by a bright, neon Corona sign.
Out came the chips and the menus, we were asked about drinks.
Angel, tea, Adam, Pepsi, and me? Sure, why not. . . "I'll have a Margarita please." My family looked at me like I'd just ordered an execution. The young man gave us a few minutes as we scanned the menu and cleaned out the basket of chips.
The Food:
We were ready, the young man came back with a fresh basket and his order pad.
Angel: Enchiladas Del Mar, her shrimp enchilada got-to.
Adam, also a favorite, a half order of Nachos Supreme, no tomatoes, por favor.
Me, time to shake it up again, "I'll have the Fish Tacos, good man."
Angel was stunned, she hadn't seen that. As you may remember, we've been looking for a decent fish taco. If any place was going to get it right, LP should be it. I didn't recall seeing it before, though the menus did look different as well. The old menu was quite cluttered and it may have gotten lost in the lists.
Overhead played soulful, passionate Mexican ballads, I've taken a liking to this form of music. The last thing I want in an 'authentic' Mexican restaurant is soft pop or country. This was completely appropriate and fit in well with the bright artwork and sombreros on the walls. As we sat I sipped my fruity Margarita.
I've had Margaritas before, though I can't seem to remember where and when. . . I've made my own, in fact, though rarely. There are only a few mixed drinks I can even stand, one being a New Orleans style Hurricane, a simple Screwdriver, and Margaritas. We don't keep vodka, tequila, etc. around the house, so it is fairly uncommon for us to imbibe in that manner.
The rim was heavily salted, the color was bright, the proportions of lime, lime juice, triple sec and tequila was spot on. There was one of these or some version of it at most of the tables. One table nearby went all in and ordered a pitcher.
Sweet, salty, fruity with a perfect twinge of bitterness. Wonderful.
Pretty soon the food arrived.
The offerings at LP look nothing like fast food. There is time and attention paid to the plates. My
plates (2) were more than I'd ever be able to finish. Three open-face soft tacos, loaded up with chopped lettuce, shredded white cheese, chopped fish, a sprinkling of fresh, chopped cilantro, and a small dose of a tomato salsa.
The second plate held the runny, oozy re-fried beans and the Mexican rice. I like to mix everything together, the two plates made this difficult. Also, I didn't need three tacos, one would have been perfect. My tummy has shrunk the past few years, I just can't eat as much at a sitting as I used to.
Angel's loosely wrapped enchiladas were laden with a beautiful red sauce. Alongside, on the same plate was a dollop of Guacamole and about that much rice. There's a plate you can swirl everything together. I've had enchiladas at LP in the past and that's exactly what I did with  them.
Adam's nachos did not look like anything you'd find at a ball park.
No glossy, plasticized cheese product, no, these had meat and real cheese, sprinkled with shredded lettuce and a splat of sour cream. They disappeared quickly.
As did Angel's enchiladas.
My tacos?  Not so much. I was  struggling after the first one. I rolled it up, cupped the backside and delighted in the combinations of taste and texture. Definitely fish, chopped up enough so it all didn't come out in one pull, the perfect tortilla, just a little pull, fresh and warm. The rice and beans, genuinely perfect.
Many Americanized Mexican franchises over do it with chili peppers, hot spices and flavors. Not here. LP offers up food like you'd imagine it might be on a working family's dinner table. No need to set the eater afire, it's comfort food, with plenty of light-touch flavors and a warmth, not a three alarm blaze.
I didn't even make it through the second taco. I used the foil on the plate to wrap up the third. I was satisfied, full. A perfect plate for me would have been on of these excellent tacos, the beans and the rice and of course, a couple of baskets of the chips and salsa.
We were quite satisfied, all around. The tastes, the atmosphere and don't forget the price. All of this including the giant fruit drink, came to  a very modest thirty three dollars and change. The staff was on time, responsive and polite. The food was very satisfying and there was a very good variety of offerings.
I'm glad we have this place in Hillsboro. It represents the best of what privately owned and operated eateries have to offer.

Los Portales‎ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato