Dinner Date Escape in the Heart of Pasadena

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 | 7:24 pm

Of course, a date is only as good as the company you keep, but a scenic restaurant with top-notch food definitely helps. Enjoy the charm of Old Pasadena with some Yucatan flair at El Portal and then head next door to Vanessa’s Cafe for coffee and dessert.

El Portal has been a Pasadena fixture for over 20 years and is a short walk from the Pasadena Playhouse. Abel Ramirez is the owner of El Portal, Vanessa’s Cafe and Yahira’s Cafe and a founding member of the Playhouse District Association. He describes El Portal as a sophisticated but traditional Mayan and Yucatan-inspired Mexican restaurant. You’ll find familiar foods like burritos and fajitas alongside more adventurous offerings like cochinita pibil and poc-chuc. Ramirez explains that their menu attracts a lot of travelers and people who are from or have visited the Yucatan.

“We import our spices from the Yucatan so the food is very authentic,” he said.

Most of their food is mild in terms of spiciness, a decision that Ramirez made to help accommodate guests, but still full of flavor. Feel free to add hot sauce to your heart’s content or just enjoy the spices without burning your tongue on heat.


The Yucatan influences are apparent in their tamales which are cooked in banana leaves instead of corn husks to wrap their tamales and have a very thin layer of masa. The Yucatan Trio – which comes with poc-chuc, cochinita pibil, a chicken tamale plus pickled onions, beans and rice – is a great way to get acquainted with this style of cooking.

For vegetarians, it’s hard to go wrong with the cheese enchiladas, smothered in cheese and red sauce with a side of rice and refried beans. This hearty comforting meal is flavorful but doesn’t leave you feeling stuffed.

Enjoy your meal on the romantically lit patio in the evening or grab a seat at the curved bar. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights are always busy because of the live mariachi and soft guitar performances so be sure to plan accordingly.


El Portal also takes part in many tequila promotions and offers a rainbow of margaritas – the pomegranate margarita is a fantastic compliment to any meal – and the Flaquita is great if you’re watching your calories . Be sure to ask the bartender for their latest tequila and any about any new additions to their drink menu.

After dinner, walk next door and enjoy an array of Mexican desserts and specialty coffee drinks. Vanessa’s Cafe is an intimate spot of post-dinner conversation over coffee and dessert. Order a traditional slice of smooth, sweet flan or a heaping brownie with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

Their coffee drinks are almost too beautiful to drink. The gravity-defying cappuccino comes in elegant stripes of milk, coffee and steamed milk topped with a touch of cinnamon. This hot beverage pairs especially well with a scoop of Fosselman’s French Vanilla or Horchata ice cream.


El Portal is located at 695 East Green Street. Call (626) 795-8553 or visit www.elportalrestaurant.com for more information.


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