Restaurant Reviews

A History of Love

El Portal offers a Valentine’s Day getaway

By EDDIE RIVERA, Editor, Living Section
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 11:47 AM

Valentine’s Day rears its lovely head soon, and Pasadena is chock full of romantic spots for lovers to meet and celebrate. So maybe a place with history, with handsome gentlemen strolling through the place, serenading you and yours, and special dishes made just for the day, would fit the bill?

That would describe El Portal perfectly.

Since its opening in 1994, El Portal has been serving Yucatan-tinged Mexican food every day in a warm and inviting spot just off the Playhouse District.

Seated at the bar one morning last week, Abel Ramirez is eager to talk about the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday coming up at El Portal.

“We’re just now putting together the menu,” he told Pasadena Now, “but it will be something special. We always look forward to Valentine’s Day every year.”

The menu at El Portal is already interesting and different from the scores of Mexican restaurants in town because of its unique fusion of flavors, typified in its Cochinita Pibil—tender pork, wrapped and baked in banana leaves, and marinated in achiote and lime juice.
Or there’s the delightful Panuchos de Yucatan—small tortillas filled with a puree of  lightly pan-sautéed black beans,  covered with diced lettuce, grilled chicken, with julienne and pickled onions.

We could go on, and we will. The Tamales de Yucatan, feature Chicken in achiote, a touch of epazote, diced and then folded and wrapped in banana leaves before steamed. Unlike traditional Mexican tamales, which can sometimes be dry, the banana leaves create a wonderfully moist tamale, similar to the Guatemalan variety.

Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year, the restaurant’s regularly scheduled Mariachi Mexico singers will be doubly busy, creating an atmosphere of love and romance for the evening. Whether indoors or seated out on the heated patio, the evening should be magical.

Much of that atmosphere, in fact, has long been generated by the charming Mr. Ramirez, who can be found at the door every evening, greeting and seating guests.

“I want people to think of this as a special place whenever they come here, whether it’s a holiday or not,” said Ramirez. “Every night is special here.”

El Portal is at 695 E. Green Street, Pasadena. (626) 795-8553. www.elportalrestaurant.com

 

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