I often have trouble finding a Mexican restaurant that fits me just right. Some seem to be all about the drinks and not the food (Mama Mexico, Caliente Cab), some are way too pricey for a weekday dinner (Maya, Rosa Mexicano), and some are just glorified burrito hustlers (Blockheads, Dos Toros (which I like)). Luckily, since Spud te gusta Mexicana, I have found a few favorites that have quality food and atmosphere and won’t break the bank: Mexicana Mama, Cascabel, and El Paso Taqueria. Just recently I can add a new (new to me) addition to this list: Cafe El Portal
Cafe El Portal
174 Elizabeth St (Spring & Elizabeth), Soho
Portal does feel like a cafe. There is one table and several hanging plants on the outside and the entrance is a few steps down off the street. The room is small, but not cramped. There is a small bar and maybe 7 or 8 small tables. And the food… the guacamole and chips ($7.50) were flavorful and a substantial starter. We both had tacos, the shrimp and the carnitas. The shrimp tacos ($12.50) are a signature dish and are incredible! The shrimp are medium sized and plump and topped with a delicious pink smokey chipotle sauce and slices of avocado. They are worth a visit alone. The tacos carnitas ($9.50) has the traditional smokey pork flavor, mixed with lime and cilantro. Both are encased in flour tortillas, and while a generally prefer corn, the flour worked well with the flavor profiles of both dishes.
Next time, and yes, there will be a next time, I would like to branch out and try some of their entrees, like Chile Rellenos and Mole de Pollo Oaxaqueno. So if you are looking for a Mexican eatery that doesn’t feel like permanent Cinco de Mayo, isn’t a complete hole-in-the-wall, has really solid food, and is a great affordable option in Soho, check out Cafe El Portal. It doesn’t have the best name, but does have superior shrimp tacos.
P.S. I had another delicious dinner at El Portal and tried the Chile Rellenos, which were super light with fresh flavors and a pumpkin or squash bright orange sauce. I also tried the Enchiladas Pollo Verde which were excellent, with tender shredded chicken, and topped with just the right amount of white cheese and tomatillo sauce.