Hot Mexican

By John Bergano

Posted May 3, 2012 in Eats

A revamped Los Portales offers artfully executed Cal-Mex cuisine

The Chino location of Los Portales Mexican Grill & Seafood isn’t new, however it is being treated as such after undergoing a recent renovation that brings to life the California-Mexican concept. A vibrant design with tall glass windows and sharp red contrasts, accents and backlighting throughout, the space pays reverence to a family-friendly atmosphere while simultaneously catering to a relaxed crowd seated at high-top tables around the bar. The split between restaurant and bar is natural, and neither area’s mood is compromised. TVs set to sports help add to a quasi-sports bar feel. However, lively Mexican music reels the guest back into the mood for a Rockin’ Margarita ($6.95), which was on the sweet side and a little light on the tequila. (By the way, Lunch Special margaritas are free when ordering from the Lunch Special menu Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Guests are brought a basket of complimentary chips and salsa, which is smooth—not watery—and on the spicy side (note to self: consume in moderation). There is also a molcajete salsa made from peppers. Should you find yourself drinking a glass of water with each bite, the team of smiling servers is quick to refill your beverage.

From the appetizer section of the menu, the Carne Asada Tacos ($4.50) are simplistic, yet masterfully executed with their soft, double-ply corn tacos filled just-so with the meat and embellished with onion, cilantro, radish slices and lime wedges. The three tacos are served with either green or red sauce. Grilled chicken or al pastor are also available as taco meats.
An appetizer deserving of a cult following is the Spicy Buffalo Wings ($4.95 for 8 pieces). The wings are as hot and spicy as the Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce—used to make them—suggests. They are meaty, tender and hot (temperature and spice) to the bone.

As the meal progressed, so did our desire for another drink. The Rich Bloody Mary ($6.95) isn’t as appetite-killing as the name suggests. Having had other Bloody Mary’s that are like consuming a meal through a straw, this was anything but. It was light and spicy.
The Tostadas de Camaron ($7.75) offered a cool bite following the hot wings. Prepared similar to a ceviche, shrimp and white fish are marinated in a citrus juice, along with cilantro, onions and tomatoes. Set atop of a crispy tostada, the plate is garnished with a slice of avocado, orange slice and lime wedge.
Featured as the menu’s cover, the Camarones Costa Azulejo ($13.95), or bacon wrapped shrimp, was suggested by our server as the restaurant’s signature item. The bacon was a bit too overcooked, making for an unsatisfying crunch.
Owner Sandra Ayala, whose gracious hospitality and presence is found throughout the operation, suggested the Combinacion a la Diabla ($11.95). The signature dish is comprised of grilled beef, chicken and crisp vegetables (zucchini, carrots, onions) in a light, spicy sauce. The homemade “Diabla” sauce can be found in a variety of dishes on the menu and is also used to enhance plates for those who want their food taken beyond a tear-inducing level of hotness. Dishes routinely engineered for a degree of spicy—not requested by the common man—include Camarones al Diabla, Camarones Tampiquenos and Pico de Gallo al Diabla.
An accessible entrée, from the Combination portion of the menu, is the Mole Poblano ($11.45), which curiously—yet successfully—balances both sweetness and spice. The chicken is incredibly tender. It is garnished with sesame seeds for a welcome hint of texture.
“We are all so happy and excited about the expansion, it’s such a neat experience to grow with the business,” says Ayala, who referred to her family’s establishment as a “humble restaurant.” The words could not be truer, as the family’s devotion to their restaurants (the other location is in Montclair) can be felt in the food, the friendly prices and the now remodeled ambiance.


Los Portales Mexican Grill & Seafood, 12542 Central Ave., Chino, (909) 548-6660; Sun-Sat, 11am-7pm. AE, D, MC, V.


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