Pasadena may be known for being incredibly white, but that doesn’t mean ethnic restaurants don’t exist. Take, for example, El Portal, a restaurant that feels like entering Mexico except not in a phony or kidnappy kind of way. It has been called the best Mexican restaurant in LA, but due to the fact that it is south of the 210, I had my doubts.
Rather than just sling burritos, tacos and fajitas, El Portal actually specializes in Yucatan cuisine and I decided to sample a mix of them with the Yucatan Trio. This included Cochinita Pibil (slow-cooked pork), a Yucatan Chicken Tamale (with epazote and achiote, seasonings from the region) and Poc-Chuc (sliced, grilled pork with a tomato chutney). It came with tortillas, beans, avocado, rice and pickled onions. I ordered without the onions, but they came with the dish anyway (a subsequent visit has at least assured me that this is not the norm).
Alas, I set to work upon my food while avoiding the fluorescent onions. The Poc-Chuc was nice and tender, bursting with garlic flavor and joy, especially when paired with the avocado. The tamale was delicious, although hard to distinguish from normal tamales in my mind. Finally, the Cochinita Pibil was the big winner because it’s basically Mexican pulled pork. The flavors of lime, achiote and who knows what else made this the crown of the Yucatan Trio.
Yet, in the world outside of the Yucatan, where my dining companions ate fajitas, all was still well. In Pasadena I know very little of the Mexican food so far, but El Portal has undoubtedly made itself an early frontrunner.