El Rayo Taqueria – Spanish for “Delicious”

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El Rayo Taqueria is another restaurant I hadn’t been to in a while but was dying to get back to.  Opened in 2009, the popular restaurant is one of my top choices in the area for ethnic food, but it really shines when the sun is out in the warmer months the and the large outdoor patio opens, adding lots of eating space to the small indoor area. The restaurant has been voted Portland’s favorite Mexican time and again, and now with a second location in Scarborough, there’s even more award-winning food to feast upon.

We visited El Rayo on a Saturday night around sevenish and there was an hour wait. It turns out that we had already eaten and drank a little that night and were more in the mood for drinks, so the wait wasn’t a problem. We went to the bar and quickly ordered up four whistle-wetters. El Rayo has a solid selection of signature drinks, beer, and wine. I had the Snake Bite – jalapeno, cilantro, lime, El Jimidor Silver Tequila, and triple sec. My photographic memory is in the shop right now, but a selection of beer and wine rounded out the drink orders.

With drinks and pager/buzzer in hand, we found a place to stand. A band was playing some tunes and the general atmosphere was light and fun. We sipped our libations and sure enough, when an hour was up, we were buzzed – in more than one way – and returned to the hostess who promptly seated us. The menu looked familiar but with a few changes since I had last been there.

The El Rayo menu is diverse. It features plenty of unique apps, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and lots more. They have all the standards, but part of what makes them so great is their one-of-a-kind take on many of their items in addition to using many locally-sourced foods. Our table decided to start with an order of the Chips, Salsa, and Guacamole to share. The next part of our order would prove to be more elusive as we had a difficult time making a decision, but without much delay, the chips arrived accompanied by bowls of the red and green accompaniments.

I dug into the chips and salsa right away. Their salsa is excellent – flavorful, a little spicy, and so fresh and so clean. I generally despise guacamole, but I tried it anyway. It was not for me, but everyone else seemed to love it so I assume it was pretty good. I chowed down on chips and salsa and my wife and I decided to get another app in the form of Smokey Potato Fritters which were served with chipotle mayo. That sounded like a good plan to me, particularly since I’d never had those before.

Still chomping on our chips, the fritters came out in all their glory. I had a bit if the fritters jitters since I really wasn’t sure how a potato fritter would get along with my taste buds. The slightly-smaller-than-golf-ball-sized delights were ready for consumption so I popped one into my mouth. The soft potato texture was trumped by the smokey flavor. The chipotle mayo added even more by throwing in a creamy, southwestern touch. It turns out that the fritters were winners and much better than critters for dinner.

My last order of the night was going to be small. With the food and drink from home, chips, and fritters, I was pretty much full. I decided to force some room for one more item however. Everyone chose their next food and it took me hardly any thought to decide on the BBQ Pulled Pork Taco – just one. The BBQ PPT comes with coleslaw, cojita cheese, and red onion escabeche among other delicious flavors not listed on the menu like cilantro and feta. I was excited to get the little bugger even if I wasn’t sure I could consume more than a couple bites.

Shortly after the food was ordered, it was delivered. I jumped right into the taco. As I remembered, it had all the requisite flavors – sweet, salty, cheesy, and a very slight hint of heat. It was delicious. Everyone chomped on their meals and I took a few bites of my food in an embarrassing display of non-hunger. I became the brunt of all the jokes that night because of it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was just too full. Next time I’ll be sure to go when very hungry.

El Rayo was great and always is. Their prices are reasonable, their food is delicious, and the service is where it should be. The outdoor area is really fun and with umbrellas at the tables you don’t have to worry about getting scorched by the sun. For added outdoor cooling, the drink menu lists a host of refreshing cocktails. The bands that play there add even more happiness to your Mexican merriment and they don’t play at ear-bleed levels so you can actually converse with others at your table. I recommend El Rayo year round, but if you really want to party, head there on a sunny summer day and enjoy all it has to offer.

Stay hungry.

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