You’ll find fresh appetizers, good food and decent service at Los Portales, across Aviation Boulevard from the BWI airfield. I would eat there again, but only if I were in the area. If I were catching a movie at Hoyt’s or taking someone to/from the airport. The margaritas — supposedly the best in the area — may change my mind, but until I get the opportunity to try them I probably wouldn’t make a special trip.
The color was the first thing that struck me about Los Portales. Somehow the mixture of dark clay-like reds and deep earthy browns make it seem bright inside, warm, and inviting. The lighting and atmosphere is equally suitable for business lunches, family dinners, casual dining, or even a date given the tables set back in the alcoves. It’s the kind of comforting place that you could bring out-of-town guests to show them some of the local flavor.
The second thing that I noticed was that the tortilla chips were very warm when they came out, almost hot. Thick and study, it would take a huge heap of salsa to snap on these babies. The salsa was very fresh, mostly pureed with a few chunks of tomato, with just a little bit of a kick. Both are listed on the menu, but I believe were provided free of charge.
Our table shared the Queso Fundido ($6.95). Out came a deep soup bowl full of melted cheese and crumbled chorizo, with a thin consistency. Let it sit for a few minutes to thicken up, else dipping will be somewhat of a futile endeavor. Once ready, I thought it was incredibly rich, creamy, and full of flavor; even if you get a scoop without chorizo you’ll taste the spice of it. Eight of us dipped from the bowl throughout the meal, cleaning it out just before we finished up.
Bear in mind, this isn’t one of those places where presentation is going to win you over. It’s a good possibility that your entrees will be doused with a sweet and spiced mole sauce and then covered in shredded cheese. Don’t let that discourage you, just bear in mind that any photographs you see are going to be topping-heavy and might not be representative of the taste.
I choose Lunch #9 ($8), which consists of a tamale, burrito, and beans. I wanted to try a Chile releno, but I was heart-set on the tamale. The burrito was on the small side, loosely packed with super-fine ground beef with a smokey flavor. The tamale was better and my favorite part of the meal, with finely shredded chicken and a lighter mole sauce, wrapped in steam-cooked masa (corn dough). The masa is very sweet and despite containing the chicken with ease, it melts away in your mouth. The beans were blended and had no lumps and didn’t make much of an impact on the meal.
I thought the portion sizes were a tad small for the price. I’m not sure if the lunch portions are smaller than the dinner portions, but they don’t appear to be priced down all that much from their evening counterparts. Considering all the business parks in the area, they probably do a lot more business in the afternoon. It was the middle of the lunch rush and the service suffered a little bit after we ordered. Although some restaurants are into conserving water, most will still attempt to refill your glass if it’s empty. Here, you might need to ask.
Los Portales is good, but not great. Perhaps I’d think more of it had it not come so highly recommended, but when I’m craving Mexican I still head to El Salto. Old habits are hard to break.