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Los Portales (Southpoint)

Posted by MEZ 19 Nov 2009 19 Comments


Los Portales is a new Mexican restaurant in the shopping center across Fayetteville from the Streets at Southpoint. It replaced Bakehouse Bistro, which could never get their service up to par with their tasty sandwiches. I asked my waiter if this Los Portales was related to the former taqueria of the same name and he said no, it was its own restaurant, but he didn’t seem to be familiar with the taqueria, so the jury’s still out on a connection. I never tried the old Los Portales, so I can’t compare.

This spot is kitschy galore, with wooden booths, tables, and chairs that have been carved with the standard Mexican sombrero-wearing men, cacti, and tropical birds in bright, primary colors. The bar resembles a beach hut with a straw overhang.

I’m totally cool with kitschy, so the place looked fun to me. The menu was large with lots of Mexican-American fare like combo plates, quesadillas, etc., and a few more traditional items. I found the salsa and chips fairly boring, but pico de gallo is my salsa variety of choice. This salsa was picante style, and resembled a thin tomato paste with a bite.

We both tried the house margaritas, which are available for $2.50 on Thursday nights. Made with Degollado Tequila, they were served in cactus glasses and had the neon coloring of margarita mix and the fake-tasting tartness that comes with it. For the price they were fine, but I wouldn’t have ordered a second one.

My meal choice was a chicken sincronizado, which was billed as a grilled tortilla sandwich, or as I call it when I make it at home, a quesadilla with stuff in it.

Between the tortillas were sauteed chicken chunks, jalapenos, onions, and cheese sauce. I loved the jalapeno at first, but it quickly overpowered all the other ingredients ; there were a lot of jalapeno slices, and believe me, I can eat jalapeno after jalapeno but there were just too many in this dish. The chicken was fine but slightly cold and the avocado slices were a tad unripe but that’s never stopped me from eating avocado. By far, the rice was the best part of the meal. It was bland, but simple and puffy with little chunks of green chile.

My friend ordered an enchilada and quesadilla, which came with rice and beans.

She was not impressed with her food and reported that the enchilada was crispy and the refried beans were unappetizing. She wished sour cream had been part of the meal.

Overall, I found Los Portales to be an okay option for Mexican-American fare, though not enough to lure me from Bandidos when I’m craving that particular brand of Mexican food. I might go back to try the tacos, though, as they looked pretty traditional and appealing from the photo in the menu.

Los Portales
6905 Fayetteville Road
Southpoint, Durham

Reviewed 11.12.09.


  • ACW said:

    Let’s hope the menu improves. I’d love to see this place do well; the location is pretty convenient.


    Nando replies on November 24th, 2009 at 1:29 pm:

    My wife and I went to dinner here about a month ago. The menu wasn’t bad, but the food was pretty boring. I like to try different aspects of the meny and thus ordered a meal plus a taco on the side. I asked for a beef cheek taco at first. The waiter came back and told me that they wouldn’t sell me just one, that I had to purchase three (the menu had individual tacos listed for $1.50, I believe). So I asked if I could get the beef tongue or taco al pastor instead. He returned a few minutes late and said that those three must be ordered as a meal, which include 3 tacos. He said he could only sell individual regular (i.e. beef) or chicken tacos. So I asked that he remove the taco from my order as I wasn’t interested in trying a “regular” taco.

    My wife ordered the carne asada. The steak was overly thin, overcooked, and too salty. Her rice and beans were very tasty, tho. I ordered the chicken mole. The mole sauce wasn’t the worst I’ve had, but it wasn’t the best, either. It was middle of the road. My problem was that the chicken wasn’t cooked in the mole sauce, as you would expect. Instead, I got a grilled chicken breast that had been cut up, put on the plate, and then the mole sauce was poured over it. The problem with this is that the mole sauce doesn’t actually penetrate and flavor the chicken. I was very dissatisfied. The rice and beans were good and the avocado tasted a bit watered down.

    All in all, I believe in giving a place a second chance but I just haven’t had a chance to return. When I do, tho, I’ll be ordering one of the taco plates (probably the beef cheek one).


  • Donna said:

    We ate there last night and will not be back. The salsa was runny and bland. I ordered a whole tilapia and it was severely overcooked and flavorless. Beans were not appetizing. Service was slow, after our order was taken. They brought out the kid’s meal very quickly but our daughter was almost finished by the time the adult dinners were brought. No one came to check on us at all after the food was brought.


  • Jeni said:

    I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch there a few months ago, just after they opened. I wonder what’s gone awry? I thought it was so much better then the other Mexican American places, including Bandido’s. There’s quite a lot of vegetarian options and borderline authentic mexican fare that you can’t find at the other joints as well.

    May want to give it a second shot? Or perhaps my great meal was a fluke?



    MEZ replies on November 20th, 2009 at 12:32 pm:

    Hmm, the potato burrito and spinach enchilada sound intriguing. Perhaps the key to Los Portales is to order the items that stray the furthest from typical Mexican-American items.


  • keri said:

    I had the tamale a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it enough to convince a coworker to go to lunch there yesterday. Wouldn’t you know, the tamales aren’t part of the standard lunch menu. I will definitely go back for dinner.


  • DBB said:

    Bandido’s? Really?!

    You all seriously need to venture to Real Durham more often and get some Mexican food that’s *actually* decent.

    La Vaquita, Los Comales, La Superior, all the many taco trucks, El Cuscatleco, Tonali, etc. Just take a drive along Roxboro above I-85. Yes, the old reviewers already wrote them up (except maybe Tonali), but you can try them anyway. They’re certainly a faaaaar cry better than Bandido’s. Even El Rodeo and Torero’s are better.


    MEZ replies on November 20th, 2009 at 12:29 pm:

    Really? Real Durham? Because Southwest Durham isn’t Durham? Oh dear. Besides the fact that I tend to make it to “real Durham” at least once a week, the comments and review aren’t talking about authentic Mexican food. We are talking Tex Mex, or Mexican American, which I recognize as an entirely different style of food. If I’m craving authentic Mexican, then yeah, La Vaquita will get my business. But I do often like the combo plate route, instead, just depends on my mood.


  • AJ said:

    Durham paradigms aside, I think what DBB is hinting at is how this blog has taken a significant turn for the less interesting/adventurous. Now, I’m not trying to come off as a snob (I’ll certainly partake in some tex-mex-el rodeo nonesense), but this blog used to be great for finding places that were less known, excellent, or at the very least entertaining.

    I don’t want to knock the new writers or anything, because I think they’re still doing a great service to the community and any new readers, but can you try and venture out a bit more? Parker & Otis is doing pretty well on customers (I’m one of them).



    LHG replies on December 7th, 2009 at 9:00 pm:

    AJ, for me, personally, it is a time thing. When I was a student with a more flexible schedule I had tons of time to venture out and explore and what have you. But working kind of cuts down on exploratory times, especially when one works late nights and occasional weekends. I’d love to provide the service of venturing out off the beaten/eaten path to eat, but I barely have enough time to get home and cook myself dinner before 9:00. I assume other writers have similar quandaries.

    I work in the Brightleaf area, therefore I review restaurants that are nearby. Additionally, I live in Chapel Hill, so if I’m eating out in the evenings it tends to be in that area and, alas, this is not Carpe Chapel Hill. If I were a full time food writer like Sam Sifton and co., I’d be venturing like it were my job, because it would be. Alas, this is not (though a food writer is one of the top five dream jobs ever, I would say!).


  • Nate said:

    I don’t want to knock anyone volunteering their time to contribute to CD, and I’ve enjoyed a number of the recent reviews, but I LOVED that a year ago CD wrote up the sketchy gas station food up the street, sung the praises of Green Leaf Indian, and clearly could not pass a taco truck without stopping and writing up a review.

    Are any of the current writers likely to take a similar approach? If not, will any volunteers heed the recent call to contribute? I know you’re out there, cameraphone in hand, ready to eat any number of chuckwagons and tripe-filled stews in search of your next fix. We need you!

    And keep up with the Portales and Piazza Italias, and wherever else you’re eating – there are lots of generic and/or higher-priced places that end up having some real gems on the menu (does anyone remember Durham’s finest sandwich value of all time, the $4 hanging pork sandwich from Grasshopper? $4!!!).


  • MEZ said:

    Points taken — I know I’ve gotten out less myself for budgetary reasons and when I have, it’s been to new places that I’ve seen a lot of buzz for, which tend to be upscale. Los Portales (not upscale), in particular, I hit up because a bunch of people had brought it up in the forums and in the old Los Portales review. So that’s just how I’ve skewed in places I’ve hit up this fall, which happens to be when I started cross-posting here as well as my blog (of course, same time when the creators moved away as well). I’m going to start a forum post for suggestions of spots to hit up later tonight, too, so us contributors can get some more suggestions from ya’ll about places you’d like to see reviewed.

    Apologies to you, DBB, for coming off harsh. Claims that all areas of Durham aren’t Durham Proper or that Durham citizens in various regions don’t actually check out the other parts of town is a sore spot of mine.


  • Petey Pablo said:

    Have tried Los Portales on three occasions, found it ranged from adequate to a bit below average. Standard small chain fare, for my taste – a bit bland. If you want to go with Americanized fare, try Bandidos one exit west down I-40 (they’re pretty good for what they are, for my money – two or three steps up from El Rodeo and several more from Torero’s) or, if you want something taqueria stype, hit 3 Hermanas one exit to the east or Chubby’s (also one exit west). [To say nothing of La Vaquitas or Los Comales, which are both excellent, or Tonali or Dos Perros or El Cuscatleco (here, stick w/ the non-Mexican items), or many others which are good but elsewhere in the city.]


    Meta note: While I’ll add my name to the chorus of wishing that there were more or more funky entries of late, I don’t mind the S.Durham focus, as that’s where I live.


  • Tim said:

    I was underwhelmed by Los Portales in my one visit. The decor is interesting in a over-the-top sort of way, but the food wasn’t even as good as Torero’s and the people there weren’t friendly. Plus, you have to pay extra for pico de gallo — the horror!

    Chubby’s is now open in Woodcroft (I ate there last night, 12/9) and I definitely prefer it for the street food items (tacos, tortas, etc). The tacos were tacqueria good (especially the tinga), the salsa bar was a big plus, and the fried plaintains for dessert were nice.


    Tooth replies on December 10th, 2009 at 9:17 am:

    Chubby’s is okay for what it is, but it seems that they don’t trim their pork cuts very well. I’ve consistently found their al pastor to have more fat and gristle in it than any other area taco stand.


    Petey Pablo replies on December 10th, 2009 at 1:49 pm:

    I’ll second your pork-post, Tooth – though the pupusa I had there last night was quite good.
    To be clear, Chubby’s is not up to the standards of La Vaquita or Los Comales, to name two, but – if you’re in the area, it’s a nice option to have.


    judas_escargot replies on December 14th, 2009 at 11:16 am:

    The tacos weren’t too bad at Los Portales. Better selection of meats than what you generally find at other ‘mainstream’ restaurants. My only complaint would be lack of salsa for the tacos, but you could probably get some on request. I haven’t really tried any of the typical fare yet.

    Definitely some quality control issues with the new Chubby’s at Woodcroft but it’s a new location so I imagine a lot of this stuff will get worked out soon…

    The burrito al pastor I got last night seemed like it was all trimmings. If that’s the way it always is, as Tooth mentions, then I’m not quite sure what they’re going for there. Was interesting to say the least.


  • LM said:

    Wow! You guys are pretty harsh..not a whole lot of Christmas spirit going around! I’ve enjoyed the reviews lately – they have hit very nicely on newer options around Durham and revamped old favorites. I have tried out several of the last places highlighted in the past few posts and enjoyed them. Stop being such snobs and lighten up..yeesh!


  • MarcusRC said:

    I have eaten at Los Portales twice now and thought it was EXCELLENT both times. So nice to see a menu that doesn’t offer all the same things you are used to seeing at the other mexican restaurant chains. The food was great, service was fine and there are sitll some items on the menu that I want to go back and try…


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