Sunday night, I ventured to El Rayo near Commercial St in Portland. The bad news is that I hear they will soon be closing, but the good news is that there is a beautiful location in Scarborough open now. Let's hope the food is as good down there as it is here! My "date" and I were supposed to go here the previous week for an outdoor experience but that was the night of the epic thunder and rain storm so sitting outside turned less than desirable (luckily Local sprouts came through with their Bones salad and mac and cheese for me and spicy fish wrap for him. I don't eat fish but he said it was good...).
We arrived at El Rayo around 5:30-ish and didn't have to wait more than 10 minutes for a table outside. This is compared to last night when I tried to go there again around 8:15 and there was a 30 minute wait. Early birds are no fools. There was no music playing Sunday night which suited me as it's harder to talk with loud music. I know, I'm old. We looked over the menu and tried to decide what not to get as it all looked pretty dang tasty.
Fried plantains (holy crap were they amazing, salty and delicious with the chipotle mayo on the side), Mexico City style corn on the cob (messy but I would order 7 more of these cobs which are basted with chipotle mayo and dusted with cotija cheese) and a corn chowder-esque soup (meh, a little watery and could have used more spice and salt but not bad) were our appetizers. Next time I go, the first two will defiantly be on my table! For dinner, I was craving nachos and he got two tacos: carne asada and al pastor. I do love me some nachos but I always forget that once they get cold, I'm not as in love with them as I once was. The solution? Eat fast. But I'm incapable of doing this so I at my cheese, shredded pork, lettuce, crema, radish, jalapenos, cilantro, salsa and guacamole covered crispy chips at my pace. About halfway through, I realized my mistake. No beans!! I don't know if it's a Maine thing but I believe that all nachos should have beans on them. It makes everything better. All in all though, the nachos were good and my craving for restaurant nachos has subsided for the next year or so. I make some pretty dang good ones myself, thanks to my cousin Marcy. She taught me how to do it when we were teenagers and I've only improved upon them since then. The tacos were good as well I hear. I got to taste the al pastor (slow braised pork with grilled pineapple salsita and shredded lettuce. You can add that pineapple salsita to everything, it was incredible). But the carne asada (char grilled steak with rajas, lettuce, lime and pico de gallo) was eaten before I could try it. A good sign I'm sure! We chose to eat our calories this time instead of adding $20 total to the bill for two drinks. But come Happy Hour (weekdays 4-6), I'll be there for the $5 margaritas!
After eating all this goodness, I wanted to walk and we ended up at my favorite spot, the ferry terminal. Low and behold, there was a seal or two out there and the Nova Star was on the move with dozens of gulls swooping down after her. My only guess is that the bubbles from the ship were turning up the fish and the gulls were having dinner too. Along the way to the waterfront, I took the first picture. Locks of love...I wonder how many of those people are actually still together.
Jump to Monday. It was a lazy evening and by lazy I mean I was actually taking a nap when I received a text to get a drink or two or three (his words not mine). We settled on Empire as it was a new experience for him and I ordered some familiar things and Travis ordered some new things to me. We (again) chose to eat our calories and save the money on the drinks. Why order a $10 cocktail when you have Tito's vodka and white wine at home??
I have to say, thanks to Travis I have a new favorite at Empire. The Chinatown roast pork and garlic green beans are now the two best dishes I've consumed here. The spicy pork belly buns were also a new treat and tasted good, as anything will with pork belly as an ingredient, but the former dish was cheap, served with rice and incredibly flavorful. It certainly rivaled my previous favorite (Peking duck buns, which were also ordered) but these are slightly more expensive and you get slightly less food. That being said, the duck buns will knock your Chacos off!
We were stuffed by the end of dinner because we ordered two plates of garlic green beans, duck buns, pork belly buns, roast pork, and the char siu bao (steamed bbq'd pork buns). All of this for about $24 each, including tip. An idea of getting ice cream at Mount Desert Ice Cream on Exchange was thrown out but was quickly shot down when we both realized how of mind-blowingly full of dim sum we were.
Finally, hop to Tuesday night. I had made plans to get a drink with Jake and our schedules finally lined up. We got a later start as I had to complete yoga class, get home, shower, throw on some clothes and make dinner. Well, all of that except the last task happened in the time allowed... As Jake hadn't eaten dinner either, we meandered around to find a spot outside.
El Rayo was good enough to repeat but the wait time was long and we were hungry. Rivalries was our next choice and we arrived to find the outside patio all to ourselves. This is a sports bar so don't expect luxury BUT, their sweet chili buffalo fingers and pulled pork sandwich definitely hit the spot. We paired the sandwich with crispy, slightly salty and perfect sweet potato fries and our meals with an Angry Orchard hard cider (me) and a beer (Jake). Since we had the joint to ourselves, we stretched out and relaxed under the clear sky.
My nachos "recipe"
your favorite corn chips
black beans in a can
multiple types of cheese (cheddar, Munster, pepper jack)
corn (frozen thawed out or canned)
sauteed chicken or other protein if desired.
guacamole!!! (get Trader Joe's version made with Greek yogurt for a healthier option)
Place chips on a baking sheet. Drain beans and corn and place on top of chips. Add protein and shredded cheeses. Put in the oven on a lower shelf on broil and watch closely until cheese melts. If chips start to burn, turn oven down.
Serve with guac, salsa and whatever else you so desire!