The heart of West Chester is filled with many wonderful restaurants, most of which are located on Gay Street. There is Iron Hill, which is great, but is rather pricey for college students. That is the problem; many of the truly great restaurants in West Chester are too expensive for the limited amount of money that college students have to spend on a night out to eat.
Honestly, who wants to pay exorbitant amounts of money on a meal, but not be filled up? The choices of where to eat without spending an extreme amount of money are limited primarily to pizza and Chinese food, neither of which, with some exceptions, are very good in this town.
Now, though, there is a new choice, El Portal on Gay Street. El Portal is the newest Mexican restaurant in West Chester, offering fresh tasting Mexican food, a vibrant décor and prices that will not break the bank.
This new restaurant is a welcome change from the overwhelming number of pizza and Chinese places that are peppered throughout West Chester. While far from being the best Mexican food in the area, El Portal is a welcome new addition to the West Chester restaurant scene.
Upon entering the restaurant, one would be taken aback by the colorful designs on the walls that give the impression of a true Tex-Mex experience. The walls on the inside are bright oranges and yellows and are decorated with beautiful Mexican artwork that helps make the restaurant seem very comfortable. The lighting is not too bright, but at the same time not too dark, offering a reasonable balance.
Likewise, the wait staff is very friendly. While not necessarily the most knowledgeable crew, as our waitress came back numerous times to ask questions about our order, they are very accommodating and attentive. Never does one feel overwhelmed here as everything seems to be very relaxed.
The wait for the meal is not painfully long nor is it too quick. This continues to perpetuate the relaxing feel that permeates from El Portal. Overall, El Portal, aesthetically, offers an atmosphere that is pleasant and inviting. This pleasant décor compliments the food nicely, as does the quality wait staff.
The menu offers traditional items that one would expect to see on the menu of a Mexican restaurant such as tacos, burritos and quesadillas, as well as traditional Mexican dishes that many of us may not have tried before. This offers some variety and allows the diner to experience something new. Everything tastes very fresh, and there is a lack of heavy oils and fat, things that have become all too common with Mexican restaurants.
One of the appetizers that deserves particular praise is the Sopa Azteca, or black bean soup, which may sound dull, but is most certainly not. The flavors in the soup all blend together to form something very rich and flavorful.
The tacos, however, lack a much needed crunch to complement their vibrant flavor. While all the makings of a high quality dish are there, the uncooked corn tortillas bring about great disappointment.
On the bright side, the tortillas, like the rest of the food, taste like they were homemade, which adds to the authentic feel of the restaurant. While praise is offered to the lack of heavy cooking in the food, El Portal could stand to offer the tortillas either soft or hard, for those of us who like some crunch.
The salsas that accompany the food are also extremely good. Diners receive their choice of salsa with their meal, either mild or hot. The mild is just the right temperature, having a small amount of kick. However, be warned, as the spicy is extremely hot. Those who do not enjoy spicy food should stick with the mild.
Upon being seated, the wait staff provides complimentary chips and salsa. The chips taste very authentic, with just the right amount of salt. At the same time, the salsa is high quality, lacking that sauce-like feature that many store-bought salsas have. It has a homemade quality that one can distinguish both through the look and the taste.
While this is a terrific starting point, El Portal may wish to consider offering a larger portion. Even though this is meant to be a starter, similar to bread in an Italian restaurant, they could stand to offer a larger portion at a reasonable price.
In the end, El Portal is a reasonably priced, high-quality Mexican restaurant. It provides a nice break from the barrage of Chinese and pizza restaurants in West Chester and is located right in the middle of Gay Street. If you are looking for a good place to eat that will not break the bank, El Portal is a place that will not disappoint.
Chris Bashore is a fourth-year student majoring in political science. He can be reached at CB588901@wcupa.edu.