Los Portales #2 has more tasty treats in a larger space, including tons of tacos, burritos and tostadas. Photos by Tom Dorgan
If your new year’s resolution isn’t to eat more tacos, what even is it? Go to the gym? Read more books? Call your mom? Me, too. But also eat more tacos. Naturally, on January 2 (National Start Living Your Resolutions Day), my husband and I moseyed over to Los Portales #2 on Van Campen Boulevard near Walmart.
The institution that is Los Portales opened in 2006, with a taqueria and a supermarket on Kerr Avenue by the four Villaseñor siblings, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1994. The supermarket offers fresh produce and meats, plus myriad products from Hispanic countries. They also have a bakery that features fresh Mexican bread, churros, and customizable cakes that can be ordered online. Last year they branched out and opened a full eatery in Monkey Junction, Tequila Comida, to much success. Now they’re welcoming a larger Los Portales #2 to midtown near Market Street.
While I’ve been to the supermarket and experienced its glory, the talk of the town since I moved to Wilmington seven years ago has been the taqueria. I’m ashamed to say I’ve somehow missed it. My long-standing resolution (does that just make it a life goal?) has been to experience as many new things as possible whenever possible, so the new Los Portales seemed like an obvious choice for the new year.
Walking in the door to the latest Villaseñor venture, instantly we were greeted by a friendly server. As we gazed up at the bilingual menu, he picked up it was our first time and handed us paper menus, which were a little easier to read. After giving us a quick rundown of the menu, he made sure to note, “Everything’s really good.”
I believed him.
We met our server at the counter, but after a quick glance around, I realized we were in a really big restaurant. The dining room is massive, and at the back is a big bar. We asked if we could move to the bar (we’re exclusively bar sitters if we can be) and were obliged. told how they only serve beer currently, so we each ordered a Pacifico draft with lime. There are four beers on draft and a couple more in bottles, but there were 10 or 12 more draft lines open, so the potential is there. It used to be a sports bar and they kept most TVs. I asked if liquor was in the plan for the future, and was met with a resounding yes. Hello, margs! Micheladas are already on the menu (kind of like a Bloody Mary with beer in lieu of vodka) and for booze-less options, there’s a soda fountain, plus a cooler full of Jarritos and Mexican Cokes, and aguas frescas (fruit-infused waters).
The menu combined lots of offerings with rice, refried beans, various meats, and pico de gallo. I went with what first tempted my palate: the 5. Cinco, in the combination plates section. It included a hard-shell taco with choice of filling, lettuce and cheese; a burrito with pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, and beans with choice of filling; and a side of rice and beans. Best part: it was only $6.99. I went with asada (steak) for the taco and pollo (chicken) for the burrito. Ya girl also loves a tostada, and for only $3.25 each, I ordered one topped with cachete (beef cheek) for my husband and I to share.
The taco was exactly what I wanted it to be. The steak was salty and chewy, the lettuce was cold and crunchy, and the cheese gave it a little richness. I opted for Valentina hot sauce for some extra oomph, but I could have indulged in the salsa bar like my husband did. A smattering of salsas, plus lots of taco garnishes (radish, cucumber, onion, cabbage, cilantro) tempted diners to dress their orders accordingly.
Sadly, my burrito fell a little short. It came out with asada, despite the fact I ordered pollo. While the sour cream and guac were scant, the beans didn’t make it in the burrito at all. For $6.99 I can’t say I was terribly upset, but I just might not order it again. The rice and beans were fairly standard issue, though the rice was a little crunchy. It was neither a home run nor a miss, just a little unappetizing.
The tostada was delicious. The beef cheek was perfectly seasoned and very tender. The combination of crisp lettuce, tangy sour cream, salty refried beans, and crumbly queso fresco, all on top of a crunchy fried tortilla, was absolute perfection. I could have eaten several. The menu mentioned tomatoes, though they were missing. I wasn’t too upset; the menu is designed for food to come out fast, so, occasionally, things will fall by the wayside.
My husband opted for the torta Cubana—a hulking beast of a sandwich large enough for two. My dude has the appetite, and even he was only able to finish half … plus three tacos. It was a mix of both Mexican and Cuban cuisines. The tortas came on classic bolillo bread—a shorter, chubbier baguette—with lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado, sour cream, and jalapeño. The Cubana also packed in chorizo, asada, pastor (marinated pork), ham, and cheese. I have neither seen a bigger sandwich nor tasted something full of so much flavor. It was salty and creamy, plus crunchy, citrusy and tangy. It checked every box. (As I write this, I’m considering stealing the other half out of the fridge while my husband is at work.)
His three tacos were pollo, cachete and chicharron (pork belly). They arrived very simply, each with a doubled-up corn tortilla and lime in the middle for an acidic punch. But that’s the beauty of the salsa bar: Tacos at Los Portales can be anything diners want them to be.
“Los portales” translates to “the portals” in English, which I think is perfect. Los Portales is a great gateway, or portal, for folks unfamiliar with authentic Mexican cuisin. Both the staff and menu are very approachable. There’s the option to go full gringo or get as far over the border as possible—and without leaving Wilmington.