I have not been able to stop talking about El Porton on Southern Boulevard. The Mexican restaurant is cozy and gets filled quickly, and the bar boasts over 30 different tequilas and mezcals.
The service is astute with menus and water glasses down on the table immediately. The bulbs hanging above the bar are housed in recycled Patron bottles, and some Margarita glasses sport cactus stems.
A Guadalupe occupies a corner behind the bar and is accompanied by a string of colorful lights. A makeshift casita houses the restrooms. The aesthetic is playful, warm and sincere, and sets the tone for an evening of joy and good eats.
The Margaritas come in three different sizes and uncommon flavors like Tamarind and Chamoy. Chamoy has recently seen TikTok fame and came swirling in my 32-ounce goblet of frozen Margarita. A sight to behold!
Hallmarks of a good Mexican restaurant are their salsa and guacamole, and both are on point. I order the goat sopes, tacos al pastor and a chicken tamal. This is the first time I have eaten sopes and the small circular corn discs are fluffy on the inside and toasty on the outside. The shredded goat is umami-forward, slightly crisped, and rendered of its gamey taste.
The tamal is topped with a tart and spicy salsa verde and chock-full of chicken with a moist masa. The food gets me so excited that I start talking to the man behind the bar about it; turns out he is the general manager, Jose De Marcos Garcia.
De Marcos has been running the restaurant since Day One ten years ago, after the success of its sister restaurant in Harlem. He tells me that the secret to getting the gamey flavor out of goat is marinating it in white wine. Good to know.
I order a mezcal Margarita on the rocks. The glass is rolled in Michoacán chile which has a unique flavor and a hint of smokiness.
“Why does this taste so different?” I ask De Marcos in Spanish. He smiles and responds that it’s made using three different mezcals. Love that, I say to myself.
“Be careful, three of those will have you dancing by yourself,” De Marcos says as he closes his eyes and mimes someone dancing alone.
De Marcos brings his wife, Maribel Pablo Madrigal, over to meet me. “She’s my right hand,” he says — and also the head bartender. Her smile is soft, and her arms are strong. I compliment them on a great place.
The drinks go down as smoothly as the conversation and I find myself ordering a Michelada, one of my favorite drinks. De Marcos tells me that they have a house mix, very similar to a Bloody Mary, but with a bevy of hot sauces and sans the horseradish.
As I take a sip, De Marcos asks me how it tastes.
“Yo invito que me critiquen/I invite criticism,” he assures me.
The overall quality reflects that attention to service. Que viva El Porton!
El Porton is located at 576 Southern Blvd. near the E. 149th St. stop on the 6 train. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Fridays and Saturdays to 3 a.m.