Thursday, July 03, 2008

El Puerto

Ed: Just noticed their billboard says kids eat free on Tuesday nights!

El Puerto Mexican Grill & Bar
775 S Highland St
(901) 452-8019

Warren and I each had people tell us to try El Puerto, so after the last Rock-n-Romp we did. I was surprised to see it fairly empty at 7pm on a Saturday.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “I hope this isn’t a bad sign.”

Warren gave me the option of leaving, but I decided to stick it out—and I’m glad I did.

After the monkeys (Satchel, 6, and Jiro, 4) made a (definitely too small to change a diaper in) bathroom run and cleaned themselves up, a very nice hostess/waitress took us to a booth by the window. (El Puerto has a patio, but we wanted to sit inside after spending most of the day outside.) She gave each of the monkeys a menu page with activities to color. They jumped right in while Warren and I looked at the menu.

The menu didn’t seem too different from more popular restaurants like El Porton and Los Compadres. (Someone once told me—or maybe I read it somewhere—that there was a “consultant” who went to all of the Mexican restaurants in town and helped them revamp their menus to suit American tastes. I don’t know if this is true, but there certainly do seem to be a lot of similarities between menus.)

Warren, as usual, called out several items and asked me if I had tried them before settling once again on carnitas. I asked the kids what they wanted, but got no response. (They were much too busy coloring.) The kids menu also included “4 grill shrimps and rice” which is not a usual kids option. Warren wanted to get it for Satchel, but both monkeys prefer fried shrimp. Eventually Satchel agreed to eat a soft taco with rice & beans, but Jiro insisted that he wasn’t hungry.

“Are you sure you don’t want a quesadilla?” I asked Jiro.


“We ate a lot of snacks at Rock-n-Romp,” Satchel reported.

Considering neither one of them showed much interest in the cheese dip, I had to believe that even though I was starved, they were not. (The cheese dip was a tad spicier than at other places, so I guess it was good that they didn’t want any.)

When the waitress came over, I was still trying to convince Warren to order some flautas for Jiro, just in case, but he wouldn’t go for it. I ordered the tacos al carbon with two chicken and one beef (or maybe it was the other way around) and Jiro got nothing.

“I want a Diet Coke,” he said.

I looked at Warren. Our strict “no Coke” rule had been no-so-strict lately. For the past year or so, both monkeys have been allowed sips of my Diet Dr. Peppers. On rare occasions they have been allowed to order their own Coke as a treat—usually only to take a few sips and then lose interest. This still seems to be the case—especially with Satchel.

Jiro seems more interested in winning the battle for a forbidden soda than he is in drinking it. As Warren will tell you, I most often take the path of least resistance. If I can’t break Jiro of his Coke fantasy after a few minutes of protesting, I usually just give in. (Great parenting, I know, but he is one stubborn little monkey.)

Satchel’s soft taco kid’s meal actually came with a soft drink, which he wasn’t interested in, so we let Jiro have a Diet Coke. (Clearly he has no idea what “diet” means.) The waitress gave me a look that said, “That little kid wants a Diet Coke? Am I really supposed to believe that?”

“That’s really what he wants,” I said taking a big sip of my water. (You know, so she wouldn’t think I was going to quench my thirst with his drink.)

The monkeys continued to color while we waited for the food. Satchel had his arms mostly in his sleeves due to his extreme sensitivity to air-conditioning, which made coloring a bit more challenging for him. Looking at the sheet, it seemed to be an odd mix of photocopied animals and hand-drawn lettering.

The restaurant was slowly filling up, but it was never what I would call crowded. It was actually quite nice. Sometimes El Porton can get a little loud (which was great when the monkeys were little) and Los Compadres gets a little slow when busy. I was actually enjoying the quiet.

Our food came out very quickly and I was very impressed with the size of Satchel’s kid’s meal. It seemed like a lot of food. He only had one taco, but it was on an eight inch tortilla and his beans and rice were both full orders. Not bad for $4.25.

Warren liked his carnitas and I was happy with my tacos, especially the plate full of sides—pico, sour cream, green chile sauce, etc. Jiro put down his crayons and asked if he could have some of my beans. I happily agreed and he eventually ate the whole thing in an effort to get clearance for a lollipop at the check-out counter.

While we were eating the waitress checked on us a bazillion times. We did not want for anything! I’d say that overall, while their menu items appear to be similar to other restaurants, they do their own portion sizes and slight variations, which seem to give everything a nice, homey touch.


Benito said...

"I don’t know if this is true, but there certainly do seem to be a lot of similarities between menus."

Years ago I used to design menus, and two different things typically create these similarities:

1) The restaurant gets a template from the food supply company, and the owner just changes the name at the top and the prices. This is how you end up with the same "#12 combo" at multiple restaurants. This works for Chinese, Mexican, soul food, etc. Not every ethnic restaurant, but it's easier than building a menu from scratch and it ensures a list of dishes that are already known in the area.

2) The restaurant owner steals another restaurant's menu and just changes the name at the top. I had this happen once with a place that ripped off El Porton, and they forgot to change the name of the "El Porton Margarita" on the drinks page.

Either way you end up with a lot of near-identical menus in a city.

Stanfill said...

You know-I have been wondering that too. When I lived in Memphis, I frequented El Porton and always ordered the same combo meal. There are two Mexican restaurants in Olive Branch, MS, where my parents live. Both of these have that same combo meal and #. Now, I live in Ann Arbor, MI. There is a Mexican restaurant near the mall that has the same darn combo-# and all. Thanks Benito for the explanation.

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