Grazing through Portland: El Rayo

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Bright, cheerful, and festive, El Rayo Taqueria is a colorful, casual spot for a Mexican-flavored meal. This funky garage-turned-restaurant is small, with hungry diners exceeding its seating capacity, with favored tables outside—when the weather cooperates.

During a recent visit, I managed to snag an inside hightop backed against the open kitchen. I’m a sucker for fish tacos, so I paired a cup of tortilla soup (the daily offering) with El Rayo’s pescado taco, washing it all down with with a housemade hibiscus flower & citrus refresco. The soup was good, not stellar, but good. I would have liked more punch–not heat, but punch; it veered toward bland. The fish  taco was very good, but frankly, I think the Baja-style fish taco served at Loco Poco’s Tacos, in Kittery, is better (and I won’t even begin to compare it to The Mexican Restaurant in Hancock, which is the real deal). Star of the meal was the refresco. But I quibble, for Mexican-fare in Portland, it sets a new standard. Would I return, hell yes.

Not only does El Rayo do an admirable job, but it also sources locally, seeking sustainable seafood and naturally raised meats. (Although, doing so really is an unwritten law for any restaurant aiming to be a player in this foodie town).

In classic tacqueria style, portions are small, but so are the prices ($3.25-$10.75). Next time I’ll go with friends and mix and match chilaquilles, quesaillas, tacos, burittos, and rice & bean bowls. This is a place that screams let’s party! On a warm evening, a picnic table outside, a pitcher of sangria…

And check out the specials:

• Sunday: Starving Artist Supper, with $6 entree from 4-10 p.m.

• Tuesday: Cantina Quiz, with prizes, 7:30 p.m.

• Wednesday: $1 oysters on the half shell while they last

• Thursday: Macho Borracho, Latin-influenced surfer and rockabilly tunes, 7-9:30 p.m.

• Everyday: Happy Hour, 4-6 p.m. and 9-10 p.m.

So, yeah, go ahead, grab the friends, join the party.

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