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May 7, 2007 11:58 AM

Richmond – Fine fish tacos, chili rellenos, breakfast & more at Portumex… no lard aqui

… and yet the food is still tasty. The chips are thin, greaseless and perfect.

The deck in front of Portumex was a nice perch to watch the Cinco de Mayo parade on 23rd Street.

Portumex serves large portions of reliable food at affordable prices.

The short version:

Tip #1: Only order sides which are meals in themselves.

The chili relleno side for $2.50 is seriously a meal in itself. The beans and rice are just the average type, so no need to order the plates.

Tip #2: For the few tacos with lettuce and shredded American cheese … sin lechuga y queso, por favor. The exception is the ground beef taco. Most tacos are topped wih cilantro, tomato and onion … that works.

Si ... Coctel de camaronnes, chili relleno, chunky chili verde taco (probably chile Colorado, too), ground beef taco, fish taco, soups, guacamole, enchilada, camarones a la Diablo, ceviche tostada, hot chocolate, strawberry aqua fresca.

No ... Carne asada, Al Pastor, tamales, green salad, horchata

Interesting (but untried): Flautas on steroids, Mega burgers, whole fried catfish, birria Estilo Jalisco

Unknown: Carnitas, tortas, chorizo and other stuff not mentioned

Breakfast: Decent enough, LOTS of food, but I’ve never seen another person order the egg dishes or pancakes on the breakfast menu. There’s better here.

Pick up a free business card-sized colorful calendar that has a picture on the other side of the Virgen of Guadalupe with pink cherubs and the holy spirit in dove-form guarding the airspace. For those not fans, there are plain wallet calendars too.

Exhausting details in first reply to this topic.


721 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 237-7513

Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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  1. Portumex is timeless and unchanging.

    It hasn’t changed since my first visit two years ago (can’t find the report).

    It hasn’t changed since this 1999 SF Chronicle review which said of their star dish, the SHRIMP COCKTAIL …

    “A glass goblet arrives with a basket of soda crackers. In it, layers of freshly boiled shrimp, avocado, onion, cilantro and tomato are swimming in a subtle, slightly pink broth … a lovely strained stock of shrimp shells, onion, tomatoes, garlic and spices … Order it cold, like most do in Mexico, or ``tibio,'' which is halfway between hot and cold.

    CHILI RELLENO: The Chron has a loving description of it. I ordered it as a side ($2.50) with two tacos. Along with the large tacos, it was a massive amount of food ... the plates covering the table. The single chili relleno which filled a large dinner plate, is a meal in itself. I’m not a fan of the chili relleno, but this was as good as I’ve ever had.

    The egg batter is fluffy and delicate. The chile so integrated and perfectly cooked. The fork easily slices off a piece and the wonderful oozy cheese flows out with the ranchero sauce complementing the whole.

    ENCHILADAS: I’m not an enchilada fan in general but these were nicely done. There is a choice of any of the meats for a filling. The chicken was nice tender pieces of stewed bird. It is covered with the ranchero sauce and melted cheese with a little shredded iceberg topped with salsa on the side. A single enchilada ($2) makes for a nice light lunch.

    TACOS: There is the option of crispy or soft tortillas. Hard shells are of the Taco Bell type, but fried in-house Where the hard variety works is with the ground beef tacos. Some tacos are topped with chopped tomato, cilantro and onion, others with shredded iceberg and American cheese. Perfect for that ground beef … but for the chile verde and chile Colorado tacos … skip the toppings and bliss-out on the unadorned chili filling. Haven’t tried the lengua or house-made chorizo yet. Most tacos are $2.25 or $2 and large. Two are a very filling meal.

    FISH TACO: A stunning thing of absolute beauty ($3). I’d go with the soft taco next time because the shell was a little too thick for this … yet so tasty despite breaking into shards. The fish is not battered, but beautifully pan-fried and topped with the lovliest shredded cabbage and some other things … maybe a few chopped tomatoes and cilantro … but I was the cabbage that mattered. Delicious thin white sauce with a mayo tang. It is served with chips.

    CHILE VERDE TACO: Topped with lots of shredded lettuce and cold American cheese which is a mistake … order without. This is packed with large, generous cubes of tender pork in a mild verde sauce. Adding a touch of the spicy green salsa ups the deliciousness. Based on this, I’m projecting the chile Colorado taco would be excellent too.

    CARNE ASADA TACO: Based on all the raves on the web, this was a huge disappointment. The beef chopped too fine and on the dry side without much flavor. A dab of the red salsa helped. However it moved the steak ranchero and steak sandwich way down on my to-try list … however the steak sandwich on a French roll is still appealing to me … just not as.

    GROUND BEEF TACO: Ok, I didn’t have this but just looking at the table next to me … these are a thing of greatness … if ordered in the hard taco. LOTS … and lots of ground beef topped with shredded lettuce and American cheese … I could virtually taste it … the play of crunchy and soft … hot ground beef and cool iceberg ... next on my list. For a taco three times the size of taco bell ... $2.

    AL PASTOR BURRITOS: Roberto ordered one of these since I’m not a burrito fan and shared a small piece with me. The Al Pastor was as disappointing as the carne asada … chopped too fine, a little dry and the main flavor was salt. The first bite seemed to match the Chronicle rave. There seemed to be some fruity note. But when my little piece cooled, it wasn’t too tasty. Huge burritos where the rice starred followed by meat and refried beans. There is a touch of tomato, cilantro and onion. Like the tacos, some are slightly different with the tomato , cilantro & onion, replaced by lettuce and cheese.

    For an additional charge sour cream, guacamole, jalepenos and flan can be added … flan?

    SOUPS: Good homey soups with a soup of the day. I had the chicken which was bone-on pieces of leg and thigh and large chunks of veggies like potato, celery and carrot. Dishes of dried oregano topped with dried peppers are on every table. Condiments like chopped onion come with the soup. The menudo was too real for me … I swear the cow was still attached … and mooing … these are large pieces of tripe that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Haven’t tried the pozole or occasional shrimp soup.

    GUACAMOLE: Nice job. Very fresh tasting, not too chunky or too smooth … just right. A barely noticeable touch of tomato … anything else was not noticeable … the flavor of the avocado starred deliciously.

    SALSAS: The green is great and fiery. The mildly-spicy, red salsa thick with chopped canned tomatoes and some fresh cilantro, pepper and onions is ok, but can be inconsistent. Sometimes there is nice spice, other times not enough. Many times plates are serve with shredded iceberg with a dab of red salsa … which is different and actually a lot better than the table salsa.

    RICE & BEANS: The smooth refried beans with melted cheese are average. I saw one table mix them with the green salsa … that seems like a good idea. The rice doesn’t have much flavor and was bordering on dry-ish. It is better in the burritos.

    HUEVOS AL ABENIL: For $5.75 three eggs scrambled with diced tomato, fresh serrano peppers & onions are served with a basket of chips, two salsas, Spanish rice, refried beans, shredded iceberg topped with salsa, and a half dozen thin hot corn tortillas wrapped in white paper and served in a red plastic basket. There’s the option of toast and home fries rather than the rice and beans.

    It was good but I’ve never seen anyone else ordering breakfast here. Most people order the dishes Portumex is known for. I have no plans for trying the 9 other egg-based dishes. Maybe someday I’ll order the short stack of pancakes … $2.50. That being said the quality is so much better, the portions bigger and the prices beat anything from Denny's. It is a satisfying, hearty and well-made breakfast.

    MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE: ($1.25) Satisfying, creamy and served in an attractive mug. It is worth ordering just to sip out of the mug … delicious and aesthetically pleasing. Not the spicy type or fancy, just a decent, not overly sweet cup of chocolate.

    CHEESECAKE: The usual dessert is flan but every now and then there is cheesecake on the menu ($1.50). It is most notable for being unique. Not American. Not the usual Mexican. Points off for the too soft graham cracker crust., but the filling is so different … almost like a cross of flan with cheesecake … more eggy and lighter than most and brown with cinnamon.

    AQUA FRESCAS: The large are HUGE. The horchata was creamy but heavy on rice grittiness and clove … neither of which I like. Strawberry is thick with chopped berries, almost a smoothie. The smoky Jamaica I like the best and the tamarind is good too.

    What is bad about the timelessness of Portumex is the chopped tomatoes mixed in eggs or topping dishes and strawberries in the aqua fresca are of the quality sold at the corner mercado. This works for the iceberg because these people understand iceberg … crispy and fresh.

    HAMBURGERS: Haven’t tried them but lots of people do .. huge … HUGE. Has the look of Nation’s with a big wedge of iceburg … but the burgers are much bigger $4. The steak cut fries for $1 looked good.

    FLAUTAS: Another dish I haven’t tried, but this is the biggest flauta I’ve ever seen and someday will order it as a side … $2.50.

    CAMARONES A LA DIABLO: Haven’t tried yet, but this is one of the most-ordered dishes.

    CEVICHE TOSTADA: Won’t try since I’m not a ceviche person … looks delicious, on lots of tables, lots of positive comments on the web.

    WHOLE FRIED CATFISH: Looked good. Often ordered

    BIRRIA ESTILO JALISCO: Based on the great chile verde, I’d give the beef birria a try.

    In addition to four picnic tables on the deck, there’s the inside dining area, outdoor tables under an awning along one side and a patio in back. Not sure when and if the back patio is open.

    Order at the counter, get a number and food is brought to the table … muy rapido. They are known for the speed of order-to-delivery time. The pleasant all-business staff moves quickly and efficiently.

    There’s usually a line which doesn't usually involve a long wait. Weekends and lunch are packed. The owners are always there and there was never a time when one of them wasn’t having a bite at the little table next to the kitchen. The husband is Portuguese and the wife Mexican … Portumex. No Portuguese dishes on the menu.

    There are better and more deeply Mexican restaurants in the area. They are not Americanizing the food and when they opened decades ago this was probably startlingly ‘authentic’. Most of the customers are Latino.

    The whole package is good here though … it is the Mexican version of the reliable American coffee shop / diner. Good food, portions and prices. It might not amaze but it doesn’t disappoint. Food is made-from-scratch and satisfying.

    This blog with a picture of the restaurant and a few dishes, says it perfectly ….

    “To sum it all up, Portumex is a fine restaurant with good food and lightening service. I didn't see anything off-the-shelf-crazy that we just had to have. Plus I felt the lack of quality lard left the beans & rice a little lackadaisical. Even so, we'll definitely be returning”

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      You are such a great reporter, rw! All West Contra Costa County salutes you!

      Okay, I HAVE had the birria at Portumex -- The first time about four years ago. I was a bit disapppointed to learn that it was beef and not goat. No matter: it was so delicious that I actually thought for a moment that I was in Mexico instead of Richmond. I visited the kitchen to shower praise on all. It was the first dish that sold me on Portumex, not being a big chile relleno fan. I've been going ever since.

      But...I've never been to Tapatio, which you've said good things about. How would you compare the two?

      1. re: ptrichmondmike

        Thanks for the tip about the birria. For the most part in the Richmond area the birria has been beef. I'll have to give it a try at Portumex.

        Tapatio is more 'authentically' Mexican. The spicing is truer, the flavors pop more. They are one of the places that serve birria de chivo and it is very tasty. They also have those chavadas --- beer with shrimp. Tapatio is the closest to San Diego style restaurants that I've encountered so far in the bay area.

        Which is not saying Portumex isn't real Mexican food or dumbed down. Portumex is somewhere between Mex-American and Mexican-Mexican food. If you take a gringo there, they will be happy. If you take a Latino there, they will be happy.

        Tapatio only makes ok tacos ... though as far as the asada it is better than Portumex. However, their dishes like mocajetes, the birria and soup are the thing to order.

        I have to get over my hang up about seafood cocktails and see which place has the better version ... it is popular at both joints. The taste of the burrito I had at Tapatio was better.

        Little English spoken at El Tapatio ... but pointing to the menu works. Occasionally the waitress who speaks English is there ... usually on the weekends.

        Hope you tried Pepitos on the same street. Hmmm ... Pepito's is a whisper higher on the Mexican scale than Portumex and has better chili verde. Nice patio in back with a fountain too.

        Depending on my mood .. all are really close and I'll throw Hacienda grill in the mix, my preference from first to last ... though they all have their charms ...

        1. El Tapatio
        2. Hacienda Grill
        3. Pepito's
        4. Portumex

        1. re: rworange

          Thanks for the extensive review orange. I "aint" a great writer, so I'll help by posting menus.

          1. El Tapatio - I could only find the one in Pleasant Hill.

          2. Hacienda Grill -

          3. Pepito's -

          4. Portumex -

          1. re: See Food

            Hey ... thanks

            Don't need to be a 'great' writer ... I certainly ain't ... just wordy. The best tips I found on the board are one-liners. Wish I could do that.

            Actually most of the wordiness is just for me ... a few months down the line ... with few exceptions ... I can't remember exactly why I thought something was good.

      2. re: rworange

        Awesome scoop!!!
        Haven't had Menudo there, but your description tells me it will be my kind of thing. My favorite things in Portumex are hard shell tacos, because they really give that Taco Bell vibe without the Taco Bell guilt. The only disappointment on the menu was a beef tongue burrito. I love tongue, but it just didn't seem to mesh well with the rest of ingredients.

        1. re: Bigos

          Thanks ... I won't rush to order the tongue.

          Yeah, they are not really Taco Bell shells, but that type of shape ... but bigger and better.

      3. So that burger was haunting me ... other stuff I've tried since the OP.

        Hamburger: Good for it's class ... the Nation's / Red Onion type of burger. Not anything to go out of the way for but if you want a BIG burger for $4 ... ok. Best burger on 23rd street ... better than Phil's on 23rd ... not as good as the nearby Pup Hut. Good sesame bun, huge hunk of crispy iceburg, slice of white onion and slice of supermarket tomato. This type of burger benefits from catsup

        Fries: Only ok crinkle cut fries, probably straight from the freezer ... but if looking to fill-up ... a MAJOR portion for $1 with that burger.

        Chili Colordo: Not as good as the chili verde. Large cubes of tender average beef. The colorado was mainly salty with a few red pepper flakes for a little spice.

        1. Hi,
          I've been going to Portuemex for awhile since the early 90's. My favorite has always been the chicken concha with guacamole, the carne asada tacos with corn tortillas, chili relleno, garlic shrimp a la diablo plate and the al pastor burrito (with a pacifico or two of course, on a sunny day on the outside deck. . . ). I love the chips and green salsa, too.
          I miss working in Richmond for only one reason of having lunch at Portumex!