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El Portal- I think it was my last time (long)

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last night my husband and i wanted mexican food so we decided to go to El Portal since it's a walking distance from our house. when we got there it was almost full but not quite. after we got seated about half of the room emptied. my point was it was busy but not crazy.

it took a while for a frantic server to come and take our orders. once we got to the drinks i ordered a juice and he said they make the flavored margaritas without alcohol. so i took his suggestion and ordered a virgin mango margarita. i emphasized it needed to be non -alcoholic b/c i am pregnant (it's odd to reveal this to chowhound and not to anyone else but it's still very early but this is the whole point) once the drinks got there i took a few sips and it tasted bitter. so i asked the server again if this had tequila in it and he said no.

ha later came back with our chicken tacos and enchiladas which were very average. the chicken in the taco tasted bad. so back to the drinks, after consuming about 1/3 of my drink i start feeling oozy. at this point im convinced there alcohol in it. i never thought it would be hard to detect alcohol but in a mixed drink it actually turned out to be not so easy. it's not like straight up alcohol.

it turns out the waiter did serve me a regular margarita. i was really really upset and asked to speak to the manager. about 15 minutes of avoiding us, he finally came over with major attitude. he said if my baby came out deformed b/c they served me alcohol there's nothing they can do about it and it's not the waiters fault. he said i should have known better to not get a virgin drink when they were so busy. i know that a 1/3 of a margarita would probably do no harm but that's not the point. i told them that what if i was an alcoholic or i had a serious medical condition? he said that they shouldn't be ordering virgin drinks. then he says "haven't you ever made a mistake?" i said no, not when i was a server and someone specifically ordered a non-alcoholic drink. there's a reason why people ask if there's nuts in something b/c most of the time they're allergic! he just didn't get it and kept arguing with my point.

i'm upset about how this guy handled the matter. yes, mistakes happen and thankfully i'll probably be ok. however, there were no apologies from them. not the waiter nor the manager. he basically said this was my responsibility and i should have known better not to order a virgin drink when they were so busy. at the end my husband said "you know what's wrong with this is that you guys aren't even apologetic about this" and he said "whatever! sure were sorry!" like we were scolding a 12 yr old. this was my last time at el portal.

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  1. Wow, that's horrible. Is this place in Pasadena? If so, their website says they are family owned. I would write a letter to the owner and let them know about your terrible experience.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Snoopy

      yes, i'm writing one right now snoopy! yes, it's the one in pasadena.

      1. re: trolley

        I've never been there, but totally sympathize as I am also pregnant and know that dining out can be a little stressful as there are so many things that you have to be careful about (unpasturized cheeses have been my big worry). Good luck.

        1. re: Snoopy

          Food is awful there with soggy tacos. If it wasn't for the outdoor seating it would be empty. You'll be happy to know they got fined big time a few months ago for serving minors. Go up the street to La Fiesta Grande not a nice inside, but the staff are always pleasant and the food is somewhat better than El Portal

          1. re: inyo44

            la fiesta grande is considerably better than el portal. the service is actually pretty bad at el portal even when it's slow. it's the main reason i refuse to go there or yahaira's cafe which is also owned by the people that own el portal.

            1. re: cdub

              WOW! The first couple of times I went to El Portal it was great, but then the last few were really bad. I am sure I posted on it. The service was horriffic and they could not get my order right (and my burrito came out COLD). AND the waiter kept ignoring and avoiding us. That is ridiculous about the virgin drink. Who gives a shit if you order it when they are busy. You ordered what you ordered and should get what you asked for - period. The manager is probably part of the family who owns and runs it, so I am not sure if your email will get you anywhere, but you should definitely send it.
              I always recommend La Fiesta Grande for Mexican. Their carne asada steak and grilled fish dishes are the best there, along with their all-you-can-eat taco bar. I also really enjoy their LFG enchilada. They also make really good margaritas. LFG is definitely the way to go out of the two.
              I am sorry that you had such a bad experience at El Portal.

              1. re: WildSwede

                thanks for the suggestion. the first couple of times we went to el portal it wasn't bad. we haven't been back in about a year and i suppose there was a reason. we live right near La fiesta grande so well check it out. i'm still very upset on how i was treated. i didn't even get detailed on his attitude and other awful things he said b/c it's not worth rehashing and me getting all worked up again. one of these days this sort of attitude will catch up to el portal...

                1. re: trolley

                  I also think it's wise not to get too worked up while writing the letter. Perhaps have your husband add those details? lol. It's inexcusable to provide such rude service to people... I wouldn't go back again either.

    2. Wow! that is shockingly bad service. Mistakes happen, but to shift the blame onto the you... most servers know not to do that! For managment to do it is inexcusable.

      1. Sorry to hear about his. :(

        I've always had good food at El Portal, but once the service was slow. It happened to be a very busy night.

        I also like La Fiesta Grande. I like El Portal better, possibly because the restaurant feels like it has more room. The food at both places is good, in my opinion.

        2 Replies
        1. re: katkoupai

          i will try la fiesta grande. this time i will order a club soda!

          1. re: trolley

            All of my friends who order virgin drinks at LFG have always gotten what they have ordered.

        2. Thanks for the warning. As a recovering alcoholic I learned a long time ago NEVER to order a "virgin" drink unless I'm watching the bartender make it. You'd be amazed how often this kind of thing happens, and for many drinks it can be very undetectable (virgin Bloody Marys are the worst since vodka has no taste at all).

          1 Reply
          1. re: maxzook

            i feel your pain maxzook. just b/c you don't drink that doesn't have to mean you should be limited to drinking soda. yes, i'll be careful from now on starting with not going back to el portal. i've had better service and tacos at acapulco!