It’s always a little nerve-racking when an established and beloved restaurant moves to a new location. What will change? What will stay the same? Will there still be happy hour? We answered these pressing questions when we visited El Rayo’s the new(ish) Portland location.
Previously located on York Street in Portland, El Rayo needed to find a new location when the Mexican restaurant didn’t jibe with the impending development plans of the property owner. The old spot closed in September 2015 and reopened on Free Street in spring of 2016.
One thing I was happy to see, as I moseyed up to the new El Rayo, was the outdoor deck added onto what used to be the Papier stationery store. Enjoying a margarita and a taco or two on the long outdoor benches was such a big part of the old El Rayo, it would have been tragic (not to be over-dramatic) if it were cut out all together. My fears were clearly unnecessary, as the deck was both present and packed when I paid a visit.
Inside, the decor is much like you might remember from York Street. Its signature color scheme of orange, yellow and blue is everywhere, with industrial lights hanging over the bar. The bar runs nearly the length of the interior and accounts for most of the inside seating, minus a couple of small sections in both the front and back.
The rotating draft menu is on a surfboard chalkboard opposite the bar, so be sure to check that out for any beers or specials there might be. For cans or bottles, there’s a good selection of Mexican beers for $4, including Pacifico, Corona and Tecate.
And, for an extra 50 cents, any beer of your choice can be transformed into a Michelada, which is served over ice with Worcestershire sauce, lime and house hot sauce. I had one myself. Think of it as a beer version of a Bloody Mary.
While the beer and wine selection is nothing to sneeze at, El Rayo clearly puts most of its stock in, what else, tequila and tequila drinks. The house margarita ($8.75) is a perfectly calibrated combination of reposado tequila, fresh lime and triple sec. I was also intrigued by the Snake Bite ($8.75), which features jalapeno, cilantro, lime, tequila and triple sec. Next time.
If you’re curious about tequila in general, take advantage of the tequila flights. Ranging from $13 to $19, depending on the brand, a flight gets you a pour of your brand of choice’s silver, reposado and anejo tequilas. Getting a handle on the difference between them could lead to some impressive conversations with friends down the line.
The greatest thing about the new El Rayo is its continued dedication to happy hour, which is still 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. House margaritas for $5 and other drink specials are sure to keep the bar and the deck packed all summer long.
WHERE: 26 Free St., Portland
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
AMENITIES: Large bar, happy hour specials, daily specials, flights of tequila, outdoor deck seating, counter service
BOTTOM LINE: While a little bit smaller than the old spot, the new-ish El Rayo on Free Street has lost none of its personality or quality. Stop by for the same margaritas, Micheladas and killer happy hour you remember.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes