At El Rayo’s Scarborough eatery, our reviewer found things to love (starter, dessert) and other things (a bland entree, parking manners), not so much.
El Rayo Taqueria’s new location is sleek and beautiful, and the menu features a wide assortment of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other south-of-the-border fare prepared to suit Mainers’ palates.
Be prepared to wait, even on a weeknight, because the people of Scarborough have genuinely embraced this much-needed local addition to the long strip of chain restaurants that line Route 1. The restaurant has the same basic menu as the original restaurant on York Street in Portland, with a few additions. But if the Portland restaurant has a funky, come-hang-out vibe, the Scarborough restaurant is its flashier, more colorful cousin. From the bright roadside sign, lit up like a Vegas casino, to the colorful chairs and the wagon wheel chandelier hanging at the entrance (bulbs encased in tequila bottles), the new Scarborough El Rayo looks like the big party you hope you’ll be invited to.
Every single server/employee I encountered was friendly and helpful, despite the fact they were obviously overwhelmed with hungry customers. Give those folks a raise.
There didn’t seem to be much of a wait for a table, but there was in the parking lot. Despite the fact that the new restaurant has a lot more parking – somewhere between 30 and 40 spaces, by my count – it’s still not enough. First, there was the jerk who stole a spot from me (hey, brainless, don’t you know that once you pass a spot you give it up to the next person?), and then there were the people who blatantly parked in the motorcycle spot (clearly marked MOTORCYCLES) or pulled into the handicapped spots while they ran inside for a moment. I can’t imagine what this parking lot roulette must be like on busy weekends.
I sat there for five minutes, lights on, waiting for someone to exit the restaurant. (There is no on-street parking on busy Route 1, and a sign posted at the hostess station warns guests not to park in neighboring lots, indicating that parking has indeed been an issue.) Finally, a couple of women came out, wandered over to a car and stood there, talking, for another five minutes, even though they could see there were cars full of people waiting.
So I wasn’t in the best mood when I finally entered the restaurant, but the friendly staff and cheery decor soon made me forget that I wanted to run over some of the customers.
It would have been lovely to get a table and have a cocktail, but this is called “Eat and Run,” so the evening was predestined for takeout. I was told it would take 15 minutes to prepare my order. I was happy to wait, but if you’re in a big hurry you might want to call ahead.
There are lots of great starters on the menu, including fried plantains with chipotle mayo ($4.95), fried shisisto peppers dusted with sea salt ($7.95) and one of my favorites from the other El Rayo, Mexico City-style corn on the cob basted with chipotle mayo and dusted with cojita cheese ($4.95). I went with the corn-jalapeno fritters served with jalapeno jelly for those who want more kick. The small, thin fritters were nice and crunchy on the outside, soft inside with whole kernels of corn hidden throughout. These were as good as I remembered them, but at $5.75 for an order of about a half-dozen, they seemed a bit pricey. That’s about a dollar a fritter, and the largest fritter was perhaps the size of a half-dollar. (Thinking of the Portland El Rayo’s dollar oyster nights, I kept wishing there were an oyster in there too.)
For dinner, I chose the chilaquiles with shredded pork and smokey chipotle-tomato sauce. The menu promises, “COMFORT FOOD AT ITS BEST!” Corn tortilla chips are simmered in salsa with swiss chard, and it’s garnished with cojita cheese, avocado and crema fresca ($9.95). The dish lived up to its billing as a comfort food in terms of texture. There was not much flavor, however, unless you added a bunch of hot sauce. The chilaquiles itself was bland and badly needed seasoning. The dish did contain plenty of pork, and the portion size was generous – I could only eat half.
The new El Rayo has a selection of desserts that are way too tempting, ranging from a pepita and rice krispie square for $2.95 to a slice of key lime pie for $3.95. I tried the Mexican chocolate pudding for $3.95, and it was so thick I could eat it with a fork. It had a little bit of heat – I would have liked a touch more – and the chocolate was pure decadence.
Nearly everything on the menu at El Rayo is under $10, so it’s easy to sample more than one thing. It’s nice to see that this style of restaurant can source ingredients locally and serve sustainable seafood and meats. Next time, I’m getting a table – and a margarita.
WHERE: 245 U.S.Route 1, Scarborough | 207-494-1000 | elrayotaqueria.com/el-rayo-scarborough
HOURS: 11 a.m. until close daily; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday
WAIT: 15 minutes
HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Yes