The stylish new El Rayo on Route 1 is a welcome addition to Scarborough’s dining mix and is already a favorite hangout for locals. And it’s well worth the short drive from Portland.
Busier than a networker’s meet and greet, El Rayo Scarborough, the sequel to Portland’s popular restaurant of the same name and proprietorship, opened last week to a rousing start. After our party of three squeezed in and told we would have an hour’s wait for a table (it was much less) we were glad to persevere because this outpost is a winner on all counts.
While the Portland El Rayo is a kind of fun-funky marimba-beat hangout, the Scarborough establishment has great space done in high style. The room flows like one big rec room. From several bar areas, booths, tables, cozy corners and high tops, there’s space for everyone.
The crowd at 7:00 PM was family hour indeed, but as darkness approached the usual hipsters were weaving in amongst the tables, booths and bar stools.
The huge open stainless-steel kitchen is very high-tech, and manager-chef Cheryl Lewis was in full command mode, dispatching the orders as fast as they were coming in. In fact, considering that everything is so new, the wait staff, the kitchen’s pace and the food flowed with barely a hiccup.
The all-important margarita was first rate: tequila, fresh lime juice and Cointreau were blended perfectly, and our first bite into an app of fried plantains presaged the good food to follow.
The menu is virtually the same as the Portland El Rayo, but the preparations seem more focused as evidenced by the house guacamole, salsa and chips. The guac was chunky with lots of lime, onions and tomato, though a bit light handed on cilantro. Or as my friend said, “You can never have too much cilantro.
The salsa was made from fire-roasted tomatoes, giving it a rich burnished taste. The chips were made from Tortilleria Pachanga tortillas, the local artisanal provider from Bayside. Also impressive was the restaurant’s listing on the back of the menu of local purveyors, something that you don’t often see on the typical Mexican menu here.
Onto main dishes the carnitas burrito was stuffed with a heady mix of braised pork and caramelized onions; the taco plate included two choices and one of the guests chose the grilled fish with avocado, chipotle mayo and veggie slaw, and the barbecue pork taco. She thought the pork was too sweet but the rest of us at table disagreed. But I loved my talyuda, a Mexican style flatbread pizza on the Pachanga tortillas baked until cracker-crisp. On it was chicken over a black-bean spread, Oaxaca string cheese, shredded cabbage, avocado, cilantro and Mexican crema. I thought this was the best dish of the three and one that is not on the menu in Portland.
The dessert menu offers a towering coconut cupcake, key-lime pie and chocolate pudding. Already too much to eat we refrained from sampling these sweets, though the cupcake looked amazing!
El Rayo Portland closes in about a year when their landlord (JB Brown) configures it for other uses. Management will look for another space in Portland, but in the meantime Scarborough residents are thrilled to have this in the hood. And as a change of pace for Portlanders, the 10 minute drive to Scarborough is well worth the effort.
Direction from Portland: (On Rt. 295 South, take Exit 2 to Route 1 Scarborough; on Route 1 it’s a short distance south of the Black Point Road-114 intersection. The GPS address is 245 US Route 1, Scarborough.