The Breakfast Serial

photo/Dan Zarin

El Rayo Taqueria
101 York St., Portland

“El Rayo does brunch?” If I had a peso for every time someone asked me that this week, I’d have … well, I have no idea. What’s a peso even worth these days? Whatever. The point is that while many have enjoyed after-work margaritas and fish tacos at the three-year-old taqueria just north of the Casco Bay Bridge, few are aware of its weekend brunch menu.

It’s not an extensive menu. There are only three brunch entrees (the regular lunch/dinner menu is also available), but my wife, daughter and I were happy to be the first of our friends to try them out on a Saturday morning last month.

Arriving shortly after 11, we chose one of the high tables by the windows and made ourselves comfortable. Hot, fresh coffee — a delicious custom blend from Carrabassett Coffee Co. —  soon arrived, along with shot glasses full of cream and sugar. Cute presentation, but totally impractical, as we discovered when the cream dribbled all over the table each time we attempted to doctor our mugs.

Out of curiosity as much as anything, we started with an order of Golden Jet Pineapple ($2.95), served on a stick and dusted with chile powder, salt and lime. All three of us were impressed by how well the simple flavors came together, though we agreed it would have been better if the pineapple were grilled to bring out its natural sweetness and served warm, instead of chilled.

Regular readers may recall that my daughter has been on a Huevos Rancheros kick for some time, and now considers herself something of a connoisseur. She found El Rayo’s version ($7.50) quite good, though not up to the level of her favorites. She especially liked having a choice of crispy or soft corn tortillas (she chose crispy). The chipotle sauce, requested on the side, was flavorful and just a little spicy. The organic black beans with a sprinkling of crumbly cotija cheese, also served on the side, were a big hit.

My wife opted for Migas ($7.95), a scramble of local eggs, crisp corn tortillas, pico de gallo, rajas (sautéed onions and peppers) and jack cheese. She opted for the vegetarian version; housemade chorizo is available for an extra $2. Grilled flour tortillas and home fries – labeled papas fritas, for all you sticklers-for-authenticity – filled out the plate. She was very happy with her choice, and we all agreed it was the best dish of the morning. The papas were outstanding: nicely crisp, lightly seasoned and drizzled with a rich garlic aioli.

I went for the Breakfast Burrito with chorizo ($9.50). There are two basic types of breakfast burrito: the “hangover burrito,” as in “I need protein to help my body heal, but my brain is too hazy to operate silverware;” and the “meal burrito,” which requires a knife and fork. El Rayo’s belonged to the latter category, though it was modest in size compared to others I’ve had over the years. The chorizo was absolutely delicious, but it completely dominated the skimpy scrambled egg and mild jack cheese, so the overall effect was a bit off-balance. Once again, the papas on the side were a high point.

We concluded our meal with a small dish of Mexican Chocolate Pudding ($3.95). It was dark and rich, with subtle notes of cinnamon and cayenne. Sometimes brunch really is just breakfast with dessert at the end.

I’m pretty sure we were the only people to order off the brunch menu that morning. Apparently my informal survey was pretty accurate — word has yet to spread about the newest addition to Portland’s growing ranks of brunch eateries. El Rayo Taqueria probably won’t be my new go-to spot. I like a few more options to choose from, and my quest for the best breakfast burrito in town continues. But all in all, the fresh ingredients and bold flavors were definitely worth the trip. And now you know, too.

— Dan Zarin

El Rayo serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.