Restaurante El Corazon
190 State St., Portland
Before moving to Maine in 2002, I lived in Los Angeles for seven years. The weather was great, but I really only miss three things about those days: camping without a rain-fly on the tent, rollerblading at the beach (it was the ’90s, remember), and delicious, authentic Mexican food available at any time — even for breakfast. Fifteen years later, memories of those first two experiences seem distant, but thanks to Restaurante El Corazon, the third is now part of my life again.
I’ve been a fan of the fare available at El Corazon’s bright red food truck — especially their Baja fish tacos, which have no equal in Maine — since it first appeared on the streets of Portland in 2013. I was nervous about their move to a brick-and-mortar location last spring, and early reviews were mixed. But when they began serving Sunday brunch I knew I had to give this restaurante a try.
Restaurante El Corazon has two distinct brunch menus: American and Mexican. While I understand the desire to cater to Yankees who may be wary of anything more exotic than a breakfast burrito, there are more than enough places in town to get pancakes and Eggs Benedict. We were here for the real deal.
But first, drinks. My wife ordered a Bloody Mary ($5 during brunch hours). It wasn’t very potent, but it was loaded with plenty of horseradish. I had a lot of work to get done that day, so I just got a coffee ($2.50), which arrived with single-serve Coffee-Mate creamer cups (never a good sign). My daughter ordered a glass of horchata ($2.50), a chilled beverage typically made with ground rice, almonds and cinnamon. This version was delicious, albeit a bit sweet for my taste.
From among the daily specials my wife ordered a cup of posole ($4), a stew with spicy, salty broth over a base of hominy (coarse-ground corn) brimming with chili peppers and chunks of slow-simmered pork. It was immensely satisfying and could have been a meal unto itself, but not knowing how filling the stew would be, she’d also ordered a plate of chorizo con huevos ($10.95). The over-easy eggs were perfectly cooked and the accompanying stack of slightly charred flour tortillas provided a great way to scoop up piles of the mild, yet flavorful, ground sausage. The side dish of refried beans — prepared in the thin, soupy style typical of many Mexican restaurants — was tasty but went mostly untouched. Homefries, thinly sliced and simply seasoned with salt and pepper, felt unnecessary and even a little out of place next to everything else on the plate.
I ordered chilaquiles ($10.95), a once favorite dish I hadn’t eaten since leaving California. Piled onto a bed of crisp tortilla chips were two scrambled eggs simmered in a mild red sauce (a green sauce is also an option), topped with crumbly queso fresco and Mexican crema, and served with sides of beans and homefries. For an extra $1.50 the chef added a generous portion of chorizo on top. I had a few minor quibbles — using chips, rather than tortilla strips, made the dish messy and difficult to eat, and a hefty dose of hot sauce was necessary to provide sufficient heat — but otherwise it was very good.
My daughter’s tamales con huevos ($11.95) were even better. Traditionally served at Christmas or on other holidays, due to the time- and labor-intensive assembly process, these steamed green-chili-and-cheese-stuffed corn dough delicacies make any Sunday feel like a special occasion. (Variations with beef, pork or red chili filling are also available.)
Brunch at Restaurante El Corazon brought me back to those lazy Sunday mornings at my favorite hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Venice Beach. Now, if I could just find my old rollerblades…
— Dan Zarin
El Corazon serves brunch on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.