I can trace my interest in Latin American foods to several family trips we took when I was a child. We would pile into the station wagon and drive all the way from Minnesota to southern Mexico.
Those vacations south of the border not only influenced my appreciation for the magic of Mexican cuisine but also sparked an enthusiasm for exploring ethnic supermarkets.
This month, I was in the mood for the food of those travels, so I headed to Portales Latin American Market and Restaurant in Gibsonton. I had shopped at the market several times before but never eaten at the restaurant.
When I stepped inside, the smell of warm tortillas and lively music filled the air. Vibrantly designed, its clean dining room featured murals, colorful decorations and an impressive tequila collection.
There were plenty of Mexican comfort foods featured on the menu, starting with the house-made chips delivered with a fresh, brick-red salsa of chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro and chiles. The addition of dried arbol chile lifted the salsa from ho-hum to mark-the-calendar memorable.
Owner Julissa Ruiz has imported recipes from her family, which originates in Monterrey, the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. She named their business after her grandfather's large arched porch area, which in Spanish is portales. The family would gather there after dinner, sit and drink coffee and watch the children play.
Portales' authentic menu features everything from bowls of seafood soup called caldo de mariscos and steak milanesa to traditional platters of enchiladas and tostadas. There are 44 dishes on the menu.
The house special of a combination of beef or chicken with pineapple, chorizo, onion, jalapeno peppers and cheese on a tortilla sounded especially delicious.
My plate of four beef tacos came cradled in steamy, homemade corn tortillas. Marinated pieces of skirt steak were simply adorned with diced onions, chopped cilantro and half a lime. When combined with a daub of the bright, fresh green salsa, they made a perfect meal, simple and flavorful.
Although Julissa didn't reveal the exact recipe for her beef tacos, she did clue me in on most of the ingredients. So for this week's recipe, I put together a version that fits the bill.
For those far away from home or long overdue for a vacation to Mexico, Portales Restaurant is proof that you can go home again. The restaurant is at 11042 U.S. 41 S. in Gibsonton. For more information, call (813) 672-0126.
Cilantro-Lime Marinated Skirt Steak Tacos
For the marinade :
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one lime
1 garlic clove, smashed
Handful of cilantro
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon complete or all-purpose seasoning
For the steak tacos:
2 pounds skirt steak
10 - 12 warm corn tortillas
Pico de gallo salsa
Place the cilantro, garlic and lime juice in a mini food processor and pulse quickly until chopped. Toss in the remaining ingredients and pulse until combined.
Marinate the skirt steak for 30 minutes on the counter top, bringing the meat to room temp before grilling it.
Grill the skirt steak 3 to 5 minutes per side on medium-high heat, and then cut it into 3-inch lengths. Next, cut each piece across the grain into 1/4-inch strips. To assemble tacos, layer beef onto warm tortillas and top with onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and a squirt of lime.