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Review: El Parque

A Mexican oasis in Portsmouth’s Island Park
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  June 22, 2010

Recent talk of favorite eateries turned to places with "a good vibe." That certainly holds true for El Parque, a relative newcomer to Portsmouth’s Island Park neighborhood. Walking into a low-ceilinged dining room festooned with colorful party lights and two strands of Mexican-style cut-out flags advertising various Mexican beers, we had the feeling we’d wandered into a roadside cantina, complete with noisy conversation, friendly waitresses, and an all-ages crowd.

In one corner, two older couples bantered in cheerful repartee; in another, two twentysomethings leaned toward each other, studying the menu. A Tiverton cop and his wife ordered the chicken fajita, a family of three the beef fajita — both sizzling skillets sent up mini-clouds of steam as they were delivered to their tables.

El Parque | 401.682.2171 | 514 Park Ave, Portsmouth | Open Daily, 11:30 am-10 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-Level Access
A long-married couple from Bristol were regulars, as were many others who knew the waitresses by name. When a line formed at the door, a few customers moved through to the separate bar to eat (it’s actually El Parque Mexican Bar & Grill). By the time we left, the bar had filled up, and the dining room (15 tables) was still hopping.

Was that because it was half-price margarita night (every Wednesday, $3 each)? I think it also had to do with El Parque’s expansive and creative menu. In addition to the usual suspects of nachos, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, chimichangas, tamales, tostadas, taquitos, and quesadillas, there are grilled fish, chicken, and steak dishes that may be accompanied by potatoes and veggies.

We were handed two additional menu pages, and two of the appetizers caught our attention: the Southwestern egg rolls and the buffalo chicken rangoons (both done with flour tortillas, not wonton skins). Bill chose the former ($5.99), and was overwhelmed at the presentation: six portions of thin tortilla wrapped around shaved steak, black beans, shredded carrots, and cabbage, with chipotle inside and a Bourbon steak sauce for dipping. He loved them.

Also among those “specials” were Mexican-styled pizzas, a lobster quesadilla, grilled salmon, tequila steak, and BBQ ribs. The regular menu has plenty of options ($1.79-$13.99) to keep all kinds of eaters happy: grilled shrimp/black bean or grilled mahi mahi/coleslaw burritos; piled-high nachos; grilled sirloin with chili; paella a la Mexicana; and chicken mole.

The description of the latter as grilled chicken breast in a chocolaty peanut sauce ($11.99) made Bill’s eyes glaze over. It’s accompanied (as are all the dinners) by rice, black beans, or refried pintos, and soft corn tortillas. Though it was quite tasty, the pulled chicken (with plenty of sauce) was way too salty, even for Mr. Salt-man. When I joked with the waitress about the German proverb that says “when the food is too salty, the cook is in love,” she laughed and said, indeed, cook Justin Wells was getting married in three weeks!

My starter (which was so quickly consumed that Bill never got a bite) was a chicken tamale with ancho sauce and sour cream ($5.99). I murmured occasional deeply satisfied “mmmmms,” as memories of teen summers in northwest Louisiana/east Texas, eating pan-warmed canned tamales, swam before my eyes.

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