There’s a happy hour in Portland that also has valet service. Not that you should be drinking and driving – you shouldn’t. But at Zapoteca Restaurant and Tequileria, someone will most certainly park your car for you.
A few minutes inside the rustic, yet elegant Oaxacan restaurant and you’ll start to notice other small but noteworthy details. A host greets you at the door (with a smile), the copper bar sparkles with a fresh shine, and around 5:30, when the autumn sun starts to wane, the bartender makes a point to dim the lights.
These details are just a sampling of what owners Shannon and Tom Bard and their managing partner, Sergio Ramos, have infused into the atmosphere at 505 Fore St. in order to take the dining experience up a notch. For this restaurant, it’s clearly about going the extra mile.
Since its opening in 2011, Zapoteca has offered the largest selection of tequila in the state of Maine and features only 100 percent certified blue agave tequila. Look to your left as you walk through the entrance and peer into the back dining room (which seats about 50) and you’ll notice a large oak barrel. This is filled with tequila. Even if you’re not a tequila fan, Zapoteca’s tequila menu, which features more than 60 varieties, will definitely impress. And the tequila flights – 12 different flight combinations to choose from – are three half-ounce glasses of special samplings, which include blanco, repossado & anejo, served with Zapoteca’s own tomatillo sangrita (a non-alcoholic shot meant to cleanse the palate).
And at Zapoteca, happy hour doesn’t just happen once a night. There are two happy hours – one from 4 to 6 p.m. and another from 9 p.m. to close. All margaritas (seven house-made varieties), draught beer (again, seven) and glasses of wine (nearly 20) are $2 off. Zapoteca’s La Traditional margarita (fresh-squeezed lime juice, 100 percent agave tequila and Patron Citronage) is usually a good deal at $9 but for $7 at happy hour, this one-of-a-kind margarita, served straight up in a martini glass, is easily one of Portland’s best.
All appetizers during both happy hours are also half off. There’s a lot to choose from, like their crisp house-made tortilla chips with your choice of three house-made salsas (fire-roasted green tomatillo salsa is a favorite), or the local mussels prepared in the wood oven and simmered in a broth of chipotle butter, white wine, Mexican chorizo, tomato, jalapeno and cilantro – finished with a shot of – yes – tequila ($5.50 at happy hour).
Zapoteca has developed quite a following since its inception. And while the crowd seems to be a bit polished (it’s a high-end tequila bar, after all), Friday and Saturday nights teem with an eclectic gathering.
Tracy and John Jandreau have made Zapoteca their weekly stomping ground since moving to the Old Port two months ago from New Hampshire. “We always sit at the bar. I order the Haberno Margarita and John sticks with a good glass of red wine,” Tracy said. One of her favorites from the dinner menu is the Ceviche de Langosta – steamed fresh Maine lobster mixed with grapefruit salsa, fresh lime, sweet red onion, mango and guava with fresh tortilla chips for $14.
This Mexican bistro and tequila bar stands boldly apart from Portland’s food and drink scene. Check the website for regular events and tastings, such as the Patron Tequila Dinner on Nov. 18.
Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.