The first time I went to El Rayo Taqueria in Portland, it was in the midst of a snowstorm. It was the kind of snowstorm for which everyone stays hunkered down, so my friends and I weren’t surprised that we were the only customers when we walked in.

The vibrant decor and festive drinks, accompanied by relatively affordable eats, made us forget, just for a little bit, that snow was piling up outside.

So I expected it to be pretty quiet again when I returned recently for a drink. It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all, and I assumed that most people would find themselves at an Irish pub.

I was mistaken. All the dining tables were full, and I was able to grab the last seat at the bar.

I think I’ve established that my go-to at any Mexican restaurant is a margarita, whether it’s the house version or something a little pricier. Wanting to expand my horizons, I perused El Rayo’s full page of drink options and found something new to try.

“I’ll have ‘The Skinny,’ please,” I said to the bartender, who was prepping fresh fruit for drinks right in front of me.

The Skinny — Herradura Silver Tequila mixed with Fresca and fresh lime — costs $9, but comes in a pint glass. It tastes somewhat like a margarita, but with far fewer calories than a sugary margarita mix.

The cocktail menu ranges from $7.50 to $14. The priciest drink is the “El Jefe,” which is double shots of 1800 Anejo tequila and Cointreau with sweetened lime juice. You can also upgrade to a frozen version — a “Lush Puppy” — of your cocktail for an additional $1.

If you’re interested in testing your tequila taste buds, El Rayo also offers “Tequila Flites” for $15 to $19. The tasting allows you to compare tequilas from their three favorite producers to help you determine which you prefer.

They also have a beer and wine selection, which includes Dos XX Amber on draft for $5 and a variety of bottles for $4. There’s a white wine and house red for $6 and sangria for $7.

I’ll admit, El Rayo’s drink prices are on the higher end for me, but you get what you pay for when they pour you a drink. And their food menu makes up for what you’ll spend on beverages.

I wasn’t incredibly hungry when I stopped in, but did want a little snack. I ordered a side dish of grilled pineapple sausalito and corn chips, which set me back less than $3. The most expensive dish is $11.95 for adding grilled steak to a salad, but most items are under $10.

For those on a budget with their wallet and their diet, the calorie count is kindly included on the menu. That friendly reminder steered me away from picking out chips and guacamole (534 calories — who knew?).

I do wish I had arrived a bit earlier in the day. The crew had just stopped serving brunch, which, from a glimpse at the menu, gives me an excuse to return soon. 

Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.


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