The cantina. It is a wonderful place I forgot existed. That warm, sweet little restaurant that serves you endless baskets of chips and margaritas in glasses as big as soup bowls. It is the perfect melding between upscale and casual, where the waiters are informative and friendly, a little TV blares from behind the counter, and quality and comfort are the most important concerns.
El Dorado defines the cantina exactly. It's a small, laidback little restaurant on the corner of Northeast 80th & Glisan, but--if it's your bag--undoubtedly a place you'll drive out of your way to get to. Their menu is exhaustive, filled with combination platters, house specials, chicken specials, beef and pork specials from Guadalajara, seafood specials from Mazatlan, tostadas, salads, burritos, appetizers, and more. It would take you a few months to eat through the whole menu front to back.
I found the most impressive section of the menu, however, to be the seafood. While I expected the tough, frozen, flavorless shrimp I get in most affordable restaurants, the El Dorado served up an immaculate shrimp dish. I ordered the Camarones A La Diabla--or "shrimp of the devil"--and could not shut my yap about how delicious it was. About eight or 10 big, tender shrimp arrived swimming in a boat of a thin, spicy red sauce made with tomatoes. I say it was made with tomatoes rather than a tomato sauce, because it seemed to be thinned out with a healthy amount of oil or butter, which made for some addictive deliciousness. The combination of flavorful shrimp, spice, heat, and salty butter was absolutely phenomenal and I abandoned all thoughts of disguising my shrimp in tortillas. Along with the protein came a generous helping of rich, hearty refried beans, rice, and huge, ripe slices of avocado.
A word of warning: don't order the bean dip appetizer if your dinner comes with beans because you'll undoubtedly bean yourself out. Instead, get some of El Dorado's citrus-y, homemade guacamole.
Despite El Dorado's limited vegetarian selection, my meat-free cohort was able to eat himself into a coma with a cheese enchilada and a bean and avocado tostada combination platter. His dinner was good, and the enchilada sauce was potent with the flavor of red chili, but El Dorado simply does better when pork, beef, or seafood are involved. They have quite obviously designed their green sauce, or salsa ranchera, to combine with meat, and your meal might lack a little something without both parts of the equation.
However, you can easily make up for any disappointments with El Dorado's signature, poetically named Grande Super Large Margarita. Split this between two people and you'll be good to go--or get your own and plan on walking home. Also, for drink snobs, El Dorado makes a top shelf Cadillac margarita for around $7, and their beautifully light and tangy margarita mix makes it worth the splurge.
If you're looking for a way to spruce up your Mexican dining experience, give this place a try. It's a little more expensive than the taquería next door, but dining here is also a lot more exciting than eating a takeout burrito on the couch in front of the television.