Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Legend of Puerto Allegre

Puerto Allegre, a Mexican restaurant (not taqueria) that many Mission folk swear by, is a consistent experience, at least. Four of us went last night. The design of the venture was cheap, tasty, authentic Mexican food we can count on, a good margarita, and a fun atmosphere. We figured we could bear the wait and the fellow who supposedly seats people for this experience we desired.

The funny thing about Puerto to me is that it consistently underdelivers and then seems better than it is in retrospect.

Dinner tonight certainly did deliver the host who doesn't host. It did deliver cheap and supposedly authentic. The food wasn't untasty, but (once again) left everyone feeling bloated and unhealthy. I took down the 3-item combo of enchilada, relleno and quesadilla (perhaps ordering like that is my problem), and couldn't even get to the then-congealed quesadilla in time. The "world famous" margaritas leave you puckered in sweet and sour.

Again, you know what you're getting going in. It has a House of Prime Rib appeal that's immune to its critics. Being treated as though you're trying to get into a Vegas club, eating lard-soaked food, dealing with hipper-than-thou fellow diners, and coping with kitschy decor is all a very charming experience, apparently.

A regular I'm sure is now saying, "you just don't understand/appreciate it" or "you're missing the point". Perhaps they're right, as I have my own similar favorites.

Which begs the question... why is this now the 20th+ time that I've been there? A friend just mentioned that Northern California was crawling with those places in the 80s, and some of them made it though the decades for various reasons, and he's right. These places went the way of the dodo unless they developed a cult following or they advanced what they were offering. Puerto went for the cult-following route.

The downside (yes, I love that word) to that allegiance is the crowd it brings. It brings people who all feel as though they've been frequenting the place the longest and are the truest supporters. It's people who feel entitlement to a fast table and anger that there might be others waiting.

If this sounds rough, here's the counterpoint. You can take this exact same experience, put it into the context of a Saturday afternoon at 3pm when the place isn't as crowded, the food somehow tastes better, and the margaritas are more refreshing, and you have a winner. I presume that most Puerto-lovers had a first experience like this that created their initial devotion. I'd like to think so at least, and then it all becomes very understandable.

For dinner... have the place to yourselves. PS. Though I'll happily be back as an outsider/underappreciator to enjoy the average food and then somehow find a way to romanticize it afterwards.


Rich said...

What a great restaurant - it's usually very crowded on Thurs-Sat nights - we went there for Valentines Day (tonight)!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Allegre is all hype and not much else. Would love to say it's better since I live close and would like to have a kick ass sit down Mexi rest. near my casa, but alas, Allegre does not fit the bill. Maybe next time I waddle by and don't see a 56 min. wait I'll be more inclinded to sit and eat some enchaladas (the same that I can get at El Toro, El Buen Sabor, or Pancho Villas without the wait) more frequently.

Bart said...

You say that Puerto is immune to its critics like House of Prime Rib. But you also wrote a bad review of House of Prime Rib. If they're immune, why did you even bother?