Long a staple of the Edmonds’ restaurant scene, El Puerto — which has been serving reliable, quality Mexican cuisine for 30 years — announced that it would be closing its doors March 31. Local social media pages lit up with the news as most shared their appreciation, memories and disappointment at the news. Back in May 1989, El Puerto opened its doors to grateful crowds of customers excited to have a cool new Mexican restaurant in town.
Rivers of margaritas flowed and mountains of chimichangas and enchiladas were consumed. As an entire generation of Edmonds kids grew up, El Puerto was there. My kids literally cut their teeth on the delicious, fresh tortilla chips that were always served while we pondered our menu selections.
Once, when my brothers, sisters, spouses and little ones descended on the place, they found room for us all, and the check didn’t even produce a cardiac arrest.
The secret to three decades of success for El Puerto seems to have been great service, reasonable prices, and quality food. A lot of restaurants can boast two out of three of these a simple elements, but El Puerto had them all.
Kids weren’t just welcome, they were celebrated. The atmosphere was always cheery. If I wanted to treat a few of my kids’ swimming friends to dinner after a practice, I could afford it. When recessions hit and the windows of storefronts all over town contained ‘for lease” signs, El Puerto was an anchor that helped hold everything together.
The American-style Mexican restaurant — the standard from the ’80s until the turn-of-the-century — could be found in every town along the West Coast and as far east as Ohio, and had a particular quality. Many of us knew nothing else. Although there are seven culinary traditions that come out of Mexico, this is what most of us in the U.S. recognized as Mexican cuisine. Almost beyond belief, this culinary tradition sprung from a single source — a small mountain village in Jalisco. Estimates vary, but from 400 to 2,000 restaurants sprung up throughout the United States, all of them populated by natives of Cuautla.
Cuautla has a permanent population of just 3,000 — largely elderly and very young residents. Everyone else is running or working in restaurants in the United States. It’s an astonishing phenomenon. Friends told friends of opportunities up north as Cuautla’s brand of Mexican cuisine was catching fire. Soon practically every able-bodied resident in town had cleared out to satisfy demand. Ramon and Elidia Garcia were among this number.
After a partnership with Las Margaritas on 145th and Highway 99 in Seattle ended, Ramon looked all over Puget Sound for a place to start his own operation. When he found Edmonds, he knew his search was over. Jacque Mayo, who owned the space, took a chance with him. It was a partnership that grew into a two-decade friendship that lasted right up until Dr. Mayo passed away.
Ramon and Elidia’s son Alfonso is a partner in the operation.
“Ever since the news, we’ve been packed with people that wanted to come in and pay their respects to my parents,” Alfonso said. “Rick Steves came in twice yesterday — once for lunch and then brought a bunch of people back for dinner. We have so many customers that are sorry to see us go.”
Ramon and Elidia plan to return to Cuautla to spend time with Ramon’s 94-year-old mother. “I think we will spend three months here and three months there — just go back and forth,” said Ramon.
Sunday, El Puerto will close the doors for the last time, and those of us who enjoyed dining there will always remember it fondly.
Ramon’s parting words were simple.
“I want to say that it has been a pleasure to serve the Edmonds community all these years.”
The furthest thing from a finicky eater, James Spangler insisted on trying everything on the table from the earliest age. At 13, he prepared Baked Alaska for an entire classroom and has had an insatiable appetite for good food ever since. On his days off, he’s rather be in the kitchen cooking for the people he loves than doing just about anything. If you catch him reading a book at his bookstore on 4th Avenue in Edmonds, there’s a good chance it’ll have something to do with food.