Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Los Portales brothers expanding with new supermarket, second Tequila Comida + Cantina

Los Portales Supermercado will have a second location at Sunnyvale and Carolina Beach roads by summer 2024. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

UPDATE: After publication, Tequila Comida and Cantina confirmed it will be located on Harnett Street near Marina Grill downtown, with views overlooking the Cape Fear River.

WILMINGTON — Two local entrepreneurs are growing their businesses across Wilmington, with a new grocery store coming to Carolina Beach Road and a second popular Mexican restaurant landing downtown.

Over the last two decades, Ramón and Miquel Villaseñor have operated three Taquería Los Portales, a Los Portales Supermerket and Tequila Comida and Cantina. By the end of the year, they will have seven operations.

READ MORE: ‘Mexicano auténtico’: Villaseñor brothers launch second Los Portales restaurant

“We are meeting this week about the second Tequila Comida location,” Ramón Villaseñor said. 

Hesitant to confirm the address just yet, he said the space was a former restaurant and he is 80% sure they will lock it down. The goal is to have the sit-down eatery open by the end of the year, if not earlier.

“It all depends on permitting and the health department,” he said, “but probably two to three months.”

The first Tequila Comida and Cantina opened in 2018 on Carolina Beach Road in the Monkey Junction area. The menu downtown will match the flagship eatery, featuring more than 50 items, from ceviches and fajitas to fish plates and molcajettes (hot stone mortars filled with proteins, starches, Mexican vegetables and sauces).

The restaurateurs brought various Mexican flavors — from Yucatan, Jalisco, Mexico City — to the forefront of the dining experience, with dishes that go beyond traditional American-Mexican fare. 

Villaseñor, who began cooking with his father at age 6 and attended Cape Fear Community College’s culinary program as an adult, opened the restaurant in 2018 with an elevated menu. Diners are tempted by items like duck breast with tamarind and apple-celery sauce, French bone-in pork chops with pineapple and tomato chipotle, or adobo-marinated fish cooked in a banana leaf. 

Cocktails are given as much care, including 12 margaritas, such as the tamarindo — Hornitos plata, triple sec, fresh tamarind pulp pressed, fresh lime juice and chile ancho salt rim. There are seven different mojitos, a housemade sangria and micheladas, made with assorted sauces, spices and chiles.

Villaseñor said they chose to launch another Tequila Comida and Cantina instead of a Los Portales downtown as the space they found seats 150 or more people. With the rent also being higher, they want to maximize offerings, with prices ranging from $8 to $30. 

Los Portales’ menu is truncated, less expensive and centered more on convenience rather than a contemporary dining experience. Yet, its famed tacos still are served on the Tequila menu. 

“We plan to do more volume downtown,” Villaseñor said.

As they work to open the restaurant, the brothers are also building a second grocery market from the ground up at the corner of Sunnyvale and Carolina Beach roads. They bought almost an acre of property for $385,000 last fall, according to New Hanover County property records.

Plans include building a 7,000-square-foot market to include all the services offered at the current 912 S. Kerr Ave. location. The Villaseñor brothers expect it to be open by summer 2024.

In 2003, after the entrepreneurs worked for the El Cerro Grande group for years, the Villaseñors ventured into their first business with Los Portales as a convenience store. By 2007 they added Los Portales taquerias nearby on Kerr. Since, the taquerias expanded, with one on Van Campen Boulevard near Market Street’s Walmart, the other a few blocks down from where the new supermarket will be built on Carolina Beach Road.

Having expanded throughout the years into the sought-after market it has become today, the store sells sundries from Mexico, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Venezuela. Fresh fruits and vegetables — chiles, cactus, jicama, tomatillos, plantains, guava — span from Mexico to Latin America. The new location will also bring in items from South America.

“We are seeing more customers asking for those products,” Villaseñor said of the area’s growing population. 

In the last decade the Latino and Hispanic population has grown by 8.3%. Villaseñors’ customer base has grown with it. 

Yet, while Los Portales Supermarket once primarily served Hispanic and Latino shoppers, today it’s a mix of nationalities.

“We see more people from the U.S., Middle East and India,” he said. “We sell a lot of lamb in the butcher shop and we can cut the meats the size that you want.”

Villaseñor also welcomes more shoppers making the trek from rural areas, such as Leland and Burgaw.

Like its sister store, the new market will have a butcher, bakery, tortilleria, on-site restaurant, and offer catering. Each department will have room to grow in the new building with more space.

Hot lunches are popular through the market’s onsite kitchen, as well as cost-efficient at $7. It features more homey fare than the taquerias and restaurant.

“We do a different menu every day, serving homemade mole, carne con chile or chile rellenos — very traditional Mexican dishes,” Villaseñor said.

Tortillas are made in-house daily, both corn and flour, in various sizes, while the bakery turns out handcrafted Mexican bread — such as conchos, soft and sweet — cookies and cakes.

In the butcher shop, Villaseñor said 100 pounds of fresh chorizo are made weekly. Nothing goes to waste, as the ends of pork cuts or offal parts are turned into the Spanish-style sausage.

“So the ends of the chuck roll or the knuckle are ground together and give it a bit more fat,” he said. 

They add in spices but keep the heat to a minimum. The chorizo is also served at their taquerias and Tequila Comida and Cantina.

Los Portales Supermarket on Carolina Beach Road will operate the same hours as the original location — 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The downtown Tequila Comida and Cantina will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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