Los Portales opens the doors to South American cuisine

Los Portales

1436 N. Semoran Blvd., Casselberry

It's not much to look at - walls accented with yellowed photos of the owner with famous mariachi and salsa artists from the '70s - and the service is a few time zones too slow, but the comida at Los Portales in Casselberry is muy delicioso. It's obvious the proprietors love this place, and it shows on the plate.

The empanada Colombiana ($1.50) is an excellent and economical starter, crispy and puffy with potatoes and shredded pork inside, served with a spicy vinegar-and-parsley-based salsa verde. But don't be fooled by the menu placement of the ensalada de pulpo (octopus salad, $12.99), a traditional Puerto Rican favorite: It's no appetizer. The meaty pieces of cephalopod are served ceviche-style in a salsa of manzanilla and kalamata olives, pimentos, onion and parsley.

The tostones are particularly good - Los Portales fries them fresh instead of reheating frozen ones, as many restaurants do. For a healthy appetite, arroz amarillo con mariscos ($14.95) is a heaping plate of saffron-scented paella studded with perfectly tender shrimp, scallops, mussels and octopus.

Finish with a cup of perfectly brewed espresso ($2.25) and a plate of brevas con queso ($3.25), syrupy figs sitting atop slightly salty white farmer's cheese, topped with gratuitous whipped cream. It's a simple dessert, but heavy on flavor and complexity.

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