Exterior of Tortilla Flat in Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Two Saturdays ago, I officially segued into spring with my first scooter ride of the year that took me to Tortilla Flat. My Metropolitan was thrilled to be on the road again, and we decided to go whichever way the wind blew us.

After a visit to the Eastern Promenade where many people peppered the hill on the gorgeous day I had a decision to make: Which way should I go?

I thought about heading south toward Scarborough or Saco. Then I thought about making it a northbound adventure into Falmouth or Cumberland.

Ultimately, I opted to hop onto Forest Avenue with thoughts of cruising toward Windham on a quest for lunch. But I never made it out of Portland, such was the gravitational pull into the Tortilla Flat parking lot. A longtime fan of Tex-Mex cuisine and with a grumbling stomach, I parked my scooter and figured I’d get takeout and find a scenic spot to eat.

Once I saw how spacious and inviting the screened-in porch seating area was, I decided that this was the day I’d ease back into on-site dining after more than 13 months of limiting myself to takeout because of the pandemic. I chose a table in a corner at least a dozen feet from any others.

I also appreciated that, in many ways, I had followed my heart to this spot because I have a keen appreciation for longtime establishments. Spots that have stood the test of time and without much fanfare have become Portland institutions. I knew Tortilla Flat fell into this category, and although I know Portland has become a fancy, foodie town, that’s never been how I’ve rolled. My taste buds and budget have always been a bit more, shall we say, traditional?

A server cheerfully arrived at my table bearing a huge bowl of tortilla chips with a side of salsa. I did what I had to do and sent them back. Just shy of a 20-pound weight loss, I’m eating incredibly well and making actual progress in repairing my longstanding complicated relationship with food. Though that doesn’t mean I’ll never eat a tortilla chip again, I chose not to in that particular moment. And even though I chose a restaurant that offers many of my favorite things, most of which would have blown my entire day’s calorie budget, I ordered a salad.

Chicken Avocado Caesar Salad at Tortilla Flat. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

But this wasn’t just any salad. This was the Chicken Avocado Caesar Salad with grilled marinated chicken strips, avocado slices and roasted red peppers tossed with romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing and topped with cotija cheese and crispy tortilla strips ($13.99). This was a feast with a generous amount of tangy, just-spicy-enough chicken, a glorious amount of avocado and a blessing of tortilla strips to give it a little extra crunch, along with a healthy sprinkling of the cotija cheese. There was also a satisfying amount of roasted red peppers and plenty of romaine. I got the dressing on the side to manage its distribution on the salad, of which I ate every single morsel.

Would I have enjoyed the heck out of other items on the sizeable menu, like the chimichangas, quesadillas, fajitas and tacos? Of course. But I didn’t need them any more than I needed a margarita or beer that day. It was an idyllic Saturday in Maine, and as I watched the cars whiz by on Forest Avenue and took in snippets of conversation on that porch, I had zero complaints.

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