Portage La Tolteca better suited for big crowds

November 30, 2018

New space for La Tolteca means many things to Alonso Aranda and his family.

At their old location in Portage they could only watch as people drove in and then immediately out of the Mexican restaurant’s parking lot when there was no room – the last thing they’d ever want to see, even if it demonstrated their popularity, Aranda said.

Sometimes families didn’t want to wait for tables, either, and sometimes the bar seemed only modestly populated on otherwise perfect days for watching sports, probably because it had faced the dining area.

“Change is good,” Aranda said of their new location, which opened for business Thursday. “We’re excited to show everybody what more we can bring to this town.”

The restaurant moved to 2756 New Pinery Road – the former location of World Buffet. It’s only one-tenth of a mile north of La Tolteca’s previous location but the restaurant gains approximately 2,000 square feet for dining and nearly doubles its parking space. It also has bigger and better bathrooms, more outdoor seating and a private dining area inside that’s available for reservation, Aranda said.

The new and improved bar is now located at a better distance from the dining area and features four big-screen TVs, which the Aranda family hopes draws a bigger sports bar crowd over time.

“After 10 years at the old location, we just thought it was time for upgrades,” said Aranda, who runs the business with his sister Erika Aranda, brother Daniel Aranda and father Reyes Aranda. “Our building was old — outdated — and we were seeing new businesses coming to Portage that were more updated than we were.

“Now everything is brand new.”

New features include 168 seats and 22 booths, including four booths that seat six. Tables each feature colorful murals made by the Mexican company “Magia y Mueble,” the same company that made the very colorful booths at the former location. Booths themselves aren’t nearly as colorful as they were previously, Aranda noted, but the change, like the other changes, is more in line with today’s predilections.

The Aranda family owns four other restaurants: three in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and one in DeForest. Their U.P. restaurants all opened within the past three years, including one in Escanaba that opened only two months ago, while the DeForest location opened six years ago.

The Portage restaurant is their longest-running operation – purchased about 11 years ago from different owners.

“The main thing for people to know is it’s a family business,” said Israel Soto, Aranda’s uncle. “When I serve as a waiter, people will ask me, ‘Is the food really authentic?’ My answer is always, ‘Yes, because it’s all made here.’

“It’s homemade. The salsa is authentic, the beans, the rice – everything. That’s what defines La Tolteca. We only want the best ingredients.”

Many of the recipes come straight from the family, too, Aranda said. The menu is the same, the prices are the same, the staff is the same and the hours will remain the same as well, he added.

The best seller at La Tolteca in Portage is “Lindos Special” for $13.50 – a dish with grilled and marinated shrimp, chicken and steak cooked with onions, mushrooms and assorted bell peppers and served over a bed of rice, covered with cheese sauce, Aranda said.

Close behind it in popularity is “Burrito California” for $11 – a large burrito stuffed with grilled steak or chicken, served with rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, guacamole and sour cream.

La Tolteca plans to hold a grand opening on the weekend of Dec. 15, featuring menu and drink specials.

Update hourly