By Lillian Lema | Photos Liany Media
The moment a customer opens the doors of Flores Uptown, at 431 Congress St., they are reassured that Latin food and style is alive and well in Portland. The air resonates with bachata, salsa, cumba, merengue, and reggaeton musical hits, and the Salvadorian and Central American-inspired menu includes such staples as pupusas, yucca salteda (sautéed yucca), enchiladas Salvadoreñas, and empanadas. And for cocktail lovers, the full bar has a variety of authentic options.
We love to dance – so mix in food and drinks, and it becomes a party!
“It’s a great place to come eat, socialize, and have a good time before you hit the Old Port,” said Jenny Hernandez, restaurant manager and daughter of the owners.
Flores Uptown is the second restaurant owned by the Hernendez family. Their first restaurant, Flores, located at 863 Congress St. next to the Bodega Latina, opened its doors back in 2012.
Ten years ago, the lack of Latin restaurants in the area gave Maria Hernandez, co-owner of the Flores restaurants, the idea of opening a restaurant where she could bring a taste of El Salvador to Portland. Hernendez had previously worked at various restaurants in El Salvador and the U.S., so she was prepared to make the dream of a restaurant a reality.
“My mom came up with the restaurant idea and then the family got involved. She knows how to do the traditional Salvadoran cooking,” her daughter said.
The neighborhood welcomed Flores Restaurant with open arms. However, the crowded, 500-sq.-ft. dining space only had enough room for four tables, which meant customers chose take-out over dining in.
“Business was going well, but space was our main issue, which is why we started to look for another location,” Jenny Hernandez explained. “Customers would say, ‘We wish we could eat in.’ ”
The search for a new location started in 2020, and after looking at various locations in the Portland area, the family found 431 Congress St., with a dining area of 1,800 sq. ft.
“Now we had enough space for the bar!” Hernandez said. “We were going to be able to create a space where people could come sit, eat, and drink.”
But before opening the doors to the public, the new space needed renovations. Luckily, Jenny’s brother Edwin works in construction and was able to bring the place to life with a much-needed makeover. The plan was for Flores Uptown to open sooner than it did, but the pandemic delayed the approval of the permit applications until January 2021. The new restaurant officially opened in September 2021.
“When I don’t feel like cooking, I come to Flores,” said Moses, a regular customer. “Food is great! The environment is welcoming, the music is great, Jenny is a great host!”
The yucca salteada is a customer favorite. The yucca is sautéed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and pickled cabbage, and topped with either pork, chicken, or veggies. The cooked, perfectly soft yucca is covered with a savory, zesty sauce. The cabbage adds texture, and the meat – especially the pork –gives the dish an extra crunch. The effect is that of a homemade, comfort dish.
Another customer favorite is the pupusa, a tortilla stuffed with fillings and always served with pickled cabbage on the side and a specialty sauce made of tomato, green peppers, celery, onions, and garlic. The choices of filling include chicken, steak, pork and beans, loroco and bean, spinach and artichoke, and cheese. The pupusa on its own is soft and tender, and the speciality sauce adds juiciness to the dish. This staple can fill a diner in only a couple of bites.
The full bar offers all kinds of cocktail creations, and Hernandez works hard to make sure the drinks differentiate the restaurant from others..
“I try to make sure my drinks are on point,” she said. “Once there is a bar in a restaurant, it adds a different vibe.”
Their cocktails include iced coffee horchata, strawberry horchata martini, agua de Jamaica with mescal, Ginquell (gin, tequila, watermelon, lemon, and chunks of kiwi), and Tamarindo Spice. Tamarindo Spice includes mango, orange juice, and vodka with a tamarind straw.
Their signature cocktails that unite flavors of Central America and the U.S. have made a mark on the Portland food scene – they add sazon not only to food, but to happy hour.
“We use a lot of tajin (a seasoning) and chamoy (a condiment) with our drinks,” Hernendez said. These add a spicy kick to the cocktails.
As new and regulars continue to come to Flores, Hernendez’s objective is for customers to feel content, satisfied, and wanting to return again and again. And she seems to be succeeding., “Ultimately, I want it to be an unforgettable experience for them!” she said.
In addition to the food, music, and drinks, customers also praise Hernendez herself. Her infectious smile and laughter greet customers when they first walk into the restaurant, and her friendly demeanor makes the restaurant feel like home.
“I love working downtown. You meet the nicest people. They are the ones that hype you up, especially after a long shift,” she explained.
“It’s a nice comfy place where everybody is invited because Jenny is the best of the best… It makes you feel like you are part of the family. This place has the best food in town. Es lo mejor que hay en town!” said regular Flores customer Oscar Varela.
As Flores Uptown’s popularity continues to grow, Hernendez wants to add Latin Nights in the fall, when she will shift tables to create space for customers to enjoy themselves as they fill their stomachs and dance the night away.
“Sometimes I feel like a DJ back here as I play my music list,” Hernendez joked from behind the bar. “I like to make sure customers are enjoying their time while here.”
She plans to create a more consistent happy hour menu, and add champagne and wine to the drink menu.
“We love to dance – so mix in food and drinks, and it becomes a party!” Hernandez said. “I hope this place becomes a destination for people when they head to the Old Port to pre-game, eat, or even just for the vibes. We can either be a stop or destination. Either way, it’s a good time!”