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Elena’s Interior
Interior of the new Elena’s Mexican Restaurant on West Portal

Original Joe’s Goes Mexican on West Portal

Elena Duggan&s mission — put the love in.

•••••••••• February 2024 ••••••••••

Jonathan Farrell
Jonathan Farrell

Elena Duggan is a third-generation restaurateur who co-owns Original Joe’s and Little Original Joe’s, among other ventures. This past Feb. 5th, she and her brother, John Duggan, opened a Mexican restaurant on West Portal Avenue.

Inspired by her two oldest daughters, Catherine and Julia, Elena pays homage to their Mexican roots and their father’s side of the family through this all-new concept, which celebrates everything her family has grown to love about authentic Mexican food coupled with California-inspired elements and signature Mexican-American cuisine.

She took a few moments to reach out to the Westside Observer to answer a few questions.

How was the grand opening on Feb.5?

“The grand opening was an overwhelming but incredible day for our team,” she said. “My daughters and family members were by my side throughout the day, which made it even more special. When it was time to open our doors, as a family we all ripped off the paper from the windows and front door, and we were in shock when we saw a line of people waiting patiently for us to open our doors. It was a special and meaningful moment... one I’ll never forget.”

quotes

Tamales are such a delicate process... things like the balance of masa to filling, or how long you steam them for, or how tightly they’re wrapped in their husks... are all factors that need to be considered. And time... timing is crucial to ensure they do not become dry and tough.”

Elena Duggan Family.
From the left: Grace Jackson, 11; Elena Duggan; Catherine Alcantara, 18; and Julia Alcantara, 16, at Elena’s in San Francisco.

Are some of the food dishes of San Bartolo Morales, Mexico, part of the inspiration for the menu?

“The foundation of the menu draws inspiration from my daughters’ yearly summer trips to visit their extended family in San Bartolo Morelos,” said Duggan. “They learned from their Abuelita (grandmother) to appreciate the beauty of freshly made tortillas and tamales, which are both at the heart of the menu.”

What is San Bartolo’s most popular dish, or what is it most known for in terms of Mexican cuisine?

“The town is not necessarily known for its cuisine,” said Duggan. Describing the town, she said. “It is a very small, humble, mountain town about 90 miles above Mexico City.” (It’s population is less than 2,000 people). “The inspiration for our menu at Elena’s has been drawn from time spent with our family that lives there and learning the foundation of comforting, home cooked Mexican food.” “From there, said Duggan, we’ve built a menu that not only celebrates traditional dishes such as tamales, pozole, coctel de camarones, and fresh tortillas, but also incorporates classic Mexican-American dishes like fajitas and California-inspired dishes like crudo.”

Tamales are very time-consuming, what’s your approach/understanding to making the best tamales?

It’s about taking your time and putting love into it,” said Duggan. “Tamales are such a delicate process... things like the balance of masa to filling, or how long you steam them for, or how tightly they’re wrapped in their husks... are all factors that need to be considered. And time... timing is crucial to ensure they do not become dry and tough.” “We offer our tamales with either pork or rajas (poblano pepper strips), and we make them several times a day to ensure they are always at peak freshness.”

Pazole
Elena's signature dish, Pazole is a hearty soup with hominy and tender pork
in a mild red chile sauce, garnished with crunchy fresh toppings.

What is it about West Portal and the westside of the City that you like most?

“It’s our home!” She said. “West Portal has always held a special place in my heart — I grew up here and still live here now with my own family. It’s such a tight knit community and we have so many memories from over the years (not to mention Little Original Joe’s down the road, that we opened in 2020). It feels like a “full circle” moment to now have this restaurant that has so much meaning to my children in an area that is so special to me.”

A full bar provides a curated selection of tequila and mezcals, along with a selection of wine and beer. Located at 255 West Portal Ave, Elena’s is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Hours are from 11:30 am to 10 pm. Saturday and Sunday hours are 10:30 am to 11 pm Reservations are available through OpenTable. Visit their website at https://www.elenasmexican.com/menu for more details. Or, call 415-622-4440.

Jonathan Farrell is a local reporter.

February 2024

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