Restaurant News

County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox's Restaurant, El Portal, is Closed

El Portal, the downtown Phoenix restaurant owned by Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and her husband, Earl, is apparently closed.

We're still waiting for Supervisor Wilcox to return our call, but notations on the county's restaurant inspection site tell the story.

The once-popular restaurant located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Grant Street has been overdue for a sorely needed health inspection. But, on November 9, the county's Web site reports:

DOORS WERE LOCKED. UNABLE TO GAIN ENTRY. NO INSPECTION CONDUCTED TODAY.

Then, a week later, on November 15:

DOORS WERE LOCKED. LEFT A MESSAGE ON THE FRONT DOOR REQUESTING INFORMATION AS TO WHETHER THEY ARE STILL OPERATING AND WHAT THE HOURS OF OPERATION ARE. MADE INQUIRY AT NEIGHBORING BUSINESS AND WAS TOLD THEY HAVEN'T OPENED IN AT LEAST A COUPLE OF MONTHS.

Nobody answered the phones at either the Grant Street location or its spin-off at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism building.

El Portal's been a Mexican food restaurant since it opened in 1947, and the neat, "old" (by Phoenix standards) building is one of the area's treasures. The Wilcoxes eventually bought the property and launched their business in 2000.

Besides food, the restaurant served up a couple of side orders of controversy over the years. The Earl and Mary Rose Wilcox razed a century-old building on the property, avoiding a criminal prosecution after making a $10,000 donation to the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office.

Last year, loans acquired for El Portal were the subject of a criminal probe by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Although the probe was thoroughly discredited as just another power play by Arpaio Thomas (the criminal charges were ultimately dropped), the case remains in the hands of Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores, whose office hasn't yet made a decision whether to prosecute.

In a $4.75 million claim against the county, Wilcox reported that El Portal was losing business due to the allegations against her.

With the business receiving a long string of "no awards" from the health department, though, we're willing to wait until the Wilcoxes solve the restaurant's internal problems before the re-opening.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern