Elena’s Receives a Hearty Welcome in West Portal

The family behind beloved Original Joe’s has opened another restaurant. But rather than the pastas and piccatas found at the brand’s North Beach mainstay, guests at the new West Portal spot will find tacos and tamales. And rather than bearing the “Joe’s” name, as do two others within the brand, this is “Elena’s,” named for third generation Original Joe’s co-owner Elena Duggan.

Elena’s dining room is especially atmospheric at dusk

Straying from the Italian focus of Original Joe’s, Elena’s (serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch) pays homage to the Duggan family’s Mexican roots and Elena’s father’s side of the family. The Mexican-American menu and vibe was inspired by Elena’s two oldest daughters, Catherine and Julia, and their annual summer trips to visit extended family outside Mexico City. There, they learned from their Abuelita to appreciate the beauty of a freshly made tortilla and tamale. “We wanted to celebrate my daughters’ Mexican heritage much like we celebrate our Italian heritage with Original Joe’s,” said Duggan. “But it needed to be done in a way that felt thoughtful, familiar, and comfortable—a way that will make not only my daughters feel like they’re at home, but for all our guests to feel that same warmth and love, through both the food and the atmosphere.”

Elena Duggan and daughters

And that atmosphere is energetic and convivial. The menu may be Original Joe’s atypical, but the Duggan hallmark hospitality is more than evident. The Duggans spent years transforming what was formerly two disparate spaces, a gold buying biz and a Greek restaurant. The now expansive interior features tufted leather booths poised towards the open kitchen and its bustling culinary choreography. A line-up of 15 foot Ficus trees reach toward the open beamed ceiling; at their base are a series of candles, lit at sundown, creating a soft glow that enhances the lighting from the bronze gas lanterns overhead. Elena herself curated the Mexican-made art pieces and tableware. Highlights include a set of five-foot tall, antique wooden-carved angel wings that were recovered and restored from an abandoned Jalisco tequila factory, and a stunning olive green, hand embroidered Otomi textile from central Mexico. A hallway wall gallery of family photos leads to the sea glass green-tiled restrooms.

Elena’s interior

The bar is especially inviting, and will likely become the neighborhood’s most sought-after gathering spot. With two televisions overhead, it’s an ideal setting at which to enjoy coverage of local teams while imbibing crafted cocktail specialties like a Frozen Aperol Margarita (Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila, Aperol, Giffard triple sec, Greenbar hibiscus liqueur, fresh lime, agave, orange), a Coconut Margarita (Herradura blanco tequila, Rumhaven coconut rum, Siglo Cero Pox, Giffard triple sec, coconut, fresh lime, agave), or a Oaxacan Old Fashioned (Tapatio reposado tequila, Rayu mezcal, house made bitters). Guests will also find wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages such as agua frescas and horchata.

Elena’s Whole Branzino
Elena’s hand made tortillas are made-to-order fresh

The food menu features simple and classic Mexican dishes coupled with classic Mexican-American favorites, from crudos, seafood tostadas, and shareable appetizers (don’t miss the guacamole) to woodfired meats, enchiladas, and house made tamales. Signature items include: salmon, ahi, and hamachi Crudo, Norma’s Sopes (fried corn masa, refried beans, queso fresco, pickled onions, salsa verde), Pozole (braised pork in a spicy guajillo-ancho chili broth, hominy, traditional garnish), House Made Tamales (choice of pork or rajas, with crema, avocado salsa, queso fresco, cilantro), Dungeness Crab Enchiladas (creamy tomatillo sauce, cheese, crema, white onion, served with rice, refried pinto beans, Whole Branzino (woodfired or crispy, with a cucumber radish salad and freshly made tortillas), Chile Relleno (grilled poblano pepper stuffed with mozzarella and jack cheese, lightly fried, topped with tomato caldillo), and so much more.

 “Having grown up in restaurants all my life, I’ve come to learn that family, honoring your roots and traditions, and warm hospitality are integral to our particular dining experiences–and that is exactly what we are striving for with Elena’s,” said Duggan.

Just a few months in, her mission seems more than accomplished.

Elena’s: 255 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco

Photos courtesy of Elena’s

Fran Miller

Fran Endicott Miller is an experienced travel, wine, and general feature writer for a variety of luxury lifestyle publications and websites. Prior to her journalism career she established and managed the Golden State Warriors' first official community relations department and efforts. Principled and genuine, she’s known for thoughtfully eloquent writing. When not traveling, she can be found walking her Northern California neighborhood with her beloved golden retriever Nate.