Love of the Navy runs in local restauranteur's family | August 11, 2006 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - August 11, 2006

Love of the Navy runs in local restauranteur's family

by Jeb Bing

Pleasanton's Mike Gutierrez has reason to be proud. His Emilio's El Portal restaurant on Main Street is now the oldest, continuously owner-operated restaurant in our town. This is no small accomplishment in Pleasanton given the Tri-Valley's rapid growth and competition in the dining business since Gutierrez opened El Portal in 1981. Then there's his son John-Michael, 23, from Foothill High's Class of 2001 who just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. The newly promoted Ensign Gutierrez will be leaving for naval flight school at Pensacola, Fla. in November to become a Navy pilot. His sister Monica, 20, a 2004 Foothill graduate and school cheerleader, starts her sophomore year at Annapolis this month. Gutierrez's other daughter Michelle, 9, is heading for the fourth grade at Alisal Elementary School, with a few years to go before deciding if she, too, wants a Naval Academy education. After finishing a year at the top of his one-year post-Foothill class at the academy's prep school in Rhode Island, John-Michael won an appointment to Annapolis from Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-10th) when she still represented Pleasanton. U.S. Representative Richard Pombo (R-11th), whose district now includes Pleasanton, made the appointment for Monica Gutierrez.

A strong patriot, Gutierrez comes from a family of hard-working, successful restauranteurs. At one time, his parents owned the popular El Charro Mexican restaurants on the Peninsula and in San Francisco's North Beach. One branch was in the Student Union building at San Francisco State University--called the Big Enchilada--where Mike Gutierrez learned the business by working there while at student. Both parents are now deceased, although the El Charro still operates under different owners in South San Francisco. In honor of his father, Emilio, Gutierrez later added his name to the El Portal restaurant at 828 Main St.

Earning a degree in political science from SFSU in 1978, Gutierrez became a police officer with the San Jose force, which is where he met Stan Kephart, a fellow policeman who had also been on the Pleasanton City Council. Hearing Gutierrez talk about how he wanted to follow his parents' footsteps into the restaurant business, Kephart encouraged him to come to Pleasanton, and the rest is history. Like so many of us, he decided to live here and raise his family after the first time he saw Main Street. Soon there after, he opened El Portal at 320 Main, relocating nine years ago into the old Cheese Factory building on North Main.

Among the better restaurants in Pleasanton, Gutierrez's is perhaps the simplest, a nicely-decorated, full sit-down Mexican restaurant that features all of his father's recipes ranging from a shredded beef taco to his fancier dishes, with prices ranging from $6 to $15. Managing the kitchen with his wife Carolina handling the customers, both always have time to talk about local issues and events. This has made Emilio's El Portal a favorite rendezvous spot for City Council and other political campaigns. Last week, former Peninsula Congressman Pete McCloskey and his team were there after helping to launch Jerry McNerney's campaign for Congress. With the other November campaigns for mayor, City Council and school board seats just starting, Gutierrez's restaurant will likely become even more lively as the scene of political strategic planning and debates in the weeks ahead.


Posted by Former Pleasanton Resident and FHS Alumni, a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 27, 2007 at 3:03 pm

I am sitting in Texas and was just thinking about Pleasanton, having left almost 6 years ago. I spent the first 32 years of my life there, having a magical childhood filled with activities, friends and family...extended family since I am an only child. Mike's restaurant played a huge part of my life there in Pleasanton, from I guess about the time he opened! I lived closer to downtown than many of my friends, as I went to Foothill but lived in Del Prado, off Hopyard and Golden. So downtown was closer than anything else. My parents would take me there for burritos - the best burritos I have ever had and even to this day, living in a predominately "Mexican" area of Texas, nothing will ever compare...though I keep looking but not hopeful - HA!! I then introduced my boyfriend's family to them, and I believe they are probably still customers. But the biggest part of El Portal is it was and still is to this day for many of them, the gathering place for all birthdays of the large group of girls I graduated with. Considering our 20th reunion is on Saturday, that is saying something! We have celebrated at least a hundred birthdays with Mike and him always being the most gracious host, but it was a staple for a few of us on a bi-weekly basis or more! I spoke to a friend who is still living in Pleasanton and has children a couple weeks ago, their favorite place is El Portal...carrying on the tradition!

Watching John-Michael and Monica grow up and hearing about these tremendous accomplishments is truly heartwarming...though not surprising!

El Portal is about fantastic food, plain and simple! No fluff needed to continue to bring you come back for the food and for Mike! Such a humble man who takes care of his community and I am beyond nostalgic for a burrito...or some beans and chips...or red salsa...and while these are my favorites, I know that everything on the menu is fabulous!

Posted by Rob, a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Sep 27, 2007 at 5:24 pm

I remember eatting there when I was in high school and the cheese smelled moldy. Never went back just because of that. Gross!!!

Posted by Don Person, a resident of Happy Valley
on Nov 14, 2008 at 11:00 am

I have been eating at El Portal once or twice a week for more than twenty years. It is unpretentious, comfortable and friendly. I have never been dissatisfied with the food which is always delicious. Try the taco salad, chicken enchilada with Mike's wonderful mole sauce, chile verde or anything else on the menu. You won't be disappointed.