PORTLAND, Maine — A long-time Congress Street Mexican restaurant closed its doors this week in an abrupt manner.

According to the city’s Public Health Division website, Mesa Verde failed two food safety inspections since June, including one on Jan. 17. The report documents a litany of problems from fruit flies in the kitchen to food not properly refrigerated.

The building at 618 Congress St. is owned by Geoffrey Rice. The landlord entered the restaurant at 4 p.m. Wednesday, refused to talk to a reporter and locked the door behind him. The business is owned by Marco Ramirez of Freeport, who could not be reached for comment.

Locals on the street said the taqueria, open for more than 16 years, frequently churns through new management, and the quality had slipped of late.

“The food was so much lower quality. I would go in there for a drink after work, and there was next to nobody in there,” said Jason Berry, shift leader at Coffee By Design next door. “It’s too bad. The first couple times I went, it was great.”

Still, residents in the neighborhood, including Odessa Johnson, will miss the casual spot where entrees could be had for $12.

“I was really shocked to see it [close],” said Johnson, who also said the quality had declined recently. “I’m surprised, it provided variety in the neighborhood.”

That variety is gentrifying rapidly, and this section of Congress Street is going through a transition. Places like The Meg Perry Center and Enterprise Records are being edged out as building owners raise rents and the former porno district becomes posh.

However, a message scrawled on the restaurant facade in white spray paint Wednesday afternoon attributed the closure to something other than gentrification. It read: “Shut down by the new Gestapo of Augusta, Gov. LePage.”

Commercial real estate broker Frank O’Connor, who met with Rice on Wednesday, said the statement bears no weight on the situation.

“People who hate LePage would take any kind of potshots,” said O’Connor. “People are still blaming everything on George Bush.”

A worker was hired to scrape the message from the restaurant’s windows, and it was gone by nightfall.

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.