La Bonita (NE)

It had been a while since I’d visited La Bonita, Northeast Alberta’s venerable stalwart taqueria. An outing to the Oregon Food Bank deemed a revisit necessary.

Since my last visit La Bonita had opened a second outpost located in close-in North Portland. Had the original suffered as a result?

One noticeable difference is a slight bit of price creep. However, this is a highly gentrified part of Portland. White people—especially in these parts—love themselves some ethnic authenticity. Who can blame the fine folks at La Bonita for trendspotting?

The tacos were better than ever. Generously garnished fresh proteins atop delicious, handmade tortillas that seemed to even best my previous visit.

Expertly crisped asada.

Tangy and piquant pastor.

One of the better fish tacos I’ve had in recent Portland memory. A light sprinkle of queso really served this taco well.

Full metal taco jacket. Table salsas are still legit, as are the tacos, as is La Bonita’s street cred.

La Bonita

2839 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-3662

Tacos at Ochoas Lupitas

Asada, pastor, milanesa are represented here. Lots of salsas, including an excellent cactus “paddle de gallo” that I commonly eat with utensils after the tacos themselves have been consumed (leave another dollar in the tip jar when you leave).

I am fans of this taco truck. Both sides of my split personality. That’s consensus.

Ochoas Lupitas

9549 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 841-4545

Por Que No Taqueria

Stopped by the North Mississippi location of Por Que No recently for a nice lunch.

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The ceviche comes with plenty of freshly fried tortilla chips (that seem a bit too “puffy”, to lack a better description).

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If I would have to guess, these shrimp are cooked with heat rather than marinated in citrus, which makes this a “cocteles de cameron” rather than a strict ceviche. It was certainly decent, if a bit lacking in seasoning and with a tad bit too many dominant notes of citrus and acid. I’d, however, probably order this every time I revisited Por Que No, as for $8.50 it’s a good value, all things considered. Ask for some salt.

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Taco de pescado.

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Taco de camerones. Give it to Por Que No, they know how to present a visually appealing taco.

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These rojo (guajillo) and verde salsas (serve-yourself, to the immediate left of the counter) certainly look resonant and complex, but in reality they were tepidly restrained and a bit under seasoned.

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And a fully dressed taco here is a paragon of model good looks, but as with many runway fashion models, the underlying substance can be a tad wanting.

Taqueria Por Que No seems to invite strong feelings from the pro/con forces in Portland. But this is clear: they are much appreciated. After a few wildly successful years in North Portland at their Mississippi location, they opened up a SE Hawthorne outpost that seems to be more popular than the original.

I am thankful for the responsibly sourced ingredients. Menu items here are bright and vibrant in presentation, and certainly carefully crafted. The handmade tortillas are very good. The proteins are of high quality. It’s just that the fare here lacks that certain…oomph, that primal, “exciting” quality of authentic taqueria fare that makes your taste buds perk up in quasi-revolt. Por Que No feels more like the Decemberists than Red Fang.

Also, two tacos and a small cocteles came out to $16. The seafood tacos run $3.50 (for fish and calamari—which I wanted but they were out of) and shrimp is $4, and these aren’t any larger than your typical taqueria items, so cost, at least relative to other taquerias, probably influences those firmly in the Por Que No “con” camp. You would need 3 (if not 4) shrimp tacos to sate an appetite, which places Por Que No out of the indie rock realm and catapults them more into the highbrow, “literate rock” territory.

But hey, the Decemberists are a mighty fine band with many fans, and they sell a lot of records.

Por Que No

3524 N Mississippi Ave
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 467-4149

Sanchez Taqueria…they’ve expanded

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All 1.5 readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Sanchez Taqueria, Tigard’s very own taste of Mexico that churns out delicious meats wrapped in hand-made pillows of fresh tortilla goodness (aka the “taco”).

Many of these readers will be interested to discover that Sanchez has expanded, usurping the square footage once occupied by (what I assume was) an erstwhile BBQ joint that formerly shared the same building.

Sanchez now bills itself as a “panaderia”…

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…and in this case the strength of this size alone legitimizes their claim, even if their baked goods at the time were a bit sparse.

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Ordering is done at the front counter, as before, the operative difference being that the front counter now occupies it’s own room (equipped with seating for to-go orders) at the very south side of the taqueria.

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The interior is now quite cavernous, now spanning two separate rooms, each one singularly larger than the previous dining area altogether.

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Tacos.

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Asada. Wasn’t as crisp as I’ve had previous visits. It’s consistently very crisp, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Excellent pastor this time. Just a very tiny bit too sweet than where my tastes lay, but excellent and crisped up better than the asada this day.

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Full metal taco jacket.

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 Southwest Pacific Highway
Tigard, OR 97223-5072
(503) 684-2838

La Fuente

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La Fuente is occupies a very modest storefront in “old town” Tigard, just set off a ways from Value Village. It’s easy to miss; I’ve driven by it for over a year now without noticing it. It took a recommendation from user Prone to Hyperbole at Portlandfood.org to seek it out.

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La Fuente is a proper Mexican restaurant with a full menu.

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And the tacos occupy just a subset of the varied offerings.

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Things started off in true cantina Mexican fashion with some warm fried tortilla chips and a serviceable tomato salsa (free).

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The “tacos mexicanos” — standard taqueria style. The usual litmus test of asada, carnitas, and pastor.

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Asada.

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Carnitas.

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Pastor.

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Fully dressed taco.

The table sauces here are mediocre; ExtraMSG at Portlandfood.org pointed out they may very well be the Herdez commercial brand. The tacos themselves were quite good. The pastor is not the best I’ve had, but it was seasoned nicely and was delivered with a nice char. The asada was undercrisped, but well seasoned, and the carnitas was meaty and delicious. The fresh tortillas were soft and pillowy, and reminded me much like the excellent onesTaqueria Sanchez serves just down the road.

This place is worth your time to visit if you’re in the mood for taqueria-style tacos. On the strength of their tacos alone, and considering it’s proximity to my house, it warrants an exploration of its other non-taco offerings as well.

La Fuente

12198 SW Main St
Tigard, OR 97223
(503) 639-3653

La Fuente on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

Mexicali Express

We’ve owned a Saturn in some shape or form for over a decade now, and it’s refreshing to see our customer loyalty rewarded by GM most likely killing the brand altogether. In the meantime, I’ll continue to get the car serviced in Beaverton at the Saturn dealership like I’ve been doing for the last seven years.

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I’ve been driving by this place for seven years whenever I’ve traveled to Beaverton to get the Saturn serviced, and it never occurred to me to stop by. Recently, though, after a scheduled maintenance appointment, upon spotting this sign, I realized that I had three dollars.

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As you can see, the menu is a mix of old school Spanglish, and is somewhat hilarious.

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The “proper” taco menu is an addendum.

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Immediately, I was impressed with the prolific garnish opportunities, which included ranch dressing. I liken the appearance of ranch dressing in a restaurant to that of Matthew McConaughey in a movie. It ensures that the experience will be bad.

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In addition, these table sauces were available. They were weak and watery.

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The taco triumvirate (carne enchilada aka “marinated pork”, asada, carnitas). Each of these were a dollar. I had three dollars.

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Asada.

pastor

Carne enchilada aka “marinated pork”.

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Fully dressed tacos.

If you’re in Beaverton for any reason, I suggest you keep driving.

Mexicali Express

On a street in Beaverton. You will have to look it up yourself, as I can’t in good conscience direct you there by any means.

Lindo Michocoan

Taqueria Lindo Michoacan is a permanently parked taco truck residing at the south side of SE Division, on the intersection of 34th Ave., just a few doors down from the venerable Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge.

The “marquee” lists all the flavors of flesh available. Notice the sign boasting of hand-made tortillas.

The full menu (click to view a larger, detailed version).

The taco triumvariate–pastor, carnitas, and asada.


Carnitas.


Asada.

Pastor.


Fully dressed taco.

Verdict? The asada could have been more crisp, and I’ve had better, more flavorful carnitas. The hand made tortillas are good, the pastor is flavorful (if a tad bit greasy), and the salsas—3 kinds, red, green, and atomic/habanero—are bright and fiery. This is a good taco truck.

Lindo Michoacan

SE Division and 34th
Portland, OR

La Tienda San Francisco

La Tienda San Francisco is in the heart of picturesque Wilsonville, Oregon, adjacent to an Arby’s and in the same complex as an Izzy’s and a merry-go-round sushi emporium.

In the back of the store, adjacent to the wonderful butcher counter…

…where you can get very good, cooked carnitas by the pound ($6/lb)…

…is an insane seating area replete with pinantas committing any number of intellectual property theft crimes. This seating area serves the taqueria that is operated out of the back of the store, which incidentally is the subject of this taco survey post.

Asada.

Carnitas.

Pastor.

Taco: full metal jacket.

Red salsa and salsa verde.

Verdict? Very, very good tacos. La Tienda San Francisco is also a tortilleria, so their taco fillings are enveloped in large, fresh tortillas. The tacos here (at $1.75 a clip) are a bit more expensive than your average taco truck, but they are also a bit larger. The carnitas is truly delicious, unctuous and meaty. The pastor and asada are made from very same raw, pre-marinated materials they sell behind the butcher counter, and are crisped to order.

My main knock on this place is the timidness of their table sauces. But they are fine salsas, freshly and carefully prepared, just a bit too mild for my tastes. When they first opened they featured a fiery habanero salsa, but alas I’ve yet to experience its return. A fiery salsa would make this one of the best taquerias in the metro area.

As I mentioned, this place is a tortilleria, and sells warm tortillas hot of the press…

… and as you eat your tacos you can watch the baker churn out postres and pan dulce, which they also sell. You already saw the meat. And the name also implies that this is a store.

La Tienda San Francisco

Next to the Arby’s
Wilsonville, OR

Taqueria La Estacion

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Taqueria La Estacion is located on Killingsworth in Northeast Portland, just south of where the street joins with Lombard to create the confluence that is the Gartner Meat Market Frontage Road Express Throughway.

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It hilariously occupies what appears to formerly be a British-themed snackbar/pub/lair.

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As you can see, Estacion has some unique Mexican specialties other than tacos that immediately distinguishes it from other taquerias. But this is a post in the Taco Survey, so those items will have wait for another post.

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The taco triumvarite. I subbed chicken for carnitas, as the menu did not offer the latter. On this day I added an extra pastor. That tortillas here are commercial.

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The pastor. Very good.

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The asada. I bit gristly and lesser than as-crisp-as-I-like in pieces.

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The chicken. The weakest of the bunch, but chicken tacos are usually the Stephen Baldwin of any taqueria family.

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A fully dressed taco.

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The garnish bar…

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…which features bright and vibrant red and green sauces…

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and includes a spicy, orangish habanero sauce (fiery) and a chunky table sauce (on the right). This particular salsa was quite unique, in that it uncannily tasted almost exactly like Herdez’s canned Salsa Casera. I’m not saying it was the brand stuff — the texture was different as this was nice and fresh — but the taste similarity was remarkable.

If you ever find your way on the back road to the airport, or if you are a pervert and like to frequent the underage strip club next door, stopping by Estacion for food is a perfectly fine decision. I’ve heard good things about other items on their menu which I have yet to sample. Interestly enough, there’s a taco truck in the parking lot (a hundred yards away) that shares the same name as the taqueria (“La Estacion Express #2”) yet holds different hours (it was closed when I visited). I suppose it’s a niche adjunct to the restaurant proper. If not, it stands as the most brazen example of copyright infringment in history of American taquerias.

La Estacion Express

Just south of NE Lombard/NE Portland Highway. The entrance is on NE Killingsworth, just west of NE Cully. There’s no listing for phone, address, etc., so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself, you lazy fucker.

Eating Tucson: Taqueria Pico
de Gallo

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Taqueria Pico de Gallo sits squarely in the epicenter of South Tucson, on South 6th Avenue, a mile south of 22nd Avenue. South Tucson is an anomoly; it’s an enclave that covers roughly a square mile, and it’s surrounded entirely by the city of Tucson proper. South Tucson has its own municipal services and zoning regulations, and its own mayor and city council. Why they would want to do this is anybody’s guess. All I can say is that — despite having a crime rate higher than Camden, New Jersey (aka America’s most dangerous city and all-around fun zone) — the citizens of South Tucson obviously choose to live here because of the proximity to some good-ass tacos1.

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Contrary to what some normally consider to be “pico de gallo”, namely, a salsa fresca made with chopped fresh tomatoes, the namesake in this instance refers to the deliciously fresh fruit cups served up by the taqueria (and sprinkled with chili salt).

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They also serve these fruity, frozen raspados, which are coincidentally crafted…

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…right next door.

Enough with food that is not tacos.

The breakfast menu.

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The menu board.

The full menu luckily is available in the early AM (and from which I order breakfast when I’m in town).

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This is the only table sauce they have on hand, a thick, incendiary concoction made from chile de arbol.

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The taco plates are garnished with excellent pickled onions. The tortillas at Pico De Gallo are wonderful, thick, substantial discs of stoney masa goodness, freshly prepared on the premises. They are unlike any other Mexican restaurant in the Tucson area (which for the most part tilts towards flour as does Sonoran cuisine).

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The tortillas here work together with a crispy, fried pillows of mild flesh to form one of the best fish tacos I’ve had, especially considering the nearest port is Puerto Penasco some 4 hours away in Mexico. The white sauce — normally a conceit I’ll even leave off my fish taco — here is a perfect foil for the fiery table salsa.

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A decent asada.

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Birria.

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Barbacoa. These shredded meat tacos are a bit juicy/saucy, and tend to saturate the tortillas to the point where they have difficulty standing up. (This does not apply to the cabeza, which is shredded beef cheek and holds up well). However, the shredded meats are well prepared and are worth ordering — I would perhaps eat these first.

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Here’s the proof that I paid for my meal.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 South 6th Avenue (Google Map)
85713 (
520)623-8775

Links

Footnotes

1 I lived just a mile-and-a-half north of South Tucson for a few years. I walked and biked all over the place, even late at night. It’s not that bad. I did get three bikes stolen.

In fact, I stayed just over a mile north of this place during my time in Tucson, at my wife’s godmother’s guest house.

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The most dangerous thing I encountered was this cactus. This fucking evil plant ruined many an afternoon growing up, as while trying to catch an errant outlet pass you might end up in a patch, and hundreds of these miniscule, orange hair-like spines would attach to your lower calf with ferocity. Only a long soak in an oatmeal bath would temper the pain and suffering.

Sanchez Taqueria

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Just a half mile south from “main street downtown” Tigard lies Sanchez Taqueria. This unassuming Mexican restaurant that speckles the 99W corridor might serve the best goddamn tacos in the Portland metropolitan area.

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Sanchez Taqueria is packed on the weekends, with a lively crowd that squeezes into the small dining area. Tables on occasion will be shared with strangers, making this possibly a “communal” dining experience.

Lucky enough for me eating tacos is a mostly a drag race affair.

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The menu board at Sanchez Taqueria. (Click here to view the menu (PDF, 667 KB)

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The taco triumvarite. You’ll notice things are a bit different here. The tacos themselves are staggered upon themselves, and — at first glance — you can’t even see the fillings.

First off, let’s talk about the tortillas. They are made on the premises. They are amazing. Fluffy, flatbread-like pillows of white corn goodness. I had to flag down a runner to confirm that they were indeed corn — they seemed too impossibly doughy (for lack of a better word) to be masa. They are almost pita-ish. In all my taco eating travails, these tortillas rank at the very top of the deliciousness scale.

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The green and red sauce. The green is amazing — immediately salty and piquant, with a noticeable afterburn. On the whole the green table sauce actually packs more punch than the red, which itself is delicious and imparts a lovely smokiness due (I think) to chipolte and roasted dried (guajillo?) chilies.

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The tables also feature this fiery chili paste, with an oil base. This is for the menudo/posole/sopa, which is quite popular on weekends. I’m afraid to put this on my tacos, as my cranium is already sieving sweat whenever I leave this place.

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Carnitas. Not the absolute best carnitas I’ve had, but definitely serviceable if not delicious in its own right.

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Pastor. This is ethereal. A meat triumph. Crispy, succinct nuggets of seasoned pork. A literal taco supernova.

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Fully dressed asada taco. The carne, like everything else, is top notch. Seasoned to the hilt.

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Since in past taco surveys I’ve been forced to include pescado, to be fair here’s Sanchez’s fish taco (which weighs in at $2.25). As you can see, it’s hardly baja in style. It’s a flat grilled/fried, non-battered tilapia filet topped simply with a chiffonade of white cabbage (which also dressed the carnitas) and cilantro. It, too, makes an amazing taco at the hands of the taqueros at Sanchez Taqueria.

The tortillas here are large and generous, even so that the ample meat fillings can be enveloped and eaten bite-by-bite like pillowy wraps of crispy, deliciously filled meaty crepes. Each bite can be accentuated with generous and alternating squirts of red and green flavor injections. Though tacos approach $2 apiece, the value can’t be underestimated. These are easily 2x other taqueris/trucks, with the added bonus being some of the most superlative tortillas your teeth will ever bite into.

I’ve fallen completely for Sanchez Taqueria. It easily is one of Portland’s best taquerias, if not Mexican restaurants. Worth to note: they have huaraches and chavindecas (NOTE THIS LINKS TO A PDF OF THE MENU).

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 SW Pacific Hwy
Tigard, OR 97223
Phone: (503) 684-2838

La Bonita

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At $1.50 for a carnitas, and for asada and pastor tacos clocking in at nearly 2 bucks ($1.95), the tacos at La Bonita occupy the upper-end of the taco price scale. However, for what you’re getting, it’s a pretty fair deal.

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The taco triumvarite.

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Asada. The meat was simultaneously tender and crispy. Nice, ample chunks of carne splendor.

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Pastor. Expertly scented pork nuggets seasoned with achiote. Again, tender and bountiful. Excellent.

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Carnitas. Perfect, meaty chunks of fall-apart tender pork, slightly greasy, as it should be. A quintessential carnivorous flavor.

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A fully dress asada taco. The green table sauce is tangy, with a lovely saltiness. The red sauce has changed since my last visit. It used to be a fiery, intense red sauce made predominately from chilies. The recent version has a tomato component, and is much more subdued. Not as intense as I’d prefer, but delicious nonetheless. I would eat it with chips.

The toning down of the heat in the primary table sauce may be a direct nod to the growing gentrification of the Alberta/Concordia neighborhood.

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La Bonita’s facade has been redesigned since my last visit.

At $2 a clip, the tacos here are twice the price of other taqueries, including the 2 other shops just walking distance from La Bonita on Alberta.

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But as you can see with the gentle overflowing of delicious pork goodness from this pastor taco, it is easily worth it. The last few tacos I’ve had here are some of the best I’ve had since I’ve been in Portland. La Bonita has hit their stride.

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The wall mural at La Bonita.

La Bonita

2839 Ne Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-3662

Taqueria Delicias Mexicanas

Delicias-Opening

Taqueria Delicias Mexicanas lies on the south end of NE Lombard, at the crook where the throughway leaves the northern boundary of Cully and officially completes a transformation into the PDX Airport back door express highway (Gartner’s Meat Market, Taqueria Estacion, and two inscrutably vague strip clubs1 notwithstanding).

It’s got a fairly noticeable sign, so while it may be easy to miss it once, after that it’s impossible to miss. The last few years I’ve made dozens upon dozens of trips past this spot, sometimes even in search of tacos. But it wasn’t until just recently that I finally stopped by.

Delicias-Interior

The joint is a sit-down taqueria, with table service and chips and salsa and everything. I stopped by on an recent early Sunday just after dropping a friend off at the airport.

Delicias-Menu

The have an extensive menu for a place that bills itself as a taqueria (including serving beer). Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Delicias-Salsa

The salsa was a perfectly fine table sauce.

The chips were stale.

Delicias-Tacos

The taco triumvarite. I believe the tortillas at Taqueria Delicias are commercial. As you can see, I added a fourth taco, in this case a fish. I noticed some mariscos items on the menu and wanted a baseline in that department to determine if perhaps Delicias warranted a repeat visit for a coctel de camarones.

Delicias-Dressed

A fully dressed taco. The table sauces at Delicias are serviceable, if a bit tame.

Delicias-Asada

Asada. The meat was chewy, and, as you can see, not very crisp. Somewhat funky in taste, as it had been sitting uncovered in a fridge for a bit too long.

Delicias-Pastor

Pastor. These were thin sheets of pork (leg?), pounded thin, and seasoned with adobo seasoning. Not bad, but not terribly good either.

Delicias-Carnitas

Carnitas. On the bland side, with little of the rich, unctuous quality you’d associate with a superlative carnitas.

Delicias-Fish

So how was the fish? Ugh. The meat consisted mostly of that fatty lip of the belly you would normally THROW AWAY. Furthermore, many pieces still had pieces of flabby skin attached to the gamy, ersatz flesh. The fish (maybe trout? tilapia?) was, well, fishy, and very “off”. I could not finish the taco.

With the Estacion taco truck just a bit further east, and with a few solid options in Concordia/Alberta, I’m not sure how Taquerias Delicias Mexicanas deserves a repeat visit. I’ve heard some generally positive things about their desayunos from a couple sources, so perhaps for a safe breakfast it might warrant a return.

Taqueria Delicias Mexicanas
5800 NE Portland Hwy
Portland 97218
(503) 493-0075

Footnotes

1 One of these strip clubs is non-alcoholic, meaning they are underage-friendly. There’s a cover charge and a one drink minimum. Watching full frontal with a bunch of 19-year old Mexican national daylaborers — all while sipping on a Fresca — is a very surreal, uncomfortably self-aware moment. Or so I’m told.

Taqueria Don Pancho

Taqueria Don Pancho
2000 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 459-4247

Donpancho-Front

In northeast Portland, there is a good taqueria called Taqueria Don Pancho.

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As the name suggests, they have tacos. No carnitas, so a fish taco pinch hit to complete the taco triumvarite.

Donpancho-Board

The menu.

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Split shot of the garnish bar.

Danpancho-Asada

Carne asada.

Danpancho-Pastor

Pastor.

Donpancho-Fish

Fish.

Danpancho-Red

Danpancho-Green

The red and green sauces.

I love Don Pancho. The tacos, at $1.25 a clip, are tasty little buggers. No carnitas, but the fish is a bargain at that price. They are not baja style fish tacos, these are fried (but not battered) — and then grilled — pieces of tilapia flesh. Sometimes they use pieces extracted from a whole fried tilapia (which is also on the menu) that are then re-crisped on a hot grill, but last time it was actually distinct fried pieces. The tacos are consistently crisp and tasty. The pastor are tasty little nuggets of crisp pork, and the asada is at the very worst very serviceable.

In terms of the Alberta Street taco, Don Pancho is the clear favorite. Anybody who claims La Sirenita is even worth your time hates Mexican food and the Mexican people.

I highly enjoy the table sauces the fine folks at Don Pancho serve up at the garnish bar. They are both high quality, well-made sauces that, incidentally…

Donpancho-Opening

Donpancho-Market

Are available next door at el Mercado.

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The have a small but excellent butcher counter, with several pre-prepped, pre-marinaded items, and all the excellent cuts and slices favored by Mexican cooks.

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Even if you don’t intend to buy anything after your tacos, it’s worth visiting el Mercado just to remind yourself that the most popular brand of baked goods in Mexico is called “Bimbo”.

Taqueria La Chiquita née Los Tres Hermanos

For those driving or biking past the corner of Killingsworth and Denver looking for the taco truck Los Tres Hermanos, only to find themselves in a confounded, abject state of confused bewilderment, you need no longer suffer. The truck itself has itself sprung up a stoplight away @Interstate. I presume this is part of the lobbying effort from the pro-Cesar Chavez renaming cartel, which I understand has an uncommon influence upon this city’s political elite.

The truck is now on the south side of Killingsworth, west of Interstate, adjacent to the hinterlands (that currently exists as a makeshift parking lot until someone complains) that border a Chevron pumping station. It’s the same vehicle with the same menu board, except that nearly 1/4 of the menu items have been removed (i.e. crossed out). Here’s how it looked when the truck was 1/2 mile down the street earlier this year.

Menu Board, Interrupted

“Super Burrits” still refers (presumably) to burritos that are supersized mega-awesome gut bombs. The tacos are back down to $1.25, which brings it back to year 2006 levels. This is a small victory in the economic struggle against inflation and the devaluation of the American dollar.

They were out of pastor, so I had three asada tacos. The flavor was great, the carne a bit chewy but still very good. The tortillas still rock, double-stacked as usual. They were out of the creamy green sauce, and include a tomatillo-based thinner green sauce, and the red is thick and incendiary — I wish I knew how to get my own sauce this red. Other garnishes include radishes, and a relish of chopped fresh tomatoes and cabbage in lime juice.

I managed to pick up a dozen freshly made tortillas to-go for $2, but it required some back and forth, including cajoling on my part (which means I tried to speak Spanish). The last time I was at Tres Hermanos, a dozen ran $3 (but earlier in the year, $2. So basically it fluctuates).

I did not recognize any of the staff, nor their children. There has evidently been a change in ownership. I welcome our new taco overlords.

Las Nayaritas

UPATE 7/20/07: You can try the tacos here, it’s a free country, but I can’t honestly recommend this place. We had a meal there this week (ordering off the menu) that was so abysmally bad that I have erased the memory of the existence of Las Nayaritas from mind. Too bad I’m reminded every time I look at my blog.

You’ve been warned.

Nayaritas-Storefront

Las Nayaritas is on the north end of North Lombard street. The glass storefront advertises some of the types of food you’ll be able to purchase and eat inside. I find this particular method of communication effective.

Nayaritas-Wall

The inside wall has pictures. I like pictures. They are generally helpful.

You know what I really like? Those plastic replicas of the actual dishes themselves. However, the Japanese seem to be the only ones saavy enough to practice this art of pretense. So sad.

Las Nayaritas isn’t your conventional taqueria, in that you actually sit down and a menu is brought to you and waitrons — in this case a very friendly lady who most likely owns the place, and her chaming, shy daugheter — serve you like it was a real restaurant and everything.

Nayaritas-Chips

They even bring chips and salsa. Gratis. The chips were fresh, warm, and toasty.

Nayaritas-Salsa

The table salsa was a very standard tomato based sauce. Somewhat erstwhile, but nothing bad by any means. Just somewhat perfunctory, but hey it’s free so shut the fuck up.

Tacos at Las Nayaritas run $1.50 apiece. There is a special, however, for four that will run you $5.00. If you do the math, that is $1.25 a taco. $1.25 is less than $1.50.

Nayaritas-Tacos

The taco triumvarite. Pastor, asada, and carnitas. Asada won today’s battle, as I tacked on an extra carne-A to complete the four taco special. Notice the single wrap; the tortillas at Las Nayaritas are a bit thicker/larger than your other taquerias.

Nayaritas-Pastor

The pastor I would describe more like adobado. It was probably basted with the sauce (or one similar to) that canned chipoltes are packed in. Not your usual, associative pastor flavors.

Nayaritas-Asada

The asada was decent. Crisp, if somewhat gamey. I think the seasoning could be a bit more agressive.

Nayaritas-Carnitas

The carnitas were the best of the batch. They look somewhat dry and stringey here, but they were actually quite good.

Nayaritas-Condiments

There’s a condiment bar, however, it would seem as though it’s not intended as a setup for diners to which to help themselves. Rather, it appears it’s the condiment station/mise en place for the waitrons to garnish your plates before delivery (I was brought a small ramekin of both red and green salsas, and some pickles).

By nature, I sit as close as I possibly can to anything that might even remotely look like a serve-yourself garnish setup. So everything was right there for me to help myself, but I did not want to break “the fourth wall”, as it were.

Wanting to help myself to the salsas, yet the apprehension I felt in doing so, led to a feeling of uneasiness, of an unrequited garnish fetish gone unfulfilled, that haunted me the entire meal. Though, granted, I ate all four tacos in less than 3 minutes.

Nayaritas-Green

The green salsa was particularly striking — verdant, bright, fresh.

Nayaritas-Red

The red was piquant, with a touch of smokiness.

Nayaritas-Escabeche

Carrots and jalapenos en escabeche were a nice touch.

Los Nayaritas earns serious bonus point for free chips and salsa. I would pass on the pastor, and double up on carnitas and asada. They have quite a wide menu, even a couple seafood cocteles, so there’s much to be explored.

Las Nayaritas
2727 N Lombard St
Portland, OR 97217
(503) 286-3119

The write-up at VJ’s.

The thread at Portlandfood.org.

La Tienda Santa Cruz

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La Tienda Santa Cruz is in downtown St. Johns, adjacent to a Burgerville and Hippie McVegan’s Organic House of Tempeh and Roughage (nee Proper Eats, which is a cool place actually).

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Window shopping of the best sort.

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It’s a proper Mexican market with a nice assortment of groceries, including a wide assortments of sauces, herbs, canned goods, dried chilis, masa, etc. The market also sells a variety of baked goods, including bolillos and pan dulce.

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But venture towards the back of the store, and you’ll find a taqueria! There’s a cheap, brightly lit cafeteria feel to the place. The bathrooms there in the back have been recently remodeled — split into separate men’s and women’s wash closets. They are clean and new, though the day I went some dickhead left a sasquatch-sized dump in the men’s toilet. Is it too much to ask to flush?

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The menu board. There’s a consomme de barbacoa and five taco special for $9.50. One day I will summon enough inner strength to order and eat this entire meal. On that day I will have considered my journey to manhood complete.

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The tacos here are on the smaller side, are $1 apiece, and come doubled up in warm tortillas (of a commercial variety). They are adorned with chopped onions and cilantro, though at times (usually on the weekends), the guy delivering your tacos might bring you a nice small bowl of guacamole.

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Carne asada. Little crisp nuggets of carnegoodness.

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Pastor. This is not spit-roasted pastor in the traditional sense, but tasty nonetheless.

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Santa Cruz does not have carnitas, the third musketeer of my usual taco litmus test, so I subbed pollo. This was my least favorite – not bad by any means, just a bit plain.

La Tienda/Taqueria Santa Cruz gets bonus points for some seriously tasty tacos that run only a buck apiece. Five bucks serves you well here. Demerits are issued for commercial tortillas, which I believe are from Tortilleria 4 Hermanas in Hillsboro (they sell these in the store), but that’s not much of a knock because the expertly seasoned meats and incredibly delicous red and green table sauces more than compensate.

VJ @ AltPortland and Juanito @ Taquerias Portlandesas have both covered this ground before as well.

Tres Hermanos update

The new year brought new changes to the Tres Hermanos taco truck, located in North Portland on the Northeast corner of Killingsworth and Denver. Click here for my original report.

Menu

(Click menu for a detailed view). Gone is the handwritten menu, replaced a proper, printed, wide format placard with fonts and everything. The menu is much more prolific, as you can see (but not really, everything is simply just enumerated), and now includes “Super Burrits” which I assume is a misspelling. In a nod to gringos and stoners, Nachos makes a guest appearance.

But tacos is where all the hot action is. Taco prices have gone up a quarter. First trip here after the fancy new menu, I had the birria, cabeza, and barbacoa. The birria was very good, very flavorful, slightly gamey. The cabeza was decent, but the barbacoa was extremely off/odd tasting.

Salsas-1

They now feature squirt bottles with table sauces. Prior to the printed menu, they would simply ask you if you wanted your tacos full metal jacket, and you would have to be content with what was dressed (they didn’t have bottles) but now you can squirt to your heart’s content. And they now have a bright orange habanero sauce that is absolutely dynamite. But you’ll have to ask for the salsa bottles that are in plain view behind the ordering window…and specifically for the habanero, as I think by default they don’t think patrons demand this kind of scorch.

Tacos-1

Subsequent visits have seen me revert to my taco triumvirate — pastor, carnitas, and asada. The asada has been less crispy than in the past, but the carnitas has improved IMO, and the pastor seems even more flavorful and delicious.

The tortillas are amazing. They are now thicker, and are made to order with your tacos (each taco is double wrapped in tortillas). Warm, cozy, and wonderful. They sell them to go: ask for a dozen, pony up $2 (though last time I was charged $3?), and they will make them on the spot and wrap in foil for you to carry.

El Burrito Loco

Loco

El Burrito Loco, which is Spanish for “The Crazy Burrito”, is not the name of a Mexican wrestler, but rather a non-descript taqueria on North Portland Blvd. There are two other locations in Portland, but I haven’t been. I’m not even going to tell you where they are. There.

As the name suggests, this place is evidently proud of its burritos that may or may not have full control over their mental faculties. I’ve even sampled one in the past (carne asada), but I prefer tacos over burritos, and this is taco survey, not a burrito survey. I won’t speak of burritos again.

There are some endearing traits here. The napkin dispenser is on a roll — much like toilet paper — and you have to tear off your napkins, like you would a square to wipe your ass. In addition to featuring squeeze bottle table sauces a la your prototypical taqueria, they also provide Heinz “taco” sauce in small, self-serve, aluminum packets, like as if they wanted to outlame Del Taco’s “Del Scorcher” or Taco Bell’s “Fire” or your average junior high school cafeteria, really. They also feature hard shell tacos at El Burrito Loco, which sets it apart from most taquerias and from most Mexicans, for that matter.

Best of all, in the adjacent dining room from the counter, you can drop some coins into this classic “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker” video game.

Moonwalker

After throwing down some tacos, it’s always a best practice to bust a moonwalk and fuck up some perps.

On to the tacos.

Tacos

The taco triumvirate. Each taco runs $1.35 apiece. The table sauces (green and red) are serviceable. The green is actually kinda red, and is not your typical verde in that it packs a punch — wielding a few Scoville units — and the red is sauce made mostly from reconstituted dried chilis. Since El Burrito Loco does not have pastor, I subbed their namesake taco.

Loco

This is the “loco” taco. It features shredded beef that’s been simmered in a red chili sauce. It is garnished simply with onions and cilantro. The meat is sort of the pulled variety, and compares favorably I suppose to the “barbacoa” you’d get at the Chipotle chain.

For the most part, I would say I like this. The meat can be flavorful, and the texture can be quite nice. But other times it has been alternately too dry or too mushy, and the portion ample, and some times not so much. If they could consistently get “loco”, then I could recommend it without reservations.

Asada

The asada tacos at El Burrito Loco are probably your best bet. They are generally quite ample, and come dressed with a decent guacamole (and not the weird guacamayo that King Burrito slops on their tacos) and with a nice salsa fresca. The meat is often grilled nicely and full of beefy asada goodness, but on occasions it can tend towards overly greasy.

Carnitas

The carnitas. This isn’t real carnitas, it is simply sliced cubes(!) of pork that have been thrown into a deep fryer. For that alone it deserves six whacks on the wrist and a dozen Hail Mary’s. We will not speak of it again.

El Burrito Loco
1942 N Portland Blvd
Portland, OR 97217
(503) 735-9505

King Burrito

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King Burrito, located on the south side of Lombard in North Portland (west of Greeley, just east of Peninsular), is a prototypical taqueria that has gained a following for serving massive burritos. Seriously, a burrito from this place probably packs enough heft and calories to feed a sub-Saharan household for a week or to sedate a large bear for a season’s hibernation.

But this is a taco survey, not a burrito survey. I won’t talk about burritos any more.

When I first moved to North Portland, I was pleasantly surprised that the tacos from King Burrito simply weren’t awful. Now that I’ve discovered other taco joints in the area (and have had my eye on a heretofore unchartered taco truck just half a mile down the road), I don’t really feel the need to return.

The primary knock is that King Burrito’s fare is overly greasy. I’m not really a health nerd, but a preponderance of seemingly random grease where there need not be will occasionally turn me off, much like a hot chick who farts repeatedly.

But King Burrito’s tacos aren’t bad, by any means. They are well constructed and cheap ($1.25). The table sauces are a bit bland. If you go on weekends, they will have chopped onions and cilantro (set out for Menudo) that you can help yourself to. It’s kinda dingey, and always packed, though (see burritos, huge).

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Carne asada. King Burrito serves theirs with guacamole, so that’s a bonus. But what’s up with that guac?

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It’s a weird, pale color, and overly creamy, as if it’s cut with mayo.

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The pastor. These are really greasy — when I got them to go one time, you could really see a sheen of oil that soaked into the wrapper, rendering the paper translucent. I have a feeling that the pastor is simply grilled bits pork shoulder, that is then kept in achiote oil.

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The carnitas. The carnitas at King Burrito is pretty good, and, surprisingly, the least greasy? Go figure.

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Fully dressed taco.

King Burrito
2924 N Lombard St
Portland, OR 97217
503-283-9757

Chipotle Mexican Grill

This past weekend I was with the family out in Portland’s shaved and deodorized armpit, otherwise known as the Tigard/Beaverton interchange near Washington Square Mall. Lacking a clear consensus on what/where to eat, we stopped at Chipotle Mexican Grill because it happened to be on a street.

Chipotle is owned (or used to be owned or something (I’m too lazy to look it up or even care)) by the McDonald’s corporation. But apparently it has much more meager roots as a small chain in Colorado with an emphasis on natural, sustainable ingredients — most notably the beef, pork and chicken they feature in their burritos and tacos.

Back when I lived in Tucson, Chipotle opened a branch near the University of Arizona campus that I visited a couple times, and I was duly unimpressed. Some 6 years later, I’m similarly unimpressed and, in fact, rather fucking pissed about the entire enterprise.

I ordered the tacos, which came 3 to an order for the soft version, and 4 to an order for hard tacos. I’m not sure why the disparity — this is the kind of thing that pisses me off right off the bat and keeps me up at night. Of course I ordered the soft tacos, as that’s my thing, but now I have to wonder why I’m getting shortchanged one taco. Don’t make me think, you goddamn soft taco cockblockers!

Thinking I would get soft corn tortillas, instead I watched as the guy behind the counter took out three small flour tortillas and stuck them into some steam/press contraption (similar to what you’d press a pair of slacks with) for about 3 seconds, ensuring that the flour discs themselves would reach the optimum level of gummy crappiness as dictated by the corporate division of Standards, Weights and Measurements.

You have your choice of meats – Chicken, Carnitas, “Barbacoa”, or Vegetarian. I had the “Barbacoa”, which is essentially braised, shredded beef. Each of the meat choices vary in price difference, from 15 cents to a quarter or so or more, and the Vegetarian is the cheapest, but by not as much as you’d think. The Vegetarian option includes guacamole, yet guacamole is an upcharge for the other choices. Again, why the disparity? Why is one meat 15 fucking cents cheaper than the other? You’re AGAIN pissing me off. I hate you and your tiered meat pricing, you fucking corporate bean counting rat bastards.

I digress. Chipotle takes the Subway approach, in that you’re immediately pushed into a conveyor belt as you build your burrito/tacos. The same guy who reconstituted my gummy tortilla discs apparently is too into himself to be the same person who horks the meat on my tacos. I kinda wish he had, because the chick who did dress my tacos gave me ABOUT A TABLESPOON AND A HALF OF “BARBACOA” MEAT PER TACO. Seriously, I thought they were going to wrap up the thing into a beggars purse, it was so sparse. At least that would have been an interesting presentation, and would have spared me the ignominy that was to follow, which is choosing my salsa.

As she moved me down the conveyer belt, she asked which type of salsa I’d like. As I remember it, this was what bugged me the most when I first went to Chipotle some six years ago. Whereas most corporate chain Mexican grills — such as La Salsa, Baja Fresh, Rubios, et. all — allow you to garnish your own offerings with a variety of fresh and tasty salsas from their garnish bar (and often times, limes, pickled peppers, chopped onions and cilantro), Chipotle usurps this consumer right of manifest destiny. Again with the cockblock.

They have four different types of salsa, I think – a pico de gallo, a green, a hot red, and a corn. Corn? That’s not a salsa – that’s a relish. Stop calling your relish “salsa”! She asked what kind of salsa I wanted, and then it all came back to me. Why. I. Hate. Chipotle. Most. Of. All. They want you to choose just one salsa. Just. One. What if you chose “corn”? Well, you’d be supremely fucked, because, da dum, you didn’t even get a goddamn salsa – you got a relish. Your burrito would be dry and flavorless because of their salsa segregationist policies. And I remember, that fateful day, six years ago, I asked for more than one type of salsa, and THEY UPCHARGED ME FOR IT. Bad memories came flooding back, memories long ago repressed, reconciled, and mercifully forgotten.

I did not blink. I did not waiver. In response to her question, “What kind of salsa…” I replied, “All of them.” Never before had a challenge been so forcefully communicated. What was she going to do, upcharge me three times? She hesistated for a moment, and seemed like she was just about to call my bluff, but ultimately in a huff spooned out about half a teaspoon of each salsa on each taco. Chintzy, to be sure, but at the time I was so content with my moral victory I didn’t notice that I was not offered my choice of cheese or sour cream which the menu stated was my God-given right. I still lost out in the end.

We paid for our tacos and my wife’s and her sister’s burritos (which were upcharged $1.40 apiece for a small schmear of guacamole making it the lamest $7 burrito ever) and retreated to our table. The tortillas were alternately gummy and falling apart soggy from the “Barbacoa”, and the salsas so lifeless and sparse I was forced to augment with the Tabasco brand green jalapeno and chipotle jarred hot sauces Chipotle is kind enough to actually allow patrons to use. BTW, these Tabasco sauces suck when applied straight-up — you might as well put uncut vinegar on your food and then punch yourself in the eye.

The shame was that, while way too much accompanying braising liquid was served with the “Barbacoa”, the meat itself was fairly flavorful. I just wish I would have been served more than 2 ounces total of meat with my $6 taco order (and unlike Baja Fresh, you don’t get any chips). A side note: my wife and her sister totally dug their burritos/Chipolte experience. Fucking white people.

Chipotle. Shame on you. Shame on the entire state of Colorado. And shame on me for being fooled. Again.

Never again.

Los Tres Hermanos taco truck

This is a first in a series of taco reports. I’ve created a category for these posts, as I eat a fair amount of tacos. My usual taqueria acid test will be to eat three tacos — one asada, one pastor, and one carnitas. These may vary according to availability.

Los Tres Hermanos is a non-descript taco truck that is parked on the Northeast corner of Denver and Killingsworth, in a convenience mart parking lot. It is caddy corner to a Plaid Pantry, and across the street on Killingsworth is Di Prima Dolce, which is the subject of another post.

This unassuming taco truck could very well deliver some of the tastiest tacos to be found in North Portland.

Exterior

At times, you’ll find the ordering window attended by Erica, the precocious 10-year old daughter of the truck’s owners. Here she is with her younger sister, 5-year old Jessica. On this day I biked to Los Tres Hermanos with my 2 year-old daughter in tow, and both girls took a liking to her and were quite sweet.

Menu

Here’s the handwritten menu. Note to self: try the virria.

Tacos

The taco triumvirate. The tacos are on the smaller side, and are served in doubled-up tortilla stacks.

The tacos come pre-dressed with chopped white onions, cilantro, and salsas. They’ll ask you if you want “todo”, you should say “sí”. If you have issues with raw onions, cilantro, or salsa, you shouldn’t really be eating at a taqueria. Go to Taco Bell, you fucking dick.

Pastor

Pastor. This isn’t spit roasted like traditional pastor, but tasty nonetheless. Nice and crispy, and very flavorful.

Asada

Asada. The meat is fine, but could have been crispier and a bit more aggressively seasoned.

Carnitas

Carnitas. These came dressed with salsa verde. Delicious.

Makenna

My own carnivore-in-training makes sure to scarf every last bit of asada.

As I mentioned earlier, Los Tres Hermanos is at the top of my list of North Portland taco experiences. The downsides? There’s very little seating, which really isn’t that much of an issue as I’ve never seen a full-on bum rush. But you also have to sit outdoors, under a tent, and it is a truck, after all. Some might bemoan this lack of ambiance, but I find it charming.

The main knock against Los Tres Hermanos, however, is that they do not give you squirt bottles of their delicious salsa to apply to every bite of taco. I tend to put a premium on accessorizing and over-condimentizing.