5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. No reservations. $$ Moderate.
[MEXICAN] Easy to miss but hard to forget, this Seven Corners mainstay turns out consistently excellent haute Mexican fare, presented by cheerful servers who know their ingredients inside and out. Coupled with Nuestra Cocina's no-reservations policy, it's a formula that creates lines out the door even on a Tuesday. It was Nuestra Cocina that converted me to spicy cocktails like the Cocina Especial, a salt-rimmed elixir of chile de arbol-infused tequila and muddled citrus fruits, with a chile garnish pointing upward like a witchy red finger of warning: heat! Other tall drinks grow insipid as the ice melts; not this one, baby. Standout starters include an ever-changing ceviche, served with a jicama salsa with a pleasingly contrasting crunch. The camarones con tamarindo—grilled Mexican white prawns marinated in tamarind—are fleshy yet tender. Lamb-eaters shouldn't miss the barbecued lamb shoulder braised to ethereal tenderness in a banana leaf and served with a green nopale salsa. Perch at the counter if you want to watch confident cooks at work; the open kitchen contributes to a warm bath of noise that camouflages conversational lapses, making Nuestra Cocina perfect for first dates. The heated, glassed-in patio is marginally quieter. ANGIE JABINE.
Ideal meal: Start with sopes (masa cakes) with chorizo and black beans. Follow (when available) with savory-crusted albacore tuna in a smoky guajillo mole set off by fresh sweet corn and green beans. Conclude with moist chocolate poundcake and cinnamon ice cream.
Best deal: The $5.50 house margarita is one of Portland's best, and you could make a meal of the $8 chile relleno con picadillo: roasted poblano pepper stuffed with shredded pork, almonds and raisins.