Although Portland is home to plenty of Mexican�as well as a few Tex-Mex�restaurants, New Mexican food was underrepresented until chef/co-owner Michael Martinez and wife Holly Martinez opened Encanto in mid-January on North Lombard. New Mexican fare�drawing from Native American, European and Mexican culinary traditions�is distinguished by oregano-heavy, cumin-light, New Mexi-chile-laced dishes. And although the differences between Tex-Mex, Mex and New Mex fare might seem slight, you'll taste a world of difference.
Just shy of St. Johns, Encanto's unassuming space�polished concrete floors, exposed beams and duct work�is typical Portland. What sets it apart is an ambitious yet affordable menu featuring cheap wine and beer along with small, crafty plates that can easily make a meal.
The brimming bowl of garlicky mussels ($9) with sliced chorizo served with a salty sour orange-serrano broth is one such dish. Too bad it's not served with something to soak up the delicious broth�sopaipillas, anyone For now, bottoms up with the bowl.
Two other satiating small plates: green chile stew ($6) and the flank steak with mushroom ceviche ($8). The stew, loaded with green chiles flown in from New Mexico and served with a toasty tortilla, warms you up, while the flank, nicely charred and served over criminis, thinly sliced red peppers and red onions marinated in a citrusy vinaigrette, is fresh and full-flavor.
The holy trinity for full plates at Encanto usually consists of tasty, risotto-ish cilantro rice, savory pintos and toasty New Mexi red or green chile sauce. A standout braised lamb ($14) in a savory tomato sauce served with saut�ed chayote squash and mint cr�me fra�che will transfix your taste buds for days. The subtle saut�ed chayote�a tasty cross between zucchini, cucumber and artichoke heart�is perfect alongside the heady, tender lamb.
Encanto revamps chile rellenos ($12) by incorporating goat cheese and white cheddar into a lightly�rather than deep-dive�fried whole poblano. On the heartier side, the pork adovada ($12), marinated in red chile sauce and served between two sopaipillas, is downright hibernatory.
Small details that charm: Water is served chilled but sans ice and in small glasses, service is friendly but unobtrusive, and specialty cocktails are simple and stacked with loads of fresh citrus.
The Eldorado ($6.50)�a softened margarita that makes its own sunshine�mixes Sauza Hornitos with muddled lemon and honey, while the Espanola BBQ ($7), rimmed with a slightly sweet New Mexi-chile blend, is a savory mix of house-infused pepper tequila and tomato juice.
Foods sadly missing at Encanto: posole, chili con queso and tamales. Martinez promises, however, that the latter will grace the menu shortly. As will weekend brunch, once the crew can take a breather and map out a morning menu.
Servers don't push anything at Encanto�that's not the vibe. But if you're hoping for dessert, the ultra-light tres leche ($6) is soft and sweet, sprinkled with freshly ground cinnamon. Then again, I'd rather end a meal at Encanto with a dish of the hot and puffy sopaipillas ($4) served with a side of honey butter. These golden pillows are the ideal send-off for a dreamy North-by-Southwest dinner.