After a half-decade, Loncheria Mitzil Mexican Eatery remains a secret mostly untold outside of Oregon City—the province of locals, lunchtime rushers and loyal regulars. Even the door, demurely tucked away on the building's side, is obscure: You might think you've accidentally stumbled into the kitchen entrance.

Like all secrets, however, Mitzil is much cozier on the inside. The interior is brightly decorated and deeply domestic; diners are greeted almost invariably by the owner, Luz Martinez, fresh housemade tortillas and a mild salsa-bean dip sprinkled with soft, white cheese.

Mitzil is a family Mexican restaurant in the true sense—as opposed to the overfamiliar, bastardized version involving boiling-hot platters of canned sauces and watery, larded beans. Martinez serves up an array of her family's own fine Guadalajaran recipes (American-style burritos are on the kids' menu only, thanks, along with ham-and-cheese tortillas), from more familiar chile rellenos ($12.95) and carne asada steaks ($14.95) to a slightly more esoteric pumpkin-seed mole verde ($12.95). Note, however, that the specialty menu varies depending on the day of the week, so what's there on Tuesday might not be on Thursday.

In any case, that mole verde (served Friday-Saturday) is one of the menu's high points. The granulate pumpkin provides an unlikely counterpoint to the sauce's creamy sweetness, delivering both texture and temperance to a dish that, elsewhere, too often cloys. The burros ($6.75), a trio of small toasted cousins to the burrito that come filled with refried beans, cheese and goods like marinated pork or potato hash, are equally unlikely in their richness. Also recommended are the mixteada con rajas ($6.75), a simple, home-style dish of green chiles rolled with cheese and tucked into a corn masa pocket, as well as albondigas (a hearty meatball soup, $10.95, Wednesdays only) and the enchiladas suizas ($12.95), topped with a mild, creamy verde sauce.

Authenticity has always been a dubious concept when it comes to food, or anything else really, but Mitzil serves as a reminder of why it's worth chasing. That is, the word often comes in as a euphemism for much more important things: deep respect for the food and a knowledge that comes from long, intimate experience.

  • Order this: The mole verde, with a margarita and an order of Luz’s fresh-made spicy guacamole ($3.75) to start.
  • Best deal: The burros or mixteada ($6.75 apiece) should each fill you up nicely.
  • I’ll pass: Honestly? Haven’t turned down a meal yet.

Loncheria Mitzil, 212 Molalla Ave., Oregon City, 655-7197. Lunch and dinner 11 am-2 pm and 4:30 pm-8 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.