The aroma inside Mi Mero Mole is like entering the kitchen of a Mexican grandmother—a heavenly blend of freshly made corn tortillas and simmering spices. She would insist you stay for dinner and wouldn't let you leave without a hug. The familial vibe is fitting since Mi Mero Mole specializes in creating guisados, hot dishes meant to offer the goodness of a home-cooked meal but typically served by street vendors or in delis. It was in the neighborhoods of Mexico City—where guisados are most popular—that Portland restaurateur and foodie-about-town (and occasional WW contributor) Nick Zukin found the inspiration for his new eatery.
Zukin is the Zuke of downtown deli Kenny & Zuke's, but Mi Mero Mole represents his first solo restaurant. Finding a niche apart from the myriad taco trucks and establishments in town, Zukin crafts an impressive array of tasty guisados. The traditional Mexican stews and stir-fries can be spooned into corn tortillas, wrapped in a burrito or simply served with beans and rice—striking a balance between made-from-scratch quality and cart efficiency. The menu details 63 varieties, but the offerings change daily depending on what's fresh. The restaurant's chalkboard lists available guisados with about a half-dozen options made with meat, seafood, eggs or veggies.
The guisados are prepared from scratch (as are the tortillas, rice and beans) with central Mexican ingredients like chipotle, ancho and arbol chilies; fruits like pineapple, plums and raisins for sweetness; and almonds, peanuts and sesame seeds to thicken sauces. The spiciness is quite mild compared to other styles of Mexican food. With a lower spice tolerance myself, I found the medium dishes to be just hot enough, while the mild had nice flavors but essentially no heat. Dishes are prepared with standards like pork, beef or chicken—more adventurous ingredients include beef or duck heart and beef tongue—plus vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options.
The cerdo en mole manchamanteles, pork stewed in a sauce of fruits, nuts and dried chilies, was mild and slightly sweet with chunks of pork so tender they barely needed to be chewed. But the cerdo en adobo pork in a pineapple-sweetened chili sauce had the perfect combination of heat and depth of flavor. The beef heart in a dark chili sauce with cinnamon and clove was earthy, if a bit tough, and the chicken with cactus paddle was reminiscent of okra. Fried plantains with spiced sour cream make for a tasty side or dessert. Homemade aguas frescas (with a just-sweet-enough horchata) and an impressive selection of tequilas wash it all down nicely.
To top it all off, the tortillas are housemade from fresh masa, which makes for a slightly puffed, flakier tortilla delivered hot off the griddle. They are so good they will forever ruin you for all but your abuela's.
- Order this: Cerdo en adobo plato chico ($8.50). Pork in a pineapple-sweetened tangy chili sauce, served with rice, beans, three tortillas and chips.
- Best deal: Guisado burrito ($4.50-$7.50). Choice of guisado in a flour tortilla with rice, beans and cheese.
EAT: Mi Mero Mole, 5026 SE Division St., 232-8226, mmmtacospdx.com. 5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday, 11 am-10 pm Saturday, 11 am-8 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive.