Rigoberto comes from a family that is large and well known, if not especially prestigious.
Sitting snugly against a tire shop across from Grocery Outlet on Highway 99E in Milwaukie, Rigoberto's Mexican Restaurant is as inconspicuous as any divey 24-hour burrito joint with a large red and yellow sign can be. But if you know the genre of restaurant signified by the "-berto" suffix—in the Southwest they're as ubiquitous as coffee shops are in the Northwest—you grow fond of them, and miss them if you don't see one for a while. Which is why I was so happy to bump into this far-flung cousin just before Cinco de Mayo.
The Berto Belt includes hundreds of restaurants stretching from San Diego, across Arizona, to Albuquerque, N.M. The original Roberto's—probably the last named after an actual person—opened in 1964 in San Diego. The largest Berto chain, Arizona-bred Filiberto's, has more than 60 locations. I'm also acquainted with Aliberto, Isoberto, Rolberto, Roliberto, Humberto, Julioberto and Aliberdo.
Berto restaurants share more than syllables, though they're independent. The Oregon Rigoberto's chain, which includes shops in Corvallis and Bend ("yeah, we're the same as the other Rigoberto's but not all those weird ones," said the Milwaukie cashier), may or may not be related to five Rigoberto's shops in San Diego (Phone calls to the shop went unanswered.)
Quality varies, but the best Bertos define a subgenre of cheap, greasy Mexican fare. Rigoberto's very solid take employs deep-fried rolled tacos (three plain with cheese for $2.70 or cheese and guacamole for $3), massive burritos filled with crispy carne asada ($5.20), and plates of "machaca," beef seasoned with ground chilies and mixed with scrambled eggs, then served with rice and beans ($7.10). All Bertos have a free salsa bar (don't miss Rigoberto's sweet and salty tomatillo) and liberally apply the same thin, creamy guacamole sauce to almost everything. They're either open just past last call or, like Rigoberto's, never close.
So maybe it's not totally unlike Muchas Gracias—though that other local chain is missing bright orange pork al pastor ($5.20 in a burrito, $2.50 in a massive street taco with soft corn tortillas). Pastor, Mexico's answer to the gyro, is Rigoberto's best offering, especially below thin strands of shredded lettuce and cheddar cheese on the wide, flat and sweet griddle-toasted sandwich buns that make the tortas ($4.30-$4.50) so wonderful.
And Muchas Gracias doesn't quite have the atmosphere of Rigoberto's, where the constant din of an alarm managed to drown out banda music on a recent visit, and the cashier spoke perfect English to us then dropped into the monotone Spanish accent favored by Mexican street vendors as she called out the order to the kitchen crew. And then there was a methy-looking white guy in a gray goatee and grubby brown overalls, trying to sell a laptop to strangers in line. "I found this," he said. "It's Windows 7."
I did not need a laptop of dubious origin; I did, however, need that torta from an amigo I haven't seen in far too long.
- Order this: Al pastor torta ($4.50) drowned in tomatillo with some peppers from the heat tray.
- Iâll pass: Fish tacos ($2.20), which are basically one deep-fried fish stick buried in cabbage.
EAT: Rigoberto's, 15855 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie. 659-8124. Open 24 hours. $.