Teote bills itself as an areperia, after the Venezuelan corn cakes that accompany most of the plates on the menu. But that's a bit like calling a Chinese restaurant a rice house. However delightfully buttered and crisped, the arepas—much like the food at certain Russian restaurants—are a front. Leaving aside the handful of vegetarian options, this two-story Ladd's Addition eatery is a high, unholy temple of meat, painted inside and out like a roll of tropical-fruit Life Savers.
The guy who greeted us in the ordering line was quick to point out that Teote—short for "the ends of the earth"—was not authentic Venezuelan food. It is instead a paint pot of various South American grilling traditions and Pacific Northwest sensibilities, leading to lovely concoctions like the El Diablo ($6.50), crisped pork belly in a sweeter-than-hot chili maple sauce that absorbs pickled onions and queso fresco into its caramelized, umami-drenched stew. It is a shameless Latinized rendition of General Tso's, and it can be eaten with or without the halved arepas that stand at attention in its bowl like toast popped out of a toaster.
The simpler Pabellon arepa bowl—$6.50 worth of pulled beef, peppers and black beans, minus the rice that would have accompanied the dish in Venezuela—may best the El Diablo with its sweetness, balance and sheer tenderness, though you might want to avail yourself of the pleasantly blistering, fresh serrano sauce that's hotter than the shop's watery habanero.
The highlights on the menu, however, are the Mas Comida ("more food") meat slabs, in particular a thick habanero-soaked pork chop ($14 with sides) that manages, with its gently spicy citrus sauce, to feel juicier than a fruit. The duplex of grilled lamb chops with morita pepper ($16), a variation on chipotle, are earthy and satisfying—the smoky notes of morita peppers combine with the grassiness of lamb so naturally it's a wonder that they aren't paired more often.
But however stunning the meats and stews, the sides can disappoint: The plantains were both dry and a bit undercooked, the cabbage salad mere cabbage, the greens stinting with their citrus dressing, the rice soaked in cloying sweet lime. (The beans, however, are lovely.)
So, advice: If you want stews with arepas, order singly and skip the sides. If you want the big cuts of grilled meat—and believe me, you do—order the $38 dinner for three even if you're a pair, and receive the aforementioned pork and lamb, charred short ribs with a needle of serrano spice and side-dish filler. The ensuing decadence is thrilling, especially when accompanied by the brisk slap of a mango-habanero agua fresca laced with tequila.
That gong-sized platter is a beautiful reminder that from burgers to Lexington sweet-vinegar barbecue to Argentinian-Brazilian asado traditions, the Americas' devotion to the beef and pork grill has perhaps been our greatest contribution to the world food lexicon. And as Teote demonstrates, it's a worthy claim to fame.
EAT: Teote, 1615 SE 12th Ave., 971-888-5281, teotepdx.com. 11 am-11 pm Tuesday-Sunday.