1615 SE 12th Ave., 971-888-5281, teotepdx.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
However delightfully buttered and crisped, the arepas at Teote—much like the food at certain Russian restaurants—are a front. Leaving aside the handful of vegetarian options, this areperia is actually a high, unholy temple of meat, painted like a roll of tropical-fruit Life Savers.
Teote houses a paint pot of 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. And the simpler Pabellon arepa bowl—$6.50 worth of pulled beef, peppers and black beans—may best the El Diablo with its sweetness, balance and sheer tenderness.
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 the moritas combine with the grassiness of lamb so naturally it's a wonder they aren't paired more often.
But the sides can disappoint. So 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. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
El Cubo de Cuba
3106 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 971-544-7801, facebook.com/elcubo.decuba. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
El Cubo makes faithful versions of Cuban standbys—pork, chicken, rice, beans, Cubano sandwiches—most from rich ingredients buoyed by a heavy spritz of citrus. The best entree I've had is the mojo pork ($9.75), which comes on a plate with rice, black beans and one starchy side from a list that includes two types of fried plantains, yuca fries, sweet-potato fries and avocado salad. The pork is juicy, shredded shoulder meat brightened with citrus. It's especially good with chewy brown rice. The Cubano sandwich ($9.50) also uses the shredded mojo pork, on a feathery toasted baguette-style bun with ham, pickles and Swiss cheese. Only in a town that's home to Bunk's obscene pork-belly version of a Cubano would this sandwich seem balanced and restrained. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Southwest 6th Avenue and Columbia Street, 421-5599, facebook.com/lovebelizean. Lunch Monday-Friday.
Rice and beans and beans and rice! See our food carts of the year feature.
Pollos a la Brasa el Inka
48 NE Division St., Gresham, 491-0323, elinkarestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Landlocked in a suburb no one ever visits on purpose, it's easy for the owners to advertise their roast chicken as the best in town. What's its competition, Safeway? But this small, family-run Peruvian eatery's signature dish ($7.49 for a quarter-chicken with fries and salad) could throw in with any served in Portland proper and keep its title. Slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven, rubbed with a mélange of secret spices the family will probably take to their graves and served with various side sauces that alter each bite, it's a sublime take on a simple meal. MATTHEW SINGER.