It's funny how fast we get accustomed to nice things, and want for nicer. A few years ago, Portlanders were happy to have any pepper-forward Sichuan restaurants. Now we want hot pot in every quadrant. It's not enough to attempt Chicago deep-dish now, the crust needs just the right amount of cornmeal. And just six months ago, I was enchanted to find La Panza, the first serviceable New Mexican in town. Now, I'm about to nitpick the Blue Goose, which is better yet, but still flawed.
Westward the wagons to 2725 SE Ankeny St., formerly Esparza's Tex-Mex Cafe, now crossing the Rio Grande from El Paso to where the calabacitas grow and where "chili" is "chile" and comes with sopaipillas instead of bagged Fritos.
The Blue Goose kept Esparza's high-top tables and steer skull, then reached further back into the site's history for the name, an old tavern with hard-boiled eggs and beer.
Brew options have been slightly expanded from the Weinhardian era. Besides canned Tecate with lime ($3, no complaints) and Corona, the Goose has unfamiliar brews called "Pay the Ferryman Porter" and "Death Rides a Pale Horse Blonde Ale." Intriguing, as Mexico has an up-and-coming beer scene. Turns out this is a full line of faux craft beers from Mexicali, unfamiliar, priced at $4.50 and uniformly terrible—exactly the type of tripwire that beverage directors are supposed to snip, not set.
You're far better off with the agave-focused cocktails. There are six house margarita blends—go with the strawberry basil, $8.50—plus a Moscow Mule ($9), a mezcal Negroni ($10) and, my favorite, a stiff but bright tequila old-fashioned ($10).
Once you get to the food, things get better in a hurry. But first you have to wait out the logjam at the host station and remember to ask for one of the few tables with access to the full menu, unavailable at the bar or on the patio that together account for about half the seating. All three visits felt like opening night, with guests waiting up to 10 minutes for seating at an empty table as servers huddled, chatted and pointed before eventually showing people to their seats.
It's imperative you get the full menu, because that's where you'll find the green chile cheeseburger ($10.50), a thick half-pound slab of beef on a soft brioche bun with a super-sweet marinated tomato, ground Hatch chile peppers and a layer of crispy aged cheddar. It's instantly one of the city's landmark bistro burgers.
The other killer entree is also ridiculously big and meaty, a burrito stuffed with braised pork shoulder and Yukon Gold potatoes ($12.50). Eat this beastly burro with a fork or risk achy arms from lifting and shirt splatter when the flour tortilla gives out under the heft of ultra-rich pork shoulder, heat-dripping Hatch chiles, salted crema and more aged cheddar.
Thankfully, the rest of the menu has far lighter and equally good fare. From the starters, skip the chips with guacamole ($5.50, boring) or chile con queso y chorizo ($6.50, very little chorizo, overly salty, plasticky cheese) and head for the heirloom tomato salad ($8.50) with tangy queso fresco, a mild but delightful cilantro-jalapeño vinaigrette and smoky pepitas. Or, if it's still around, grab the grill-blackened corn on the cob, the outside of the kernels coated in a caramelized garlic-lime butter glaze and dusted with salty cotija ($5).
And if you can't get to the full menu, you'll be fine with the tacos, all served in pairs for $7.50 on housemade corn tortillas. The deeply smoky, salty brisket, or pecho de vaca, is beautifully balanced with a salsa of pickled corn. It's nearly matched in richness by the vegetarian-friendly pasilla-roasted squash with crisp jicama, crema, queso fresco and smoked pepitas. For the meat-free, it's far better than the quesadilla ($8.50), which tries and fails to bring kale into the New Mexican fold.
For dessert? Well, you're out of luck—no honey-drenched sopaipillas yet. Let's be patient and appreciate what's already here.
- Order this: Green chile cheeseburger ($10.50) and heirloom tomato salad ($8.50).
- Iâll pass: âCraftâ beers, quesadilla.
EAT: The Blue Goose, 2725 SE Ankeny St., 235-2222. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Wednesday, 5 pm-midnight Thursday-Saturday.