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June 30th, 2004 KELLY CLARKE | Bite Club
 

Cart Crawl

     
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MAXIMINA GENCHI AND CREW
IMAGE: JASON LANDIS
We'd heard rumors about a mysterious one-woman Mexican food force who served barge-sized $2 burritos on the edge of a weedy lot on East Burnside Street and 6th Avenue. Her lunch "cart" was an Igloo Playmate cooler full of ready-to-eat, homemade delicacies and a couple of squeeze bottles of homemade hot sauce.

When we drove by last week, we were worried that it was too late. And we were right about one thing: Cook Maximina Genchi has abandoned her Igloo--for the roomy truck kitchen called Tacos Costa Chica.

The banged-up metal cart looks--well, skanky, thanks to its gritty neighborhood--but the only thing ghetto about Genchi's meals is the exhaust-fumed locale where her kitchen is parked.

To make perfect, open-faced $1 tacos, she piles chunks of tender seasoned chicken and a confetti of diced jalapeño chile, onion, tomato and cilantro atop handmade tortillas, then packs each order with a fat wedge of lemon for spritzing. Her pork tamales are dense and moist. And that burrito? A festival of carnitas, rice, cotija cheese, fresh veggies and a mouth-searing salsa verde.

We'll admit there's a language gap. When Bite Club asked, in halting Spanglish, how Genchi cooks her tender meats, we heard snickers from her other customers, the Hispanic day laborers who wait for work on this corner. No matter. If you master "mas" and "gracias," Genchi will serve you anyway.

With its loopy vases of flowers, band stickers and hot-dog marionette, Zach's Shack looks like Pee-Wee's Playhouse. But this blue-painted shanty perched just off Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard means business when it comes to wieners. And it serves its dogs from 11 am to 3 am every day.

Owner Zach Zelinger opened the late-night spot last January after watching a PBS special on hot-dog stands. His $2.50-to-$4 menu offers regional favorites, like Chicago dogs with all the trimmings stuffed into balloony white-bread buns, as well as addictive Southern-style sweet-'n'-hot coleslaw-and-mustard dogs. He also pushes original tastes, like cream cheese-schmeared German sausages.

Zelinger says one thing his beef dogs share is "the snap." He's talkin' about the bursting jolt that all-natural casings lend each bite. Mythical snap or not, the flavor is paying off. Indie-rock legend Stephen Malkmus offered the Shack a tasty shoutout on his Web diary in February. And then there's the steady stream of tipsy club-goers who have been wolfing down the wieners nightly since the dog days of summer hit.

***

Listen up, Portland food lovers. WW's fourth annual Readers' Poll is set to launch on wweek.com today. We'll be pickin' your noggin on subjects like your absolute favorite new hometown restaurant or which coffee shop gives you the biggest buzz. Poll results will be printed in WW's annual Best of Portland issue Aug. 4, so get online and vote. Remember, this isn't an election--it's a popularity contest.


Tacos Costa Chica, East Burnside Street and 6th Avenue, 255-4506. Open 10 am-2 pm Monday-Saturday.

Zach's Shack, Southeast 44th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard, (971) 235-9888. Open 11 am-3 am daily.

 
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