Although Portland is home to plenty of Mexican—as well as a few Tex-Mex—restaurants, New Mexican food was underrepresented until chef/co-owner Michael Martinez and wife Holly Martinez opened Encanto in mid-January on North Lombard. New Mexican fare—drawing from Native American, European and Mexican culinary traditions—is distinguished by oregano-heavy, cumin-light, New Mexi-chile-laced dishes. And although the differences between Tex-Mex, Mex and New Mex fare might seem slight, you'll taste a world of difference.
Just shy of St. Johns, Encanto's unassuming space—polished concrete floors, exposed beams and duct work—is typical Portland. What sets it apart is an ambitious yet affordable menu featuring cheap wine and beer along with small, crafty plates that can easily make a meal.
The brimming bowl of garlicky mussels ($9) with sliced chorizo served with a salty sour orange-serrano broth is one such dish. Too bad it's not served with something to soak up the delicious broth—sopaipillas, anyone For now, bottoms up with the bowl.
Two other satiating small plates: green chile stew ($6) and the flank steak with mushroom ceviche ($8). The stew, loaded with green chiles flown in from New Mexico and served with a toasty tortilla, warms you up, while the flank, nicely charred and served over criminis, thinly sliced red peppers and red onions marinated in a citrusy vinaigrette, is fresh and full-flavor.
The holy trinity for full plates at Encanto usually consists of tasty, risotto-ish cilantro rice, savory pintos and toasty New Mexi red or green chile sauce. A standout braised lamb ($14) in a savory tomato sauce served with sautéed chayote squash and mint crème fraîche will transfix your taste buds for days. The subtle sautéed chayote—a tasty cross between zucchini, cucumber and artichoke heart—is perfect alongside the heady, tender lamb.
Encanto revamps chile rellenos ($12) by incorporating goat cheese and white cheddar into a lightly—rather than deep-dive—fried whole poblano. On the heartier side, the pork adovada ($12), marinated in red chile sauce and served between two sopaipillas, is downright hibernatory.
Small details that charm: Water is served chilled but sans ice and in small glasses, service is friendly but unobtrusive, and specialty cocktails are simple and stacked with loads of fresh citrus.
The Eldorado ($6.50)—a softened margarita that makes its own sunshine—mixes Sauza Hornitos with muddled lemon and honey, while the Espanola BBQ ($7), rimmed with a slightly sweet New Mexi-chile blend, is a savory mix of house-infused pepper tequila and tomato juice.
Foods sadly missing at Encanto: posole, chili con queso and tamales. Martinez promises, however, that the latter will grace the menu shortly. As will weekend brunch, once the crew can take a breather and map out a morning menu.
Servers don't push anything at Encanto—that's not the vibe. But if you're hoping for dessert, the ultra-light tres leche ($6) is soft and sweet, sprinkled with freshly ground cinnamon. Then again, I'd rather end a meal at Encanto with a dish of the hot and puffy sopaipillas ($4) served with a side of honey butter. These golden pillows are the ideal send-off for a dreamy North-by-Southwest dinner.
Dish events: Valentine's on deadline
Even those incapable of planning ahead deserve love. —Mike Thelin
It's Valentine's Day—Yee-haw!
Valentine's Day is an event wrought with tradition: roses, red wine, chocolate, romance—and square dancing. Nothing says romance and passion quite like a fleet of gingham-clad pasty white folk flailing about like real-life Appalachian people. If all the more posh Portland Valentine's Day square-dancing events are booked this year (and aren't they always ), head to People's Food Co-op in Southeast Portland, where you can square off and it won't cost you a dime. V-Day activities span throughout the day and will also include a farmers market, wine and chocolate tasting, and flamenco guitar. People's Food Co-op, 3029 SE 21st Ave. 2-9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 14. Call 232-9051 or visit peoples.coop.
Downward Dog or Reverse Cowgirl
Which positions do you have planned for the night of Valentine's If downward dog is one of them, you'll be in good company at Ecotrust, as it's hosting an offbeat alternative to your typical holiday, with yoga, chocolate and a meatless feast. Get bendy with new friends from Recess Fitness and enjoy a four-course vegan meal by Blossoming Lotus Cafe—all in the building that features Portland's original ecoroof. Ecotrust, 721 NW 9th Ave. 6-9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 14. $40. Call 282-5560 or register at feb14.eventbrite.com.
Don't Like Chocolate We Don't Like You!
W.C. Fields once warned: "Never trust a man who doesn't drink." The same must be said of people who say they dislike chocolate. Chocolate haters—we all know a few—are either waistline-obsessed liars or just plain not worthy of your friendship. Consider it your duty, dear reader, to consume as much chocolate as possible this Valentine's, starting as early as possible in the morning and continuing on into the night. Sahagún opens at 10 am. What's your excuse Sahagún Chocolates, 10 NW 16th Ave. 10 am-6 pm. Call 274-7065 or visit sahagunchocolates.com.
Up to Our Asses in Beer
We may be up to our crotches in incredible and renowned pinot noir, but let's not forget that first and foremost Portland is a beer city—we have more breweries than any city in the damn country, and, according to Wikipedia, probably the world. Although Seattleites will try to tell you otherwise—like when they wrongly claim to have invented grunge—you now know the truth. Experience yet another example of why Portland rules when renowned beer writer Fred Eckhardt (namesake of Hair of the Dog's "Fred") guides guests through 10 rounds of Rogue craft beers—each paired with an appropriate chocolate course. Thirty bucks gets you in the door if you haven't reserved—$25 if you have. Rogue Ales Public House, 1339 NW Flanders St. 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 14. Call 222-5910 for reservations.
Encanto, 5225 N Lombard St., 286-2929. 5 pm-1 am daily. Full menu till 11 pm; late night bar menu 11 pm-close. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.