Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with Frito pie from Texas, which joined the union on December 29, 1845.
The state: The second-most populous state, and the second-largest state in terms of landmass, the Lone Star State has a particularly combative reputation—as in, the Alamo, La Migra, cowboys and Injuns, don’t mess with it, etc. The state joined the Union only reluctantly in 1845 before quickly re-seceding at the onset of the Civil War. But the word “Texas” is itself derived from a Southeastern Native American word for “friendship”, which is the state’s short and sweet motto.The food: New Mexicans and Texans squabble over the origins of this beloved dish, but the Texan story is much more compelling. State lore has it that Daisy Doolin, the mother of Fritos inventor and proud Texan Charles Elmer Doolin, invented “walking tacos” or “Frito boats” while experimenting with her son’s creation. The pie was probably invented in a Frito-Lay consumer test kitchen, but that would leave Texas as the winner in any case. The version served at nearly every Little League game in the state uses canned Wolf Brand chili—also from Texas!—poured over an opened bag of Fritos and garnished with grated cheese and chopped onions. If you choose to go the homemade route and layer the ingredients in a casserole dish, make sure to use a chili without beans.
Other dishes considered and rejected: Chicken-fried steak and dry-rub barbeque. Brisket tacos, cheese enchiladas, and chile con queso with Ro-Tel, which is the greatest of all the Velveeta cheese dips. Texas toast.
Get it from: The version made by Podnah’s Pit ($5.75, 1625 NE Killingsworth St., 281-3700) is as authentic and delicious as anything else to have emerged from their kitchen. Anthony Bourdain may have referred to it as “warm crap in a bag”, but Frito pie is actually is the perfect fast food. The Fritos have enough structure to stand up under the beefy, steaming Texas Red chili and the chopped onion adds just the right amount of freshness and kick.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.