So what are we calling the stretch of Northwest 23rd Avenue between Raleigh and Thurman streets these days? Expansion Alley? Spinoff Square?
Just spitballing here. But for real: In recent years, those few blocks leading from the freeway down Slabtown's main artery have become a magnet for eastside businesses looking to make the jump across the river. Besaw's got torn down to make way for the second location of wood-fired pizza spot Life of Pie and the first Pine State west of Interstate 5. When Lompoc closed its flagship brewpub last year, Laurelhurst beer bar Tap and Table moved in. Now, in the space formerly occupied by Pacific Pie Co., comes Xica Cantina, casual cousin to Southeast Division Street Mexican favorite Xico.
Whether all this turnover is an upgrade or another example of Portland's rapid homogenization is a matter of perspective, but ask yourself this: Where else in town can you get nachos loaded with gummy bears?
"Dorilocos" sounds like a Taco Bell menu item, and isn't that far off: It's a pile of thick housemade corn chips, peanuts, tomatillo-avocado salsa and, indeed, a smattering of squishy little grizzlies, which make for a delightfully chewy surprise each time you bite into one. If street vendors in Mexico City hadn't thought of it first, surely a stoned kid let loose in a gas station at 2 am would have.
It's indicative of the loose approach owner Elizabeth Davis is going for, but still—this ain't no dive.
Atmospherically, Xica is more suited as a date spot than a rowdy hang, with Catholic prayer candles at each table and bossa nova on the stereo. Other than margs, drinking snacks and a handful of more substantial meals, the focus of the menu is mezcal, served as single pours, flights or in cocktails, including the smoky Oaxaca old-fashioned ($13).
It's bougie, sure, but let's face it, so is the 'hood—and as Davis has proved, that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
DRINK: Xica Cantina, 1668 NW 23rd Ave., 971-339-9041, xicopdx.com/location/Northwest. 11 am-10 pm Wednesday-Monday. Happy hour 3-6 pm Wednesday-Monday.