Restaurant Guide 2013: Xico

3715 SE Division St., 548-6343, 

[SCOUTING REPORT] In sports they'd say Xico has "big upside." A year after opening, this loft of Mexican comfort food as delivered from Oregon's verdant valleys and arid ranches makes some rookie mistakes but shows glimmers of becoming something special. The bad: Flavors in a late-summer melon salad with chili powder and griddled cheese ($9) were tepid and mismatched while chicken in yellow mole ($20) was Baja dry. When you're just a short walk from the city's best upscale Mexican restaurant (Nuestra Cocina), an admired taqueria (Mi Mero Mole) and killer burrito cart (Lindo Michoacan), that's tough to accept. Yet, overall, Xico is rising. Sikil p'ak salsa ($2) made of crushed pumpkin seeds is revelatory, and you no longer have to go off-menu to get tortilla chips ($2) to eat it. Idaho trout pozole ($20), roasted whole to flaky perfection and served abed bubbly hominy in a rich fish broth, and an inspired mezcal-heavy cocktail program show the promise of the concept. For someone with the time and money to watch how a restaurant develops, Xico is a great prospect. It was on the bubble of our roster this year, but I'm loath to cut it until we see more game action.

Ideal meal: Start with the chips ($2) and at least two salsas ($1-$2). Get the queso fundido, a shallow cassolette of broiled Muenster topped with oily red crumbles of chorizo, big slivers of radish, cabbage and salsa. From there it's a crapshoot but steer clear of the always dry chicken.

Best deal: The lunch window makes a killer vegetarian torta with queso oaxaca ($7) and allows you to enjoy the charming back patio at a bargain price.

Pro tip: Mexican coffee is underrated. Xico gets a custom roast from Flying Goat Coffee ($4), which buys it directly from Oaxaca.

11:30 am-2 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, brunch 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$.


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