Cheap Eats 2014: Mexican Food


Angel Food and Fun

5135 NE 60th Ave., 287-7909. Lunch and dinner daily.

The "fun" in Angel Food and Fun theoretically refers to the restaurant's adjoining pool hall and video poker parlor, but make no mistake: The food at this humble Yucatecan joint is the fun.

That's thanks to Manuel Lopez, a former Bluehour sous chef who abandoned the polished Pearl last year for the pocked, unpaved roads of Northeast Portland's Cully neighborhood. He now serves up crazily affordable, deeply comforting dishes in a brightly lit, apricot-walled room. Yes, he's got burritos and tacos and excellent tamales, but also things unique to Yucatán, such as fried tortillas topped with chicken or steak, pickled vegetables, tomato, avocado, lettuce and jalapeño ($2).

But it's on the entree menu—handwritten on a whiteboard at the counter—that Lopez's skill really shows. Mostly braised meats and stews, they're rich, satisfying and unexpected. Try the relleno negro ($10), tender morsels of turkey in a smoky broth that's midnight-black from burnt chilies. On top are two thick pork-sausage patties the diameter of DVDs, with a hard-boiled egg in the middle.

The star of the menu is the cochinita pibil ($10), Yucatán's most iconic dish. Phenomenally flavorful cuts of pork—seasoned with bitter orange juice and achiote, wrapped in banana leaves and then roasted for hours—bathe in a broth the color of Mars. The pickled cabbage and red onions crowning the dish give it the neon hues normally reserved for Pixy Stix. The flavors, though, are all grown-up: It's zingy and citrusy and complex, and you will try to sop it up with the tortillas that come with every entree. And then you will be glad that Lopez—who often does much of the serving himself—has brought you a spoon. REBECCA JACOBSON.


105 NE 4th Ave., Hillsboro, 615-0191, Late breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Portland proper lacks anything like Amelia's, a family restaurant with slow-roasted pork, goat, lamb and beef in deeply satisfying sauces. Tortillas are made from masa so fresh you can still taste the husk, moles are elaborately seasoned, and an Aztec soup with gummy tortilla strips, shredded chicken and avocado chunks in a spicy brown broth will warm you right down to the alma. Don't leave without trying dessert tamales made with fresh fruit—pineapple and strawberry on our visit—that are almost worth the drive on their own. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Bora Bora

15803 SE Division St., 750-1253. Lunch and dinner daily.

Okay, the neighborhood's not much. Parked across Division from The Spearmint Rhino strip joint and sandwiched between Roll Your Own mini-mart and Mi Bella Custom Tattooing, Bora Bora's food truck may not be where you take your mother. But when the crew starts throwing whole chickens rubbed in Sinaloan spices on the massive outdoor charcoal grill, you know it's worth the drive. What to eat? Tacos ($1.50) until you can't move. With pork, beef or even the buche (pig stomach) you really can't go wrong. But it's the chicken hacked up with a cleaver that's best, and that's what a never-ending stream of what appear to be repeat customers order. NIGEL JAQUISS. 

NEW! Güero

113 SE 28th Ave., 593-8846, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

The Yucatecan-influenced Güero makes pork-and-rice bowls with foliage to rival the potted display by their cart window, stack-up huaraches and, recently, a deeply ancho-pepper-heavy pozole rojo thick enough to stand tortilla chips on their side. But man: those tortas ($7.50 apiece). Far from the customary grease bombs, they're filled with fresh cabbage, housemade cilantro aioli and avocado, plus a dusting of Cotija cheese for 50 cents extra. There's a hearty mushroom version, and a torta with tender carnitas that's been slow-cooked in lime, oranges, cumin and cinnamon. But for sheer excess? The Toda Madre, a carb attack of a sandwich stuffed with an entire huarache and a wealth of meaty tamarind-and-habanero-soaked tomatoes. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. 


NEW! La Taq

1625 NE Killingsworth St., 971-888-5687. Dinner and late night daily.

Highlights among the mostly familiar gringo-oriented offerings of Rodney Muirhead's Tex-Mex bar adjunct to his popular Podnah's Pit Texas barbecue den, are a pair of warm, wet, winter fillers. The pork ribs in chili verde ($9) are the highest and best use of cartilaginous rib tips. They are first braised until yielding, then immersed in a piquant green chili-infused broth. There is also chicken tortilla soup ($8), a prosaic tonic in other venues that owes a huge debt here to its nuanced smoked chili and tomato base. The portion isn't enormous, but the broth, with ample chunks of shredded chicken, white cheese and fettuccine-wide strips of crispy tortilla, makes it mouth-filling and memorable. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN. 

Loncheria Mitzil

212 Mollala Ave., Oregon City, 655-7197. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

An unassuming family affair nestled just down the hill from a sprawling cantina serving nachos by the truckload, Loncheria Mitzil's decidedly quieter virtues are foretold by the proprietress busily compiling tamale phone orders or their dependably mutable menu. Since about half of the dinner options are only available one day a week, you'll need to plan ahead for such familiar favorites as a queso-packed chile relleno ($12.95), but there's reason enough to stop by for more affordable evergreens like the well-seasoned carnitas taco ($1.50) or the burros ($6.75)—a trio of fun-sized, pan-fried burritos stuffed with your choice of potato or the usual meats and enlivened by a rich mole. JAY HORTON.

NEW! Los Alambres

1134 SE 82nd Ave., 213-0085, Lunch and dinner daily.

When you get your torta from this food truck, you'll think you got pranked with a Looney Tunes anvil in your bag: Your arm will thunk down with the satisfying weight of an entire day's worth of food. The place is conveniently hugged up against a panaderia—which is perhaps why the bread is so fluffy, crisp and lovely—and that elephantine ham, mozzerella, egg and serrano pepper Campezina torta ($8) barely scratches a sandwich menu that extends its options into the double digits, alongside a potato-chorizo pambazo sandwich ($3.50) that could be a meal in itself. Note that the cart emblazons itself proudly "estilo DF" for Distrito Federal: Mexico City, and that's where the food has its home. The cart's titular dish of Alambre literally means skewer, but the Mexico City staple is more often all the stuff you might find on a skewer: a three-meat chili con queso with 8 tortillas for a mere $9. Damn. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Mi Mero Mole

5026 SE Division St., 232-8226, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Nick Zukin's heartfelt shoutout to Mexican home-style cooking gets so many things right. Like the deli he co-founded, Kenny & Zuke's, Mi Mero Mole is affordable and convenient; prices range from $2.75 for a single taco to $15.25 for a plato macho, or two meats, rice, beans and tortillas. Still, the daily rotating guisados—meat, seafood and veggie stews and stir-fries—can be bland. The only difference between tomato-chipotle sauce and mole verde shouldn't be that one is red and the other green. But the soft, fragrant corn tortillas and chips are made in-house, as are the beans and salsas; the selection of margs, beer and tequilas is impressive, and the service is friendly and attentive. ADRIENNE SO.

NEW! Nayar

5919 SE Foster Road, 971-888-4897. Lunch and dinner daily.

Nayar is an excellent taqueria manned by a charming restaurateur. The menu keeps expanding to the point that it's stretched thin, with a whopping 16 taco options, including all the usual suspects along with salmon, machaca, and a picadillo of ground beef, raisins, almonds and potatoes. And that's just the first section of a menu that includes five tortas, tamales, a prawn ceviche, a vegan burrito with chipotle tofu, nopalitos salad, quinoa salad and a burrito stuffed with steak and a chile relleno. Much is jumbled, but get the chile verde taco and the chorizo taco; the latter is a simple and satisfying preparation of fried sausage crumbles with cilantro and chopped onions. MARTIN CIZMAR.

¿Por Que No?

4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 954-3138; 3524 N Mississippi Ave., 467-4149,
Lunch and dinner daily.

Food and philosophy have always gone together. In fine dining, chefs make statements on chemistry and physics, but gringo-pandering taqueria Por Que No takes a more economically grounded approach: answering its own naysayers with a blasé, "Why not?" Their tacos range from $3-$4.25 a pop, and while that price can easily get you three times as many from points farther afield, why not have one anyway? Labor-intensive fillings, like the slow-braised barbacoa, speak to the effort that's gone into them, while the calamari should often be returned to sender. Accompany your neatly arranged tacos with a small margarita ($6.50) or—what the hey—a full pint of sweetened tropical appropriation ($9). MITCH LILLIE.

Robo Taco 

607 SE Morrison St., 232-3707. Lunch, dinner and late night daily.

Robo Taco is the gringo taco done right. In pure Portland style, they began with a half-assed robot theme but unlike L.A.—which might have installed a veritable Japanese museum—Robo threw up a couple paintings and then pretty much forgot about it. While they're open for lunch every day, this is essentially a drunken mecca for Southeast Portland's new bar district, a protein stop that just so happens to make solid salsa and have better vegetarian taco options ($2) than meat: the portobello mushrooms, for example, and the lovely chile relleno taco that's a tour of textures. Those hordes of vegan Los Gorditos aficionados should really discover that it's done better here. You're probably always drunk when you arrive, but you're not nearly as drunk as you would have been. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Taqueria Hermanos Ochoa's

943 SE Oak St., Hillsboro, 640-4755. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

The litany of exotic dishes pictured on Ochoa's wall-spanning menu may hint at the authenticity of a beloved Hillsboro landmark expanding alongside its community, but the signal lure for Hispanic families and buttoned-up techies alike remains an enviable array of dollar tacos, the best of which—moist barbacoa and al pastor pulsating with delicately seasoned natural flavors—take fullest advantage of the outdoor grill now separating two dining areas. If the housemade chips (freely available at the overflowing salsa bar) beg additional salt, and the tasty though slightly mushy enchiladas (not much more expensive at $6 for the plate) could've used a shade more lard, let's just consider Ochoa's rendition of traditional Mexican cuisine heartfelt, in every sense. JAY HORTON. 

Taqueria Lindo Michoacan

4035 SE Division St., 313-6864. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

I'll confess I live right by this friendly little family-run cart—now painted white and stationed in the parking lot across from Carbide Saw. But I don't go here because it's close, but because Michocoan makes the best $5 burrito in Portland. That starts with the stretchy handmade flour tortillas, which have the same surprising strength as super high-end paper towels. Then there's the rich pastor, juicy chicken and stew-y barbacoa. The meats are available as tacos for $1.50 each, but you want the burrito stuffed with rice, beans, cilantro and onion. After you pay, you'll be asked if you want red or green salsa. This is a trick question: you want both. Leave them an extra dollar. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Tienda Santa Cruz

8630 N Lombard St., 289-2005. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Past the Mexican marketplace and its canopy of star-shaped piñatas is a spacious room painted adobe orange and decked with rows of laminate tables. By the looks of it, it should be packed with clubgoers after a night out in Monterrey, but instead the patrons are families with kids and college guys who haven't mastered cooking for one. The menu is standard Mexican fare; carne asada is the most popular, but many regulars get the greasy yet sturdy chile-relleno burrito ($4.75). The torta cubana, a Mexican variation of the cubano with chorizo, ham and 17 other ingredients, would make the perfect drunken nightcap, but add eggs and it's a kingly, heartburn-inducing breakfast for $5.35. AARON SPENCER. 

Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon

16223 NE Glisan St., 255-4356. Lunch and dinner daily.

If you can get past the 30-minute drive to Gresham and the clumps of cash-strapped folks smoking cigarettes outside the plasma donation center next door, this is one of the best Mexican joints in town. Situated in the back of a convenience store (just follow the rows of quinceañera piñatas hanging from the ceiling), La Tortilleria offers authentic Mexican fare in an authentic mercado setting. The burrito ($5.99) is packed with fresh meat from the adjoining butcher; the tamales ($1.75) are a particular price-steal and come moist and fresh. Also, be sure not to pass up the standout smoky black beans that come with any combo meal, or the dizzying array of salsa options. GRACE STAINBACK.

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