Cheap Eats 2015: Mexican Food


Pollo Norte

Pollo Norte, 5427 NE 42nd Ave., 287-0669, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

When Pollo Norte opened, there was a deafening chorus of whispers. "Have you been?" people asked. “Have you had the rotisserie chicken?”  Cully’s bodega-sized rotisserie chicken restaurant is getting good mileage from a dish that becomes common just three degrees south of here. Spit-roasted chickens are popular throughout Latin America, but rare in Portland except at brand-new downtown food cart Polli-Tico and at Gresham's Pollos a la Brasa el Inka, which makes a killer Peruvian version paired with a rainbow of that nation's unique salsas. 

To Portlanders who'd never driven to Gresham, it was revolutionary. Other local publications posted articles about Pollo Norte's single-dish renaissance, and offered instructions on how you can be guaranteed to pick up a spit-roasted chicken before it ran out—which they always do. 

Pollo Norte's birds are indeed very good.  But they're not quite as good as El Inka's—yet. They're being pulled off the imported Valmex rotisserie a little early, before the skin can get a nice toasty crunch.  

Their Mexican-style birds get a light coat of nutty achiote powder, lime juice, chili powder and sea salt, seasonings that sit lightly on the skin while birds ($18 for a whole bird cut into eight chunks, $24 with two sides) leak their juices onto a bed of leafy cabbage below the rotating grill. 

As in Mexico, the chicken is to be pulled apart and made into little tacos, and Norte serves up its own housemade rustic corn tortillas, thick with rough edges and nice lines of crust from the press. 

Grab a michelada (an extra $1 with any beer, but stick to $2.50 Tecate tallboys) and liberally apply the bright tomatillo and you're pretty much set. Side-wise, you want frijoles charros and the coleslaw. 

The bowl of charros is a hearty stew of plump pintos and shredded pork shoulder with a kiss of chili heat. The coleslaw is my new favorite in town, crunchy cabbage with lime juice, cilantro and red onion. MARTIN CIZMAR.


105 NE 4th Ave., Hillsboro, 615-0191, Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. 

[GUAC THIS WAY] Amid the office parks and strip malls of Hillsboro, this tiny family-run Mexican spot serves thick, housemade tortillas built for sopping up the sauces, salsas and especially drippings from the cazuela de bistecisa ($14.95), a Herculean platter of thinly sliced and marinated steak flanked by a pile of nicely spiced chorizo and a grilled cactus leaf. A slightly "lighter" option is a nicely prepared chile relleno ($11.95), the poblano encased in an airy batter that is a good foil for the salty, tangy cheese enclosed within. The prize in the Cracker Jack box, though? Dessert tamales ($3.95), including one filled with mango jam. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Angel Food & Fun

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

[DEVILISHLY GOOD] This Yucatecan joint may be humble in décor and pricing, but there's nothing humble about the flavor of Manuel Lopez's food: It's loud as the dickens. The Cully eatery serves a standard array of tacos and burritos, and it'll be one of the best burritos you'll have in town. But you'd be wrong to get it. The rich relleno negro ($10) lives up to its name, deep black with burnt chili and filled with tender turkey. And the cochinita pibil ($10) is revelatory, its pork seasoned with achiote paste and bitter orange, juicy from being stewed in a plantain leaf, tropical and rich and tart in turns. It's meant for a tortilla, but just as easy to eat with the spoon Lopez will provide—and which you'll use. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Bora Bora

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

[HOLY HALF-CHICKEN] Bora Bora is a destination food cart. It's highly unlikely you'll ever just happen to be in the area, unless you're a huge fan of the Spearmint Rhino strip-club chain. If you're traveling this far east, it's specifically to sample some of the best Mexican street food in Portland west of Gresham. Certain items, such as the chorreadas, gringas, vampiros, and la llorona, might perplex gringos, though they are essentially just variations of the traditional tostada, quesadilla and taco. Don't worry about it too much: If you've driven all the way out here, it's for the birds—whole grilled chicken rubbed in Sinaloan spices, a succulent delight that transcends language, region and the mileage it took to get out there. MATTHEW SINGER.


113 SE 28th Ave., 971-282-1974,; SW 10th Ave. and Alder St. Lunch and dinner daily. 

[AMOR Y TORTAS] In a town already saturated with tacos and sandwiches, the torta is a beautiful lovechild of the two, and Güero is assembling some of the best. Lest you think they're just slinging taco filling onto bread (after all, the cart's name is slang for "white boy"), there is definitely something special happening in that silver streamline. Soft, buttery, crispy-around-the-edges bread perfectly soaks up the spiced juices of the tender carnitas al Güero or pollo pibil (both $8), while shredded cabbage and pickled onions add the right amount of crunch and zip. Rounded out with a housemade charred chile aioli and an optional sprinkling of cotija, the end result is the best of both foods. PENELOPE BASS.

Loncheria Mitzil

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

[ASK WHAT'S FOR DINNER] When Americans say "family-style Mexican," they rarely are talking about anything that anyone would ever actually serve at home. Well, Loncheria Mitzil brings it all back home. Sure, at lunchtime you could get their standby carnitas taco ($1.50) or burros ($6.75)—pan-fried mini-burritos stuffed with potato or the usual meat, and sauced with mole. But treat it like you would a dinner table, and see what's being made special today. On Tuesday, get a pollito coloradito ($10.95) in tangy, spicy red sauce; on Wednesday you get meaty albondigas soup ($10.95) thick with tortilla; and on Thursday, spicy shrimp ($12.95) filling little tortillas with rich flavor and unholy heat. Whatever you do, make sure to get the fresh, warm tortillas with some spicy guacamole. It's the best. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Los Alambres

1134 SE 82nd Ave., 213-0085. Lunch and dinner daily, until 6 pm Sunday.

[¡VIVA LA TORTA!] This 3-year-old food truck specializing in Mexican pressed sandwiches called tortas comes with an attached shanty offering respite from winter weather and 82nd Avenue traffic. The tortas here are massive. A half suits a hearty appetite. Make a meal or four from the kitchen-sink Cubana ($9.75), which includes milanesa (breaded, grilled beef patty), ham, hot dog, head cheese, fresh Mexican cheese, mozz, chorizo, pickle and onion, or one of 16 other sandwich options. Select offerings go for only $5 on Wednesdays. Sick of sandwiches? Skip to the namesake Alambre ($9) a substantial portion of chopped, griddled chorizo, beef, ham, onion and bell pepper accompanied by a stack of corn tortillas. From-scratch horchata (24 oz. for $2) is superb. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN. 

Mi Mero Mole

5026 SE Division St., 232-8226; 32 NW 5th Ave., 971-266-8575; Dinner Tuesday-Thursday and lunch and dinner Friday-Sunday on Division; lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday in Chinatown.

[SAUCY IN GENERAL] Nick Zukin's carta de amor to Mexican street food revolves around guisados, or stews, served on tacos or tortas, in burritos or in ways more exotic. Zukin is what we in the news business call “a character”:  native Oregonian, Trekkie, controversial Twitterer, Blazermaniac and dedicated libertarian who made an intensive study of Mexican fare in order to offer his own take at two Portland restaurants. (Note: He's contributed a few things to WW, and also ripped us a few times.) Some of his guisados can be too soupy and mild for my own taste, but they're well-made and similar to what I encountered in DF. Cubicle gnomes take note: Happy hour at the Chinatown location, from 2 to 6 pm, is a wonderful experience. Get a basket of crunchy duros soaked in Tapatío ($2 happy hour, $3 regular) and a $2.50 draft from a well-appointed list. Close behind that? The burrito, beer and a shot deal at the Chinatown location—$10 and available all day. Go during a Blazers game, when Zuke is his most Zukey. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Robo Taco

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

[DRINKIN' TACOS] Robo Taco is where the drunkards of Dig a Pony and Star Bar briefly civilize themselves, before passing out or returning, newly fueled, to the fray. But unlike brethren-in-functionality like a late-night Muchas Gracias or northside depressing Javier's, Robo is actually good. It is, in fact, better than its clientele deserves, with bold salsas, inventive $2.25 vegetarian tacos like a portobello mushroom option and a taco that stuffs a chile relleno into the fold, and oddball late-night cravers like a $3.75 fried-oyster taco. But for those who simply need a gigantic plate of huevos rancheros al pastor ($9.75) to stop the thrumming in their head, it will serve just fine, don't worry. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Stella Taco 

2940 NE Alberta St., 971-407-3705, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

[BRUNCH TACOS] Stella Taco is listed here under Mexican, but you might find it most useful to file it under brunch. This stylish Alberta Street taqueria pairs the classics, like lengua ($3 taco) and chile colorado ($2.50 taco, $7 torta), with more contemporary offerings like vegetarian fried avocado and vegan mole (both $2.75 tacos). But breakfast tacos alone are a reason to go. Texas-style brunch comes on corn, and Stella has three offerings available until 3 pm. The best comes from Chihuahua, stringy machaca-style beef ($3) with scrambled eggs and soft, white cheese. A spicy housemade chorizo ($3) taco with earthy, grilled, green onions, eggs and crispy little potato sticks is also wonderful. If you're into spicy salsas, be sure to ask for the special hot sauce, a pistachio-green concoction that packs blinding heat. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Tacos Chavez Express 2

5222 SE Foster Road, 926-1506, Lunch and dinner daily.

[XXX HOT] Searching for that mythical close-in taqueria with oil-speckled salsa squirt bottles, an altar with the Mexican tricolor and crazy delicious California burritos? You found it—depending on your definition of close-in, at least. Yes, Tacos Chavez Express 2's menu overlaps with Muchas Gracias, but Jorge Chavez and his father, Claudio, are doing wonderful things in a tiny storefront sandwiched between a 24-hour adult-video store and a used-car lot. On the counter sits a bubbling vat of horchata and a tub of salsa de aceite marked "XXX HOT." This house recipe is the Mexican answer to Asian chili oil, a slurry of chile de árbol and sesame seeds that's hot, nutty and addictive as hell. Put some on the Christmas-style chimis ($8), which have a perfectly crisped shell around shredded chicken that pummels you with little moist fists of flavor. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Taqueria Hermanos Ochoa's

949 SE Oak St., Hillsboro, 640-4755. Lunch and dinner daily.

[CAN'T-MISS TACOS] There are two bright orange buildings with yellow trim in this Hillsboro taco base, decked out with comfy booths and tiled floors. Because when you have the best dollar tacos around, and a spicy three-meat torta with avocado that could feed a family of four for $8 (Torta De La Casa), you need room to pack em' in. Take my advice, bring $10 and pick the most delicious looking thing on the giant picture-wall menu by the cash register, then buy a Mexican Coke with the change. Or just get the $10 mixed-plate Especial De La Casa, which comes with seemingly endless mixes of meat, corn tortilla, bell pepper, avacado, and pico de gallo, then loosen your belt two notches. God bless Ochoa's, where portions are sized by "how much delicious homemade Mexican food can I fit in this container?" PARKER HALL. 

Taqueria Los Laureles

611 N Pacific Highway, Woodburn, 981-0797. Lunch and dinner daily.

[WOODBURN BEST] At this Woodburn table-service spot—judged the best in a taco tour of Woodburn—stick to the "especialidades," especially the the tlayuda ($9). Think of Oaxacan pizza: A 16-inch rustic corn tostada griddled to a crackly crunch and topped with refried beans and a magical elixir called asiento, which is the drippings and bits left from making carnitas. This is covered with a thick layer of shredded mozzarella-like queso Oaxaca, tomato, shredded cabbage, steak and avocado. We also had a squash blossom quesadilla and a pupusa, a 4-inch round, thick masa tortilla, with beans and cheese in the middle. It is fantastic. NICK ZUKIN AND MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Taqueria Portland

820 SE 8th Ave., 232-7000. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

[NORTH BY SOUTHEAST] This taqueria migrated down to Southeast Belmont from St. Johns last year, bringing its fresh corn tortillas and superspicy house salsa with it. The menu is wide and pretty much what you'll find in Mexico, from fish tacos in a delightfully light breading to a crunchy chimichanga topped with a squirt of sour cream and a shake of cotija. The carne fillings are spot on—roasty, rich and ready for some of that spicy house salsa. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Tienda Santa Cruz

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

[BEST TACOS] As far as I'm concerned, this taqueria is numero uno in Portland. Tucked into the backroom of a tienda and panderia in downtown St. Johns, Santa Cruz draws a mix of working folks from the 'hood and foodies who crave killer street tacos. You must try the carnitas, a huge hunk of salty, fatty and achingly tender roasted pork pulled right off the bone, ripped into chunks and plated with rice, beans and a little basket of warm corn tortillas. Grab a little paper boat of escabeche and another paper boat filed with the addictive green salsa and set to work. Desserts available on the way out. Also note: The other "Santa Cruz" locations are not the same at all. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Woody's Tacos

210 W Evergreen Blvd., Suite 700, Vancouver, Wash., 360-718-8193, Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

['COUVE] Uber-crispy fish tacos, Alesmith Speedway stout on draft and reggae music right by the recreational dispensaries? Ya mon, Woody's is a place you need to know if you find yourself in the 'Couv. Here, the massive tacos ($3-$4) eat like meat-heavy burritos, the strawberry fresca is almost as thick as a Jamba Juice and the small chips and salsa ($2) fills most of a cafeteria tray. The roasted salsa is joyously hot and the carnitas drips juices. Please do avoid the carne asada, which tastes like liquid smoke out of an ashtray. MARTIN CIZMAR.

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Thai/Laotian | Vegan/Veg-friendly | Vietnamese | 21 Delicious Bites For $7 or Less

WWeek 2015

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