In November, I reviewed an unimpressive new Mexican joint on Southeast Gladstone Street. In that review, I bemoaned the lack of really good sit-down family Mexican places, those decidedly outmoded eateries with comfy booths, free chips and frozen margaritas in oversized glassware. After the review ran, I got lots of suggestions from readers who thought I might like their favorite spot.
So I went to seven restaurants recommended by readers—La Carreta on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard came out on top.
Then I got more suggestions. So many more. I couldn't go everywhere suggested this time—we could dedicate 2016 to reviewing only restaurants that serve refried beans and still not make it everywhere—but I did scout four more promising spots. And I found a new favorite.
6319 SW Capitol Highway, 892-9944, casacolima.com.
Atmosphere: After my first round of Marg Madness, Casa Colima was the spot we got the most complaints about skipping. It's a massive tile-roofed hacienda that sits snuggly against Capitol Highway in Hillsdale. Outside, there's a giant statue of a cow sitting on a park bench, Inside, it's busy with young families and large groups. Many birthdays were celebrated on our visit, including one for an elderly man in a red suit jacket who stood to hug each and everyone as they arrived.
Bebidas: The Negra Modelo comes in a tall, skinny frosted mug. The frozen strawberry margarita was robust—surprisingly strong and garnished with a slice of orange.
Comida: The chips taste like pico spiked with hot sauce, and the enchiladas were pale, with the doughiness of raw masa. But the chile Colorado was excellent—really rich and stewy, with just a touch of heat. The flan was also the best I've had on this whole crazy adventure, extra creamy and drizzled with a smoke-tinged caramel sauce.
Mexico Lindo (east of I-205)
316 SE 123rd Ave., Vancouver, 360-433-2296, lindomexicovancouver.com.
Atmosphere: There are two Lindos in Vancouver, but tipster Nick Zukin, who owns Portland taqueria Mi Mero Mole, strongly prefers the one east of the 205. It's buried in the elbow of a massive strip mall and was decorated by a restrained hand. The walls are painted in muted earth tones and mostly mural-free, though the cash register does sit in a little booth with a steel roof over it. Some of the booths offer an unobstructed view of the kitchen, right back to the sink, which doesn't really work at this style of restaurant.
Bebidas: The beer is bottled and was slow to arrive. Our entrees actually made it out before the margarita, which is far from ideal.
Comida: Our chips were hard and not especially fresh, served with a very sweet, cilantro-heavy salsa. On the plus side, it came in a bowl large enough for Wheaties. The enchiladas were unremarkable, but the chile Colorado was very well-spiced, with far more heat than you'll find elsewhere, and served on a large round platter with a generous ladle of spicy gravy.
La Isla Bonita
302 NE 122nd Ave., 252-3460, laislabonitapdx.com.
Atmosphere: Conveniently located in the heart of East Portland's Tonkin District, this warm little spot has low ceilings and is awash in tile and brick, including custom tiles inlaid in the center of each table.
Bebidas: The "famous jumbo" margaritas might actually be small by today's standards—the glassware is closer to a martini than the fishbowls you find most places. A selection of four spiked hot coffee drinks is welcome this time of year—I enjoyed my coffee with Tia Maria, which is coffee-infused rum.
Comida: You can see why some people would fall for the place. The chips come with both a little carafe of salsa and refried beans. The enchiladas are slathered in cheese but very light on sauce. The chile Colorado was mild and oniony, slow-simmered until the chunks broke down into an extra-meaty sauce.
La Fuente (pictured at top)
12198 SW Main St., Tigard, 639-3653, lafuentetigard.com.
Atmosphere: You have to drive all the way to Tigard—at which point you might as well continue on to Woodburn, the state's biggest concentration of Mexican spots—but La Fuente is my new favorite family Mexican spot in the metro area. Actually, it's sort of cheating—though it meets all the basic requirements by way of free chips and frozen margs, La Fuente feels more like a taqueria, with squirt-bottle salsa, glass bottles of Coke and TVs showing soccer. It's bright and light on decoration and caters to a largely Latino crowd.
Bebidas: La Fuente isn't going for the frozen-marg market—the selection of spirits tilts toward the top shelf, including Don Julio Silver, Chivas Regal, Courvoisier and Glenlivet 12. It does make frozen strawberry margs, though, and the tap list included the best, freshest, coldest pint of Sierra Nevada Celebration I had this season.
Comida: The menu includes a lot of touches you don't find at Tex Mex-y places, including barbecued lamb and chile Colorado made with meat from spare ribs. It even spells tamale "tamal," using the proper singular form. As one expects at taqueria-style spots, the chips and pico are an afterthought, but the enchiladas and a plate of smoky, crispy-edged carnitas were both excellent. Even the rice and beans had better texture than other spots, with a light sprinkle of salty Cotija adding a nice touch to the latter. Then again, Cotija is almost a betrayal of the form.