5885 NW St. Helens Road, 875-9134. 11 am-4 pm Monday-Friday.
It's gray and dreary near Montgomery Park on a block where the mysteriously unpaved streets are cratered with deep potholes and crossed with disused train tracks, but from the window of his food truck, chef Luis Ochoa is beaming.
As he ties up a bag of steaming food for someone in the small crowd gathered around his cart, he says, "This new location—it's brought me a new life."
A little over a month before, he was making his rainbow array of stunning and labor-intensive Mexican moles for a crowd of almost no one as one of the only culinary outposts of Linnton, a section of railroads and lumber yards on the east side of the St. Johns Bridge. Now he's so busy he's working on opening a second truck to handle demand.
Ochoa claims these moles are a return to the cookery of Mexican homes. But he's also been in restaurants since he was 12 years old in Baja at his mother's restaurant—including stints at Andina and as chef de cuisine at Southeast Division Street's Cibo.
Of the five moles offered, the most impressive is the mole negro ($10), an ink-black mole made with charred seeds and chiles and poured over beef brisket. But the best-seller is the delicately acidic mole verde ($8). "Americans just love green sauces," he says.
Ochoa prepares the moles and the meats separately so he can keep the moles vegan (and gluten-free) in consideration of his Portland clientele—he's added a "chile relleno" vegetarian/vegan entree option ($10) served with a mole amarillo that's seasoned with cinnamon and Mexican oregano. Doing away with heavy egg batter, Ochoa's take on the dish features a fresh roasted poblano pepper stuffed with quinoa, veggies and Oaxacan cheese.
And then there's the empanada he served as a daily special, made with corn masa dyed black with squid ink and stuffed with spicy octopus. It was so good customers continued to ask for it for two solid weeks after it was gone. But until he decides to make it again, you'll probably never have anything like it anywhere.