7238 SE Foster Road (Portland Mercado); 8145 SE 82nd Ave. (Cartlandia), 395-7022; mixtecapdx.com. (Mercado) Lunch and dinner daily; (Cartlandia) lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday.
Doña Paula Asunción, from El Carmen Tuxtitlan in Oaxaca, worked in fast food and farms around Portland for 20 years before starting her tamale business at the St. Johns farmers market three years ago. Her intense 15-spice mole negro plate, in particular, is so beautiful it caused passersby to stop and ask, oh dear Lord, what is that? But Asunción's moles shine best on the tamales. Cooked Oaxacan style, in plantain leaf, they are moist, tender, pleasantly frictional and richly redolent of corn, with none of the mucoid texture endemic to far too many banana-leaf tamales. Get one with Asunción's chileajo (red mole), a sauce fiery less with simple heat than with deep smoke and spice: the essence of flame rather than its painful effects.