In a major food city like Portland, giving your audience exactly what it wants is often an underrated virtue. And if the comments in the air during a recent visit to Tacovore on Northeast Fremont were any indication, this is at least one area where the Eugene-based taco franchise has definitively succeeded.
"It's about 10 minutes closer than Stella Taco by bike," exclaimed a spry retiree in a spandex cycling getup. "Taco trucks are just so hit and miss," added a young mom whose two children would not stop snatching leftover chips from an abandoned table nearby.
When the mini-chain—which also has a third location in Corvallis—first announced plans to move into the neighborhood, the requisite kvetching over yet another gringo taco spot was tempered by the elation of University of Oregon grads who couldn't wait to relive their undergrad glory days drinking margaritas out of Mason jars. And anyway, this part of town has been hurting for bougie tacos. The expansion of cheery, family-friendly taco shops has touched almost every other corner of the city, and no amount of hand-wringing over "authenticity" is poised to stop it.
But if quality is your primary concern, you probably shouldn't bother schlepping across town to Tacovore. It's not that the chain's dozen or so taco options are thoughtlessly assembled—quite the contrary. Around $4 will get you a taco stacked with vibrant ingredients that often complement each other nicely, like the neat little stack of arugula and pickled onions that sits atop the grilled chicken. Even the tortillas, which are stretchy and resilient enough to keep it all together, are worthy of commendation.
Proteins hide under all those toppings, however, and rarely do they aspire to become star of the show. The carnitas are fried and flattened to the point they resemble hash browns, yet their crispy ends add nothing more than brittle texture. The mole verde taco has similar flaws, with little of that familiar mole flavor present. One bright spot is the brisket taco, which contains a masterful blend of complexity and sweetness.
The vegetarian options aren't much better. The crispy cauliflower relies on sweet pickled onion and cabbage slaw for most of its flavor and texture, while the limp cauliflower just takes up space.
Other items had problems, too. Skip the eerily creamy guac and load up on little ramekins of salsa from the fridge instead. A margarita will feel required to wash it all down, but the Raspberry Serrano ($8 for 12 ounces) was the only one of the three on the menu that offered any flavor—the others displayed an overwhelming tartness resembling a child's heavy-handed experiment with powdered Country Time Lemonade mix.
And yet, on our visit, the line endlessly replenished itself, with one young family or white-haired couple with a dog after the other. Who's to say they're wrong? When convenience and comfort are paramount, why bother seeking out something slightly better? Until that slightly better option moves in within walking distance, Tacovore should continue to do well. It needs you less than you need it, and that's just fine.
EAT: Tacovore, 3707 NE Fremont St., 503-719-4898, tacovorepnw.com. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-10 pm Thursday-Saturday.