Webster’s defines “taquito” as…well, actually it doesn’t. Only flauta makes the online dictionary’s cut. You may also know the rolled and deep-fried corn tortilla dish as tacos dorados or, simply, “rolled tacos.” But you’ve never had taquitos quite like those served at Tito’s Taquitos in Southwest Portland. These taquitos tell a story. These taquitos span two countries and three generations. These taquitos—let’s face it, it’s just really fun to say “taquitos”—are impeccably sourced, perfectly executed and incredibly delicious.
First opened by Anthony La Pietra in January 2021, Tito’s Taquitos went over so well with the neighborhood and social media (as well as Portland Monthly) that by September of that year he had to close for seven months to find a bigger cart and new location. That turned out to be the parking lot of a 76 gas station—hardly a negative for any taco truck, but thanks to its covered deck and lots of nearby trees, the space is also as simpatico as any outdoor dining spot.
La Pietra is an L.A.-area transplant and culinary school grad who worked in Hollywood catering, owned a couple of restaurants and, after moving to Portland—simply because he and his wife fell in love with the city after frequent visits, particularly the energy and community of the food cart scene—was working in the kitchen at Adidas before COVID-19 hit. Bored, antsy and wanting to cook following months in lockdown, he decided to stay in his own neighborhood and celebrate the Mexican food he grew up with. Taquitos were a staple in his grandmother’s kitchen, but the biggest inspiration was his late stepfather, Margarito “Tito” Jimenez.
“His favorite food was always taquitos,” La Pietra says. “He would take me to every single Mexican restaurant that he knew, and he had all the taquitos in L.A. mapped out. Like, this is where you go if you want them really crunchy, or this is where you go when you want ‘em drenched in avocado sauce. He was a taquito fanatic. And he would always tell me: ‘You should open up a taquito place one day.’”
At Tito’s, the taquitos are neither an appetizer nor an afterthought but an elaborate—and elaborately composed—entree. They’ve got a spectacularly crispy crackle, strong corn flavor, and a chunky-soft potato filling, plus an assortment of vegetable garnishes and your choice of proteins laid on top. Doing it that way (instead of stuffing a second filling in with the potato) keeps the menu more flexible for vegans and vegetarians, and also makes it easier for La Pietra to make everything that comes out of the kitchen fresh. Calling in an order ahead of time will help ensure you get your food even when La Pietra has sold out for the day, but those tortillas still won’t hit the fryer until you check in at the cart.
“My whole thing is that it should be cooked and in your hands and enjoyed within seven minutes,” La Pietra says.
Tito’s also has a full lineup of tacos, makes its own agua frescas, does two kinds of tres leches cake (both regular and chocolate) for dessert, and will soon serve beer. But the star attraction, well, it’s right there in the name. Here’s how all those layers of flavor break down:
It all starts with the quality and freshness at Three Sisters Nixtamal, which processes and grinds organic corn into masa and tortillas in Southeast Portland. For the taquitos, La Pietra orders the finished product because it’s easier to roll and fry. “We get the tortillas pressed in their machine because we need to get them really, really thin so that they’re nice and crispy all the way through,” he says. But if you try the tacos, the tortillas for those are hand-pressed from Three Sisters masa and griddled in the cart.
THE FILLING AND TOPPINGS
The potato filling inside of your four taquitos is simply boiled and mashed Russet potatoes, with a little bit of garlic, salt and pepper. Then, they get a smear of creamy avocado-tomatillo salsa. From there, it’s up to you. The most popular toppings are birria-style braised beef and, more recently (after starting as a weekly special), a Cuban-influenced citrus pork. Both are braised for four to five hours, slow and low, until tender. But don’t sleep on the garbanzo beans, a vegetarian option that is meant to mimic the mouthfeel, flavor and aroma of pork al pastor. Other options are chicken, shrimp, mushroom and seasonal vegetables.
You get practically an entire cabbage salad as the bottom layer, which also holds the plate together. On the side and top, radish slices, hibiscus flower pickled onions, queso fresco, and a sprinkling of microgreen cilantro (or just chopped cilantro when the former’s not available).
When Tito’s first opened, La Pietra wasn’t sure Portland would embrace the sort of heat that he grew up with. “I would always eat spicy, spicy, spicy salsa,” he says. “[My family] was like, here’s some chiles, you got to start young!” But Portlanders turned out to be right there with him. Sure, they like the classic tomatillo verde, which is the mildest, but also the smoky, punchy, brick-red arbol, while the hottest of them, the habanero-based cueta (“rocket”), might be the most popular.
EAT: Tito’s Taquitos, 3975 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Highway, 503-406-5935, titos-taquitos.square.site. 11 am-6 pm Wednesday-Saturday.