If you're looking for the regional tastes of Latin America, Portland Mercado has one of the most comprehensive offerings in the city. Celebrating its one-year anniversary tomorrow, April 16, the Mercado has eight food carts, each focusing on a different regional Latin American food, and seven indoor businesses, from a market selling hard-to-find ingredients, like raw Oaxacan chocolate, to a coffee roaster using beans from its own family-owned farm in Nicaragua.
"Our intention was to help Latino entrepreneurs, to create jobs, and to show the city of Portland what Latino culture is all about through arts and food," says Manuel Marin-Foucher, manager of Portland Mercado. Hacienda CDC launchd the Mercado, and Marin-Foucher describes it as a "mini Shark Tank" for Latino entrepreneurs in the Portland area: The eight food carts you'll find were chosen from 150 food cart applicants.
To keep from being overwhelmed by the food options, most of which run $5-10, use the handy guide below. And if you love to dance to salsa and capoeira, head to tomorrow's celebration, with top-notch live bands and dance lessons—plus all that food. It kicks off tomorrow at noon and goes till 8 p.m., at 7238 SE Foster Rd.
Guide to the Eight Food Carts Outside the Portland Mercado
The food carts are open daily, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Mondays and Tuesdays, when half the carts are closed
"My dad always said you need to have your own business to be successful," says Antonio Felipe Asuncion, whose family owns Mixteca, a cart serving large tamales with house-made mole sauce for $5-6. Asuncion began by selling tamales to Oregon field workers, and now he has a popular catering business and a second food cart in the Cartlandia pod. The Tamal Oaxaqeno with chicken is the most popular, and Asuncion also recommends the Tamal Chileajo with pork.
Welcome to the world of Colombian food, from almojabanas (cheesy cornmeal rolls), to the better-known empanadas and arepas. For something traditional, Qué Bacano recommends the Arroz Atollado, and if visiting on a weekend, try the Bandeja Paisa, a mix plate of Colombian flavors.
Serving lesser-known Mexican specialities, like huarache (long, stuffed and fried masa tortillas), Dora Reyna owns Las Adelas, and she and her family moved to the United States in 2002. The Birria Plate, with rice, beans, handmade tortillas, and a signature adobo beef, is a fan favorite, and there are also pozoles, Mexican stews—and then those huarache.
Bringing the cuisine of El Salvador, owners Maria Lizana and Victor Hernandez make papusas, the thick tortillas stuffed with cheese and the filling of your choice, whether chicken, beans, or the loroco edible flower (psst: chicharron are also a legit option).
The famous cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, has many sides, and Tierra Del Sol focuses on tacos, enchiladas, and tlayudas made with thick, house-pounded blue-corn tortillas. Beans are cooked with avocado leaves and chile costeno, and queso fresco and sour cream come from Oregon's Ochoa Queseria. The tacos and tlayudas are the go-to dishes. Allegedly large enough for two, tlayudas are round, 14 inches across, and come with all the usual suspects, plus chicharones, for $13.00.
You may have already had Fernando's burritos at its Mundo Fiesta location on SW 4th and College. Fernando's Alegria serves the Mercado's only burritos, and they're massive. The Fernando's Special, a burrito of seasoned steak, grilled onion, jalapenos, tomato, rice, beans, sour cream, and cheese, is the most popular.
A former head chef in a Cuban restaurant in Mexico, Jose Perez serves a popular Cubano sandwich and traditional Cuban dishes. Qué Bola says its Ropa Vieja, a stew of shredded beef served over rice, is a great introduction to Cuban food.
Coming to the United States from Mexico about ten years ago, the Hernandez family serves creative versions of the Mexico City-style torta. The Cubana torta draws crowds, and owner Antonio Hernandez says the Gringa rocks, with marinated pork, mozzarella cheese, and pineapple.
The Seven Businesses Inside Portland Mercado
Individual business hours vary, but most businesses are open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with later hours on the weekends.
This shop makes custom pinatas—can you imagine the possibilities? And it also sells a huge selection of candies from Latin America. Co-owners Monica and Humberto Moreno came to Portland from Distrito Federal, Mexico.
When traveling through most Latin American cities, you can't walk a block without running into a street vendor selling fresh fruit juices and fresh fruit, and Fruitbox brings jugo frescos, papaya and mango milkshakes, and fresh fruit salads topped with chili and lime. You'll also find tortas, ceviche, and esquites, or Mexican street corn, served coated in parmesan.
Here you can get carnes asada and other meats—mostly from Carlton Farms and Washington's Double L Ranch—but it's really all about the house-made tolucan-style chorizos, which incorporate chiles and pumpkin seeds. Buy them as sausages or as ground sausage meat, and owners Salud Gonzalez and Angelica Pizano—originally from Mexico City—suggest adding them to cream to make a killer pasta sauce.
An "old-world" cantina, Barrio delivers the Latin American beer and South American wine, as well as sangria and savory Michelada, the beer and tomato juice combo with lime. Owners Tim Martens and Chris Shimamoto also own The Wine Nomad, a mobile wine bar for events serving wines on tap.
From nutty, chocolate-y moles, to Aardvark hot sauce, this marketplace sells both fresh local ingredients and rare ingredients, like avocado leaves for making tea. It's owned by the Caravantes family from Guatemala, and co-owner Carmen Borrayo says her son has 15 years experience working at Fred Meyer before opening his own market. Market-made specialties include mole, fresh-baked sweet breads, and a huge set of fresh salsas (don't miss the samples section).
Owned by Winston Sandino, Sandino Coffee Roasters ships green coffee beans from its family-owned farm in Nicaragua and roasts them in Portland. You'll find familiar and, perhaps, new coffee beverages, like the Café de Olla, coffee brewed with brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange peels, and molasses, plus a variety of baked goods.
From the same team as the Qué Bacano food cart, Sabor Colombiano sells grab-and-go pastries, like the almojabans cheese rolls and empanadas filled with everything from Don Felipe chorizo to cream cheese and guava jelly. It also sells arepas shells, for those looking to make arepas at home, and makes its own tres leches dessert.
While the Portland Mercado continues to grow, none of the businesses inside are going anywhere soon: Hacienda CDC gives them each three years to develop relationships with the community. Manager Marin-Foucher points out that it takes time to develop relationships, and he says one big change is the neighborhood now has more of a family-friendly atmosphere—something central to Latin American culture.