When Tight Tacos co-owner Mark Cosio moved from California to Oregon, he missed Mexican food enough to open a taco cart with his brother-in-law, Ox alum Reggie Ballesteros. Now, four years later, their family business has blown up into an Instagram sensation, with four carts including a catering cart, an incoming restaurant in Maui, and their very first Portland restaurant opening today in the Zipper. Starting at 3 p.m., Cosio and Ballersteros will serve tacos on hand-pressed tortillas, massive piles of nachos, and hard seltzer micheladas out of the former Chickpeadx space.
Tight Tacos at the Zipper has been a long time coming — last November, the Tight Tacos team talked with Chickpeadx owner Yair Maidan about potentially taking over the vacant restaurant nook. After a brief experiment turning the spot into a Latin American grill, Cosio and his team moved in, giving the room a fresh coat of white paint, mounting the walls with cacti (available for sale — Cosio’s wife designs the plant life with their cafe Peak’s Coffee), and moving in the massive vat for the restaurant’s popular carnitas. “It’s sort of an ode to our original location on 39th and Belmont,” Cosio says.
Back then, Ballesteros and Cosio fixed up a $7,000 cart, slicing hunks of pastor from a small trompo and pressing tortillas by hand. There’s a similar ethos at the new spot: No, there’s no trompo, but Cosio wants to start doing a weekend pastor spit on the weekends on the food hall’s shared patio. The tortillas are still pressed by hand; in fact, the new cafe has a little glass window designating the official tortilla-pressing station near the cash register. And in the back, cooks stir that hulking pot of carnitas, simmering for hours with limes, serranos, and of course, lard. “Lard is the most important ingredient,” Ballesteros says, with a smile. “We want to be super traditional Mexican. We want it to taste like it does in Mexico.”
Still, Tight Tacos still delivers some California vibes, with a gargantuan pile of nachos drizzled in molten cheese, guacamole, salsa fresca, and jalapenos, not to mention the restaurant’s “keto bowl” without any sort of rice or tortilla. But nothing feels quite as cheeky as the restaurant’s White Claw micheladas, a part of the restaurant’s new alcoholic drink menu: The team says customers can get their michelada with any White Claw or Truly, but front of house manager Annamarie Cosio recommends using lime or mango. Tight Tacos’ first foray into booze sticks to beer and micheladas; the former arrive in paper bags with a lime, and the latter come in a margarita-style glass with a flipped corona in a house tomato juice mix. Non-drinkers can stick to horchata, agua fresca, and sodas.
The Zipper isn’t even Tight Tacos only new spot: The team just opened a new cart for the Birdie Time Pub at 925 SE Main Street. Ballesteros, who now lives in Hawaii, is in the process of opening his own Maui taqueria with fish tacos and carnitas. But for now, Portlanders can get their own nachos and tacos out of the rain at the Zipper, 2705 NE Sandy Blvd.