The interiors of Casa Tolteca, the new contemporary Mexican restaurant in Northwest Portland, are filled with mosaics, literal and figurative. The bar and cafe counter are lined with Mexican tile, with various sculptures and pots everywhere from Michoacan to Puebla. The menu, too, is a mosaic of dishes from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, and other regions of Mexico, though in the eyes of co-owner Alex Fernandez, Casa Tolteca is most inspired by the high-end restaurants of the country’s buzzy culinary haven: Mexico City.
Fernandez’s family owns several restaurants in South Texas, but Casa Tolteca is a bit of a departure from her past. She and her husband, Jaime Marroquin, travel to Mexico every month, collecting recipes, art, coffee beans, and mezcal to create the restaurant they want to run: a restaurant that serves house-made conchas and scones with freshly roasted Oaxacan coffee, hand-pressed tortillas filled with vegan-friendly cochinita pibil or chicharron, moles and squash blossoms alongside hard-to-find mezcal.
Earlier in 2019, the two opened Casa Tolteca in the former Park Kitchen space, but it wasn’t quite right just yet; they decided to close the restaurant in the winter, reopening with polished breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus in mid-January. Starting January 13, the restaurant will open for breakfast and lunch service — huevos rancheros, squash blossom omelets, pozole, Caesar salad (it was invented in Tijuana, after all). Fernandez and Marroquin buy their coffee beans directly from Oaxacan farmers, which they roast in-house for breakfast.
On January 17, the restaurant will begin its dinner service, which is a more involved affair. Most dishes are small and meant to be shared — for instance, the restaurant will serve two different ceviches, including the classic white fish and a ceviche negro, a version from the Yucatan made with a black recado. The restaurant will serve a number of moles, including a green mole de pistachio with mint and a mole blanco with almonds and anise. To fill out the menu, Fernandez and co-chef Celestina Guarcas have created a few other dishes, including a grilled tuna steak fortified with chiles, as well as a grilled chile filled with hibiscus flowers and mushrooms.
On the more casual side of things, Casa Tolteca will serve a number of tacos on Tuesday nights. Casa Tolteca isn’t a strictly vegan restaurant, but the team wants to mainly focus on vegetable-centric dishes: Tacos come with fillings like mushroom cochinita pibil, chicharron made with coconut, squash with pipian (a pumpkin seed sauce), and a cauliflower chorizo. Those looking for a meaty taco will find plenty of options, however, including traditional pork cochinita, pastor, and tinga.
The bar relies heavily on mezcal, but the current selection is only a fraction of what they want to do: As soon as the OLCC okays it, Fernandez and Marroquin want to start importing their own bottles of mezcal for the restaurant, highlighting small-batch, artisan producers. For now, the menu relies on the widely available options like Alipus and Vago, used in margaritas, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans. Non-alcoholic drinks include a number of aguas frescas and Mexican coke. Casa Tolteca is located at 422 NW 8th Avenue.
Updated January 6, 2020, 5:53 p.m.
This headline has been changed to remove the word “new,” considering the original opening of the restaurant.