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Lauro Romero, a man in a white shirt and an apron holds tweezers over a plate in Republica’s Pearl District kitchen.
Chef Lauro Romero puts the finishing touches on dishes at República.
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Inside Five of the Show-Stopping Dishes on República’s Tasting Menu

Five dishes that epitomize what the Pearl District restaurant is trying to do, from an heirloom masa quesadilla to mole verde with Oregon mushrooms

Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

Sitting down to a tasting menu at República, each course is introduced with a story: A personal anecdote from the server, an explanation of an ingredient’s origin, a history of a dish and its influences. Maybe it’s a dive into huitlacoche, the corn fungus used in both fine dining restaurants and street stalls in Mexico; maybe it’s an exploration of escamoles, or ant pupae. Maybe it’s a take on sopa de fideo, or memelitas, or aguachile. But a dinner at República is not only an examination of Mexican and pre-Colombian cuisine, but also the personal histories and passions its chefs and cooks — in particular, its executive chef, Lauro Romero.

Romero, who grew up in Hidalgo, spent the majority of his professional culinary career not cooking Mexican food. He spent time at Salt Lake City’s Bambara and the seafood-centric King Tide Fish & Shell, generally cooking nebulously defined “new American” cuisine. He started his pop-up, Clandestino, as a way to explore the food of his childhood with the tools he picked up in professional kitchens. “I wanted to explore my roots and the food that I grew up eating,” he says. “I wanted to do Mexican-forward food with my own interpretation, techniques that are very special to me.”

As the pandemic surged, Clandestino turned into a hallway pop-up at Angel Medina’s kiosk cafe, La Perlita where Romero sold tortas and flaky pastes. Within the year, Medina and Romero teamed up with pastry chef Olivia Bartruff to open República in the restaurant space next to La Perlita. In the morning, República resembles a casual cafe, with guisados, tortas, and pozole. In the evenings, however, República’s covered patio and dining room become the stage for Romero’s tasting menu.

The menu at República changes often, based on what’s in season and the whims of the team. But when trying to encapsulate what makes the restaurant special, it’s best to use examples — dishes that embody what the restaurant and its chefs are trying to do. So, below, Romero breaks down five dishes served on the República tasting menu, from idea to plate. Romero’s responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

A semi-circle of a quesadilla is split into three colors — tan, yellow, and purple — with a swipe of a dark red-brown sauce. It sits on a plate outside Republica in Portland, Oregon.
A quesadilla made with quesillo and ancestral corn, plated with salsa macha.
Molly J. Smith / EPDX

Quesadilla Oaxaquena

Tri-color masa, quesillo, salsa macha

“The quesadilla is one of the simplest things you can have at República, but there’s also a lot of complexity. You nixtamalize the corn, that’s a two- or three-day process. When I was living in Mexico, it was cheaper to buy corn from the US, and corn production was reduced to scary levels. Recently, there’s been this movement of using native corn, heirloom corn. I have an importer who buys corn from these small producers where they have corn that has grown for 300 years in this same lot; that’s special, you know? All of that goes into that quesadilla. Not all blue corn is the same, not all white corn is the same, not all yellow corn is the same. The three types of corn we use are constantly changing, based on what we get in.”

A bowl of yellow rice sits over a dark brown pile of beans, topped with chanterelles, nasturtium, and black beans.
A spin on arroz con frijoles made with chanterelle adobo and pickled ramps.
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Rice and Beans

Risotto, chanterelle adobo, refried yellow beans, nixtamalized beans, pickled chanterelles

This is a very common thing — if you don’t have money, you can afford rice and beans. So we went, ‘Okay, we’re going to do arroz con frijoles, but how do we make it República arroz con frijoles?’ I love the creaminess of a risotto. Chanterelles are in season, so I add them to an adobo with guajillo, chile ancho, and add that to the rice. It adds a little bit of flavor, a little bit of creaminess. There’s also pickled chanterelles on top, which adds a little acidity.

“As for the beans, we have these heirloom yellow beans from Tlaxcala that tend to be a little creamier than black beans or pinto beans, so we do a refried version of that. But we also needed texture, right? I wanted to play with nixtamalizing other ingredients, so we also nixtamalize these beans. But instead of grinding the beans to make masa, we cook them afterwards. I think it makes them sweeter; I don’t understand the science behind it, but somehow they do.”

A black plate comes topped with a purple bean-covered tortilla, with dots of avocado salsa and a small tongue of uni.
Enfrijolada with cured egg yolk, jalepeno, and avocado salsa, topped with uni.
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Enfrijolada With Uni

Refried beans, tortilla, cured egg yolks, uni, epazote

One of my chefs, Juan Ordoñez, wanted to put this on the menu. He was inspired by enfrijolada. It comes with breakfast, with eggs and cheese, but based on the logistics, we didn’t want to do enfrijoladas with quesillo or scrambled eggs. So these are beans that are refried with chiles, espazote, lard, and beer, and instead of doing eggs and cheese on top, we do cured egg yolks on top, and then the uni for a little creaminess and a little ocean element.”

Three tortillas in purple, brown, and yellow shades sit next to a pool of clay-red sauce, with a small semi-circle of chicken on top. The chicken comes topped with thin shavings of truffle and microgreens.
Mole Coloradito, served with a chicken roulade wrapped in prosciutto, served with truffle and tortillas made with ancestral corn.
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Mole Encacahuatado With Chicken

Peanuts, chicken, prosciutto, sesame seeds, plantains

There are so many recipes for mole. When we think about mole, we always look at a place like Oaxaca, and that’s the origin of many moles. But Puebla has its own moles; a mole rojo in Hidalgo is going to be different than the mole rojo in Puebla or Oaxaca. So this is a mole Coloradito — red-ish — and also an encacahuatado, made with peanuts. You still have your sesame seeds, plantains, the other elements that go into a mole, but the base is going to be those peanuts; that’s what makes it lighter.”

A pool of green mole comes topped with thinly sliced peppers, edible flowers, nasturtium, and lobster mushrooms, with three tortillas on the side. It sits on a wooden table at Republica in Portland, Oregon.
Mole verde with lobster mushrooms, pepitas, and tortillas.
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Mole Verde With Vegetables

Pumpkin seeds, chile poblano, seasonal mushrooms

“This is specifically my mom’s recipe, this chunky sauce with chile poblano and pumpkin seeds, traditionally served with chicken. We made it a little bit smoother: We toast pepitas, onions, and garlic, make a vegetable stock, and run that through the Vitamix. We serve it with local mushrooms that we can transform — we were doing lobster mushrooms for a while, porcini at the beginning, every now and then we’ll use wild mushrooms, maitakes, chanterelles. It varies depending on what we can find. The idea is to cook the mushroom in a way that makes sense with the mole.”

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