At J & T Market on Glisan, Adrian Flores fills AM PM cups with thick consomme, red oil shimmering at the top. He pulls tender strands of meat from the depths of his stockpot, letting them drip before he tucks it into a fresh-made tortilla. Flores’s restaurant, Sahuayo Taqueria, is little more than a counter adjacent to the cash register at a convenience store, but throughout the day, nurses and locals step up to the small counter to order breakfast burritos, tacos with little plastic bags of escabeche, and takeout containers filled with mounds of chilaquiles.
Sahuayo has become an under-the-radar taqueria with a cult following, known for its Michoacán specialties like chavindeca, morisqueta, and the state’s pride and joy, carnitas. But on Sahuayo’s lengthy menu, one particular dish sticks out: birria de chivo, a braised goat dish served in a large bowl of soup or in tacos, with a cup of consomme on the side for drinking and dipping.
In recent years, quesabirria — a cheesy, beefy take on the dish — has blazed through culinary scenes throughout the United States, particularly in California. Portland has accrued its own fleet of quesabirria carts, heavy-hitters in East Portland that attract long lines on the weekends for birria tacos with consomme, cheesy beef-filled quesadillas, and even instant ramen noodles topped with birria, onions, and cilantro. But birria de chivo — often considered the original version of the dish — is generally a weekend-only affair at a handful of Gresham and East Portland restaurants; it’s rare to see it in Mexican restaurants west of 205, and even more rare to see it available daily.
There are a few exceptions, of course, including Rose City Taqueria in St. Johns. That makes sense: Flores opened Sahuayo after leaving Rose City Taqueria, where he worked for three years before the pandemic hit. But for most of his career, Flores wasn’t a chef; he was running a kitchen cleaning business around Portland, and working as a handyman for the market — he built the patio and tables where his customers now eat burritos and menudo. While looking for a change, a friend at Rose City asked him to help in the kitchen; it reawakened his love of food, and the recipes he grew up eating in his hometown in Michoacán, Sahuayo.
While Flores was growing up, his mother and sisters generally handled the cooking in the house, making dishes like chicharrones and carnitas. Some of his family joined him in the kitchen at Sahuayo — his nephew is his apprentice in the kitchen, and his sister, Ana, makes the restaurant’s tortillas. “She’s like everyone’s mom around here,” says Clarissa Rivera. Rivera, a longtime J & T employee, is often the face that greets customers at Sahuayo’s counter; she’s been with Flores since the beginning and is a devout fan of his food since she ate his chorizo con papas for the first time. “When I first tried his chorizo and potatoes, I cried,” she says. “It reminded me of my mom. I grew up in Compton, but my mom is from Michoacán, in a town right next to Sahuayo.”
Each day since October 26, Flores has arrived at J & T at 5 a.m., not leaving until 10 p.m. — if the market is open, Sahuayo is open, and if Sahuayo is open, Flores is there. When he started Sahuayo, he was working alone in a small deli-style kitchen space, making birria de chivo only on the weekends. But demand for both birria de chivo and birria de res (beef birria) grew to the point that he started making it through the week. “It’s really best after one or two days, but it’s hard — it sells out too fast,” he says.
Word spread through Providence Portland, just down the street from the market, and suddenly Flores was hit with waves of nurses and doctors on their lunch breaks. Waits climbed up to about an hour, with just him in a small kitchen. “I think people are bothered by the wait, but food like this takes time,” he says.
On Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant sold out so quickly, the owner of J & T market, Yune Han, agreed to renovate and expand Flores’s kitchen — that’s when he brought in his family for reinforcements. Since then, Sahuayo’s menu has almost doubled with new dishes, adding things like pozole, tamales, and ceviches. The menu includes a number of dishes specific to Michoacán — the restaurant’s morisqueta, a rice and bean dish, comes with pork rib. The restaurant serves a number of versions of chavindeca, similar to a quesadilla with two tortillas. But he’s particularly proud of his carnitas, made in the style of his mother, which he says is best with his own chile de arbol salsa. “It’s the best [salsa], and it goes with everything,” he says. “The others are there too, but the salsa verde, that’s for the — sorry — gueros.”
He’s already contemplating other things to add, including nopales, mojarra, and other breakfast dishes; he also wants to open a bar within the market, where he can sell a handful of different margaritas. “There’s nothing like this here, so people are happy,” he says. “But I want to do everything. I want to make everything I can.”
Sahuayo is open every day within J & T Market, at 4438 NE Glisan Street.
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