When Mis Tacones launched as a vegan pop-up in 2016, Polo Bañuelos cooked their scratch-made seitan asada and hand-pressed tortillas while wearing stiletto heels. It was a fitting choice: Mis Tacones, which translates to both “my tacos” and “my heels” in Spanish, got its start at Saturday markets and queer dance nights, selling juicy and tangy seitan asada. The vegan pop-up provided free meals to trans people of color, and developed a reputation within the vegan and LGBTQ community in Portland.
Soon, Mis Tacones will have its own place to serve tacos and tortas, with or without heels on: This February, Bañuelos and partner Carlos Reynoso will open their highly-anticipated restaurant in Northeast Portland, serving seitan tacos, burritos, and chimichangas, in the former Tiffin Asha spot on Killingsworth.
Since its 2016 launch, Mis Tacones has slowly built a loyal following, despite multiple hurdles: In 2017 and 2018, Mis Tacones served trios of tacos from the parking lot at Food Fight Grocery on Stark, where customers waited patiently in long lines, even on rainy days. Mis Tacones’s time as a food cart outside Jet Black Coffee Company was cut short; the cart desperately needed repairs after a successful run in the summer of 2019. By the time they acquired funding, the pandemic forced the chefs to pivot to pop-up residencies at places like Local Lounge and Cafe Reina.
In November 2021, Bañuelos and Reynoso met with Tiffin Asha owner Sheila Bommakanti to discuss plans to take over the Killingsworth space — both parties felt that it was meaningful to continue the space’s legacy as the home of a BIPOC and queer-owned business.
When Mis Tacones opens on Killingsworth, house seitan will still be the main protein on the all-vegan menu, including at the heart of its flagship taco trio: cilantro lime, al pastor, and asada, served with cashew crema and pico de gallo on rustic Three Sisters Nixtamal masa tortillas. The rest of the menu includes burritos, empanadas, nachos, tortas, and chimichangas (Reynoso’s personal favorite), as well as a few Mexican classics still in development. The restaurant will continue to partner with La Casa De Mamá — the family-owned business behind the conchas and champurrado at Mis Tacones pop-ups — offering vegan Mexican desserts, like fried ice cream and flan. The drinks menu will include horchata, mezcal and tequila cocktails, wine, and beer, including beers from Salem’s Xicha Brewing. The chefs say that trans people of color will always eat free at Mis Tacones.
Reynoso first introduced Bañuelos to seitan-making using a recipe from Post Punk Kitchen almost a decade ago. Bañuelos tweaked their recipe into something their own — instead of stewing seitan on the stove, they bake it until the broth is fully absorbed and seitan has doubled in size. From there, they apply traditional Mexican cooking techniques to lock juicy flavors into the gluten-based protein. “When I was a kid, I used to love science class and playing around with chemistry,” Bañuelos says. “Cooking is no different from that.”
Bañuelos previously worked at vegan restaurants in Portland , but left to focus on Mis Tacones, while driving Lyft and Uber to pay the bills. In addition to co-owning Mis Tacones, Reynoso works full-time as a sexual health educator for the Multnomah County health department. But opening a restaurant in 2022 was not something either chef had imagined for themselves; it was the Portland restaurant community that helped them turn the pop-up into a full-blown restaurant. Bañuelos and Reynoso originally asked Cafe Reina owner Erica Escalante about taking over her lease; Escalante recommended the Tiffin Asha space, which closed in May 2021. Judith Stokes, owner of Derby and a friend and mentor of Bañuelos’s, connected them with Justin and Lisa King — owners of Ben & Esther’s — who provided funding for the project. “I haven’t fully gotten a chance to process the reality we are coming into,” Bañuelos says. “This is amazing. A truly, truly life changing experience.”
The Killingsworth space currently seats 36 — indoor dining will depend on the latest COVID-19 safety protocols when the restaurant is up-and-running — and the new owners intend to double that with an outdoor patio. “We want to transport people out of Portland and give them a piece of LA or Baja California — immerse them in a colorful, queer Chicano setting,” explains Bañuelos. They’ve commissioned Heysus, a local tattoo and mural artist who specializes in pre-hispanic Aztec and Mayan style artwork, to paint a mural.
The restaurant will also be a community space, open to BIPOC and queer-owned businesses in the same way others opened their doors to Mis Tacones. Reynoso says it’s a way of giving back. “Our success is not just ours. It belongs to the community. They made it possible for us,” he says.
It’s this same support that kept the Mis Tacones dream alive, even when the cart closed and the pandemic hit. “We have to keep going. We have to push through,” says Bañuelos. “This is something we’ve worked so hard for and refuse to let that go.”
Mis Tacones is slated to open in early February at 1670 NE Killingsworth Street. Follow Mis Tacones on Instagram for updates.
• Mis Tacones [Instagram]