While Amelia “Amy” Mulé was growing up in Lujan, Argentina, she would spend her Sunday afternoons in the kitchen of her grandmother, who her family called Abuela Chona; Abuela Chona would spend the day baking empanadas and filling alfajores with dulce de leche, to Mulé’s delight. Abuela Chona was Mulé’s inspiration when she opened her Argentine food cart in the B.G. Food Cartel in Beaverton — she even named the cart after her.
Soon, however, Amy and Tony Mulé, a former Intel engineer, will bring another side of Argentina to the Portland area. The Mulé family is opening a wine bar and restaurant in Cedar Mill this summer, serving a wide array of empanadas, small plates, and Argentinian wines from the family’s own Mendoza vineyard.
Abuela Chona started on the farmers market circuit before opening as a cart in 2018. The couple had planned to open a restaurant before the pandemic began, but, like so many other businesses, COVID-19 drastically altered their plans. Years later, the Mulés are back on track, nabbing a space on NW Cornell for the wine bar, La Chona.
The focus of the kitchen will remain on empanadas — a large, seven-slot empanada press will encase ham-and-cheese and ground beef in pastry, in view of the dining room. But the menu will include a larger list of picadas, Argentinian snacks like cured meats and charcuterie, baked brie, cheeses, and other snacks that work well with wine. The dessert menu will also include standards like alfajores, sweet empanadas, and flan. But Amy Mulé wants to use the space as a platform for other cooks and artists, via the restaurant’s wine dinners. “We want to give the opportunity to local chefs to try to pair with our wine,” she says. “That can be Argentinian, Venezuelan, whatever.”
The wine selection at La Chona will exclusively focus on Argentinian wines, with an emphasis on the Mulés’ own wine label by the same name. La Chona wines are primarily grown in Mendoza, a region celebrated for its world-class malbec; the winery will also produce cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, in addition to Patagonian pinot noir and rosé.
La Chona’s wine will be predominantly featured as a part of the bar’s design — the space will have wine displays on both the first and second floor, among Argentinian art and leather couches. The Mulés are working with a designer in Argentina for the space, to create a true homage to the country.
The restaurant isn’t set to open until mid-summer, but until then, the food cart will remain open; at the end of February, Abuela Chona will move into the Zesti food cart pod in Forest Grove.
“They opened during the pandemic,” Amy Mulé says. “They’re focusing on local artisans — it looks like a great location.”
La Chona will open at 12454 NW Cornell Road.