Before quesabirria became a phenomenon in Portland proper, Birrieria La Plaza owner Oracio Hernandez and his family set up a lipstick-red food cart in a Stark Street lot, serving a chile-braised beef recipe passed down by the women in his family for generations. The birria recipe — which traveled from Los Espinos De Carreon, Jalisco to East Portland — relies on a bubbling pot of beef, guajillos, chile de arbol, and oranges, tenderizing and developing a remarkable depth of flavor. It lands in tortillas with cheese, spanning a variety of different preparations: folded into tortillas crisped in oil, tucked into something like a quesadilla. And Portland fell in love.
But the Hernandez family didn’t initially intend to open a food cart; they planned on opening a restaurant. Initially, they had imagined a more typical taqueria, with carne asada in particular. But as birria grew in popularity, they knew they had something special on their hands.
This year, however, the Hernandez family will finally open their own restaurant. Birrieria La Plaza will open in the former Andale Andale space on Southeast Division, followed by a food hall stall downtown.
Hernandez describes the restaurant as a “modern taqueria,” with an expanded menu that will include dishes like birria nachos and birria fries. To start, the restaurant will only have beer, which they’ll use for micheladas; down the line, Hernandez is considering getting a full liquor license.
For Hernandez, opening a restaurant has become something of a necessity. With the weather getting hotter in the summers and colder in the winters, relying exclusively on the food cart has become untenable. He hopes the 3,000-square-foot space will help them stay open longer, and more consistently.
“It’ll be nice to have something climate controlled,” he says. “Definitely excited to have the space in the kitchen, to work in there, come up with more ideas, more menu items.”
Hernandez is unclear when the restaurant will open, but hopes that it will be before the second quarter of the year — or, at the very latest, the summer. Once that restaurant is open, the team will focus on yet another location: a stall within the Ritz-Carlton’s incoming food hall, alongside other Portland greats like Magna and Kim Jong Grillin’.
“We were trying to keep it under wraps until after we opened our restaurant,” Hernandez says. “But yeah, we were fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the Ritz Carlton food hall.”
The Birrieria La Plaza restaurant will open at 10114 SE Division Street.