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Where can I find good Tex-Mex food in the Portland area? Thanks!
Often, when people think of Tex-Mex, there’s a specific memory of a neighborhood Mexican restaurant, serving plenty of cheesy enchiladas, giant margaritas, that sort of thing. For others, the term evokes memories of chili con carne or migas tacos. The ongoing debates about what qualifies as “real Tex-Mex” tie into a frequently covered topic at Eater and within the food industry: The unfair standard and shifting conceptualization of authenticity. “The standard narrative about Tex-Mex is that it’s an inauthentic, unartful, cheese-covered fusion,” Meghan McCarron wrote for Eater. “Those assumptions are entirely wrong. Not only are they incorrect — they were promulgated by elite white food writers.”
That’s not a dismissal of the cheesy combo plate or sizzling plate of fajitas; those dishes are absolutely part of the cuisine as a whole. In fact, Texas Monthly notes that the crucial trifecta for Tex-Mex, at least historically, included “yellow American cheese ( ... think Velveeta), chili con carne, and the corn tortilla, particularly the deep-fried corn tortilla that allows for the existence of both the crispy taco and the nacho.”
To cover our bases, I’m going to offer suggestions for a few specific types of Tex-Mex experiences. I’ll be candid: While Portland has excellent Texas-style barbecue, we’re not as revered for our Tex-Mex. Some dishes are extremely difficult to find here — if you stumble upon a strong Texas red, let me know. However, the city is home to a few places that could scratch the itch, depending on what you’re looking for.
Puffy tacos: La Taq
One of the few explicitly Tex-Mex bars in town, La Taq is also one of the very few places in Portland selling puffy tacos, a San Antonio staple in which a chef deep-fries masa to create a puffy taco shell. Here, they arrive with fillings like brisket, ground beef, or mushroom. You’ll find nachos and margaritas on offer, as well.
Breakfast tacos, brisket tacos, and migas: Matt’s BBQ Tacos
Matt’s BBQ Tacos is perhaps the most widely known Portland Tex-Mex purveyor, though those looking for enchiladas and chili con carne will be disappointed. Of course, pitmaster Matt Vicedomini is known for his barbecue, so this cart serves things like tacos filled with smoked brisket or pulled pork. In the mornings, flour tortillas come layered with refried beans, cheese, and egg, plus add-ons from the smoker. However, the sleeper hit on the menu is likely its migas, a tortilla chip and pico scramble with cheddar and guacamole, all tucked in to a tortilla. The queso here is also a standout.
Hard-shell tacos and cheese enchiladas: Que Pasa
If what you’re looking for is heavy-duty plates of enchiladas or hard-shell tacos accompanied by hearty scoops of pinto beans and rice, this Southeast Portland cantina is a safe bet. Expect plenty of variations on crunchy tortillas — nachos, flautas, tostadas — and all things cheesy, including enchilada casserole, quesadillas, and queso.
Fajitas, combination plates, and old-school realness: Casa Colima
I have a friend who, whenever we’re on a road trip, will seek out this style of Mexican restaurant: free chips and salsa, colorful wood-carved chairs, combination plates, and sizzling pans of fajitas. For many, this sort of nostalgic Mexican restaurant is what comes to mind when they think Tex-Mex. To me, Casa Colima is the go-to option for this vibe here. It has been open for almost 20 years, and it covers all of the bases: Chips and salsa at the start, queso, generous margaritas, fajitas you can hear as they approach the table, combination plates with choices like chimichangas and enchiladas. And yes, most dishes come with hefty servings of rice and beans — pinto unless stated otherwise.