Henry Martinez fell in love with pizza where anyone would. The young cook was working at Jimmy’s Slice in Ventura, California while finishing a community college culinary program, and the eponymous Jimmy took him to the legendary Los Angeles destination, Pizzeria Mozza. “It changed my perspective on what pizza could be,” he says. “Growing up, it was just chains.”
Years later, Martinez makes his own pizzas at Southeast Portland brewery Living Haus, though the pies he makes are distinct from chef Nancy Silverton’s. While her pizzeria tops crusts with Italian salamis and cheeses, Martinez’s pizzas come in flavors like elote, chorizo and potato, or Spam and pineapple. What both pizzerias share is rye in their pizza dough, a touch of nuttiness that holds up over a long ferment.
Pan Con Queso — which now serves pizzas, chamoy-drizzled salads, and amaretto flan every day within the brewery — is joining the cohort of inventive Portland pizzerias incorporating specific cuisines’ culinary traditions into their pies. Like Hapa Pizza in Beaverton or Reeva on Northeast Sandy, Pan Con Queso uses Martinez and partner Makeila Magno’s personal history and heritage as a culinary inspiration, with a foundation of a thoughtful, meticulously constructed crust.
Martinez and Magno met working at a restaurant in California, moving up to Oregon in 2021 on a whim. Later that year, Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya of Modernist Pizza called Portland the “best pizza city in America.” Their decision to move up here was unrelated, however.
“I had no idea Portland was such a pizza city,” Martinez says. The couple began eating their way through Portland’s pizza shops, and Martinez took a job at Dimo’s Apizza. He met the team at Living Haus while working at Dimo’s, and asked to take over the brewery’s tiny, 175-square foot kitchen for his pizza pop-up. The pies were a hit, and eventually, Magno and Martinez scaled up to serving pizzas on a daily basis.
Pizzas at Pan Con Queso start with a three- or four-day fermented crust, made with a blend of Shepherd’s Grain, Cairnspring Mills, and Central Milling flours. The crust of the final pie arrives with more structure than the typical Neapolitan, as well as the leopard char typical of a high-hydration dough and a hot bake. Many of the pizzas come with Magno and Martinez’s house mozzarella, stretched in their tiny kitchen; some arrive with the house blend of cotija and Parmesan. From there, however, the flavors go in different directions: The chorizo con papas uses a heavily spiced house chorizo, fragrant with cinnamon and clove — “almost more like a Spanish chorizo,” Martinez says.
The seasonal pizza, an elote, starts with a white base, as well as corn, mozzarella, and chipotle aioli. “It has that nostalgia factor, growing up in Southern California,” Magno says. Seasonal produce plays a big role at Pan Con Queso: The verde uses a rotating cast of vegetables from Happy Apple Farm in Oregon City; on a recent visit, the pizza arrived topped with thinly sliced zucchini and kale, while earlier versions used things like asparagus. It’s finished with a tomatillo salsa for brightness.
Some pizzas are more of an allusion to Magno’s background, as a woman of Pacific Islander heritage who grew up in California. Magno’s grandfather, who died before the two opened Pan Con Queso, once asked if the they would ever put Spam on a pizza; the Mr. Macarthur does just that, playing on a Hawaiian pizza by pairing the canned meat with pineapple and onion. Similarly, the Californian trio of jalapeño, pineapple, and pepperoni makes an appearance, known as El Chingon.
Rounding out the menu, the couple offers salads with Mexican touches — the arugula salad, featuring a rotating seasonal fruit, comes with a drizzle of chamoy as well as a chamoy vinaigrette; the house Caesar plays on the salad’s Mexican roots. And for dessert, flan gets an almond-y touch with amaretto, finished with an amarena cherry.
Martinez and Magno understand that Portland is a city populated with countless pizzerias. But for them, that’s not a threat — it’s a benefit. “I love the community here,” Martinez says. “Brewers are like that, too.”
Pan Con Queso is open daily at Living Haus, located at 628 SE Belmont Street.