Portland’s Mexican food scene doesn’t get enough credit. It’s tempting to constantly frame a city’s Mexican restaurants and carts against those of Los Angeles or El Paso, but in the case of Portland, that flattens the great Oaxacan and Yucatecan spots that have been thriving here for years, not to mention the uniquely homegrown takes on the cuisine that compellingly argue for foraged mushroom flautas and Columbia sturgeon enchiladas. Portland’s Mexican restaurants, food carts, and mercados use heritage masa nixtamalized in town for tamales and tacos, stock delis with flavorful nopales salads, and simmer moles passed down through generations. From the old-school tiendas ladling bowls of menudo to the newer carts slinging birria, these destinations reveal the layers and nuances of the city’s take on Mexican cuisine. Don’t see a favorite Mexican restaurant? Check out the birria, burrito, and taco maps.Read More
Portland's Standout Mexican Restaurants and Food Carts
From mole to menudo, tasting menus to taco trucks
La Poblanita Cemitas
After years as a food truck, La Poblanita has transitioned into its brick-and-mortar home right off TV Highway. La Poblanita is one of the only places in the metro area that specializes in cemitas, a style of Pubelan torta on a specific sesame-seed bun. Poblanita’s tortas come in varieties like milanesa, cueritos, or the queso de puerco. Diners not interested in cemitas can still enjoy some other hard-to-find specials, like Poblanita’s tacos arabes or mole poblano.
El Jefe Mexican Grill
This Beaverton food truck can be spotted a mile away by the large plume of smoke rising from its immense charcoal grill, where chefs grill chickens “al carbon” in front of the cart. The cart serves the chickens whole, in a combo plate, in a taco, in a burrito, in a quesadilla, or even in a salad, juicy and smoky with char. If chicken isn’t the only desire, visitors can choose from a variety of other standard taco meats, as well.
Tienda Y Panaderia Santa Cruz
Hidden behind a St. Johns mercado and panaderia, this no-frills taqueria is known for its lime-laden avocado salsa, so beloved that the owners have set limits on how much one diner can take. The salsas are particularly nice on the shop’s gargantuan burritos, straining to contain mounds of cabeza or carnitas. However, a bowl of the restaurant’s deeply rich and broody menudo is hard to beat, avocado salsa or not.
Crispy tortilla tubes stuffed with potatoes are the name of the game at this Bridlemile food cart, arriving smothered in creamy avocado salsa and a choice of protein — it’s best to opt for the saucy braised beef or citrusy pork. Order the taquitos “with everything,” which includes a pile of shredded cabbage, pickled onions, radish, cilantro, and a hearty handful of queso fresco. If the cart has some of its saturated tres leches cake, topped with fresh berries, it’d be sacrilege to go without.
After a storied tenure in the Ecotrust space, República now serves its seven- and ten-course tasting menus on Northwest 10th, meticulously plated food paired with cocktails and wines from Mexican vintners. Chef Jose Camarena pairs pre-colonial ingredients like chapulines (grasshoppers) with uni and pea tendrils, incorporating elements of molecular gastronomy like foams and powders. Through the meal, servers detail the historic and personal context of each dish, fleshing out the larger story of exceptionally nuanced, artistically rich dishes. Reservations are a must for the tasting menu, which changes regularly.
At this intimate, window-lined, South Waterfront restaurant, chef Juan Gomez uses Pacific Northwestern ingredients to develop an inventive tasting menu using Mexican dishes as jumping off points. Menus change often, but on any given visit, a meal may involve Columbia River sturgeon tucked into an enchilada Suiza with wild onion salsa verde, or tamales made with house-nixtamalized masa and spring pea salsa. If possible, nab a seat at the chef’s counter, where Gomez happily offers context as he cooks.
Mole Mole Mexican Cuisine
It is unclear how, exactly, the team at Mole Mole is able to make as many dishes as it does in such a small space, but this Alberta Street cart successfully smothers enchiladas and burritos in various shades of mole, serves brick-hued pozole in colorful ceramic bowls, and gussies up plates of cochinita pibil with pickled onions and radishes. It’s hard to go wrong here, but considering the name, it’s best to start with anything featuring the cart’s moles.
Duality Brewing & Astral
What started as a pop-up has become a combination Mexican-ish restaurant and brewery in Portland’s Kerns neighborhood, a place where chefs John Boisse and Lauren Breneman layer concha breakfast sandwiches with chorizo verde, top tostadas with grilled adobo carrots and whipped ricotta, or wrap barbacoa in fig leaves for tacos. The beers here are a worthy accompaniment for any dish on the menu.
Salsas Locas (Tortilleria Y Tienda DeLeon's)
Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon’s isn’t exactly a secret among Mexican food lovers, though some may have missed that the original market has transformed into a guisado counter on Southeast 28th. Visitors can still pick out guisados like cochinita pibil, bistec con nopales, and puerco verde, served by-the-pound or in burritos and tacos. Pros know to pop by for breakfast burritos, which come stuffed with chorizo, eggs, beans, and house salsa.
For years, this stylish Northeast 28th Mexican restaurant has been known for its tortas, buns stacked with everything from Carlton Farms pork carnitas to Painted Hills braised beef. However, the non-sandwich options on the menu are also worth a perusal, including seasonal specials like pozole or desserts like orange flan with candied kumquat. Dine in to pair your meal with one of the bar’s stellar cocktails.
Mondays through Wednesdays, the Dame space on Killingsworth becomes a palace of pineapple-coconut crudos, confit chicken enmoladas, and whole fish served with an array of salsas and tortillas. Dishes change frequently, though they often include a number of noteworthy raw dishes and fun large-format mains, served alongside wines from Dame’s stacked cellar. In terms of must-orders, chefs Lauro Romero and Alfonso Torres often use seasonal produce as inspiration for the aguachile, whether it’s a summer melon or spring strawberries.
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Thursdays through Sundays, chef Luna Contreras steps into the kitchen at the intimate pop-up space Lil’ Dame, using seasonal produce in fun, snack-y dishes made with a deft culinary hand. For example, crispy tlayudas may arrive topped with thinly sliced summer squash and juicy peaches, or confit duck carnitas with Brussels sprouts and mole negro. The chef’s take on chiles en nogada fills in-season Anaheims with beef picadillo and parsnips, smothered in a hazelnut mascarpone cream sauce. Those who have been following Contreras for a while will be excited to spot her tres leches cake, finished with meringue pieces.
Principe Maya, a food cart in the Portland Mercado, explores the wider spectrum of Yucatecan fare, beyond standards like panuchos or cochinita pibil. Diners can branch out with kibis (yes, derived from Lebanese kibbeh), fried football-shaped croquettes made from cracked wheat and a mixture of ground beef and pork with a hint of mint; the cart’s polcanes — pan-fried masa disks filled with a mixture of white beans, ground pumpkin seeds, pickled cabbage, and epazote — are another standout hard to find on other Portland menus. It would be a grave mistake to miss out on Principe Maya’s punchy habanero salsa and pickled onions, two trademarks of the cuisine.
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Tierra Del Sol Cuisine and Catering
While all of the carts in the Portland Mercado are worth sampling, Tierra Del Sol is a Mexican standout for its substantial tlayuda, a thin grilled corn tortilla that’s big as a plate and plenty for two, served open-faced and topped with chicharron, black beans, Oaxacan cheese, cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, and more. It might seem easy to skip the tetelas stuffed with creamy beans and rich Oaxacan moles, though it’s not recommended.
Located just minutes from the Clackamas Town Center, El Zalsoso fills handmade tortillas with carnitas, loads fries with asada, and stuffs footlong burritos with whole chiles rellenos. The corn-made section of the menu features noteworthy specialty dishes like machetes, mulitas, and huaraches, showing off the flavor of the masa.
Manny Lopez developed a loyal following at his previous restaurant, Angel Food & Fun; now, he has honed in on Yucatecan specialties at this colorful Northeast 82nd restaurant. Many flock to Ki’ikibáa for the panuchos, layered with silken black beans and citrusy cochinita pibil; however, the menu is stacked with plenty of other strong options, as well, including standards like burritos, satisfying salbutes, and an earthy relleno negro. The specials board is often stocked with must-orders, as well.
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La Tía Juana Taqueria
In the former shell of a fast food stalwart, this longstanding Gresham taqueria is able to appease a wide range of cravings. Those seeking a sloppy pile of California-style asada fries or nachos will find strong versions of both here. Those looking for a beautiful, char-marked take on carne asada will likely find one of the strongest versions in Portland Metro here. And those who want to inhale a lineup of birria tacos, with a side of deep, rich consome, will find one of the most generous servings here, for the price.
This under-the-radar Yucatecan cart within Gresham Food Carts serves regional favorites like poc chuc, panuchos, and salbutes, as well as whole grilled fish, enmoladas, and quesabirria. Start with an order of polcanes, masa dumplings filled with beans; the shop’s shrimp ceviche is also stellar, citrusy and abundant with diced cucumber.