¿Por Qué No? is yet another hole-in-the wall taqueria to grace Portland, this time in the burgeoning Mississippi area. Located just 500 feet north of Fremont on Mississippi, it is a small converted garage with a dozen tables inside, a recently converted and covered area next door, and a choice of tables and benches on the sidewalk out front. Service is very casual – just order at the counter from the small menu and find a table. They’ll bring the food to you.
I like sitting under the umbrellas watching the world go by while sipping a Negra Modelo. This place reminds me of a beach-side taqueria in Los Angeles where I spent many happy hours in my youth. On my first visit I asked a friend, “What does this place remind you of?” We both laughed as he said, “Hermosa Beach”.
Ten varieties of tacos are available:
- Carnitas with Carlton Farms pork, salsa verde, onions, cliantro and queso fresco from Ochoa Cheese $2.75
- Verduras – Seasonal vegetables, beans, pico de gallo and cilantro $2.75
- Pollo Verde – Draper Valley chicken braised in tomatillo salsa and served with salsa verde, onions and cilantro – $2.75
- Porque tinga with Cascade Natural beef in smokey pasilla chile sauce $3
- Carne asada of Cascade Natural choped steak $3
- Pollo Asado – spicy chipotle-rubbed grilled Draper Valley chicken topped with crema, salsa roja and pico de gallo $3
- Chorizo – homemade from Rainshadow El Rancho pork with queso fresco, onions, cilantro and crema $3
- Pescado – Cornmeal encrusted Alaskan cod served with crema, cabbage, salsa verde, onion, cilantro and pineapple $3.50
- Calamari – Wild squid and bell peppers sautéed with chili seasoning and served with crema, salsa roja and pico de gallo $3.50
- Camarones – Wild shrimp, sautéed with chili seasoning and served with crema, cabbage, salsa verde, onion, cilantro and pineapple $4
Other items include ceviche $8.50+, quesadilla $4.00, ¿Por Qué salad – $9, with fish $11, and one of my favorites, Bryan’s bowl of meat or vegetables in a bowl with beans, rice, guacomole, salsas, queso fresco, crema and cilantro. Over the last few years the menu has expanded to include tamales of the day and flautas, but I haven’t tried them. Specials also rotate through the menu – most recently Barbacoa beef brisket tacos, pork sausage and asparagus tacos, and sopa de rez beef stew. Some of the brunch choices are chorizo and eggs, grilled strip steak with peppers and eggs, and pork belly and potato tacos. A bloody Mary will wash it all down for $7.
I think ¿Por Qué No? is just fine, and I like to know that the ingredients are of prime quality and sustainably caught – owner Bryan Steelman is a big believer in using fresh, natural ingredients, and their provenance is listed on the menu. Obviously this is going to drive the price up a bit, but it doesn’t seem to keep people away. However, some in the food community still complain that $3 for a taco is too much. One of the reasons for the higher prices is their commitment to sustainability. ¿Por Qué No? uses local hormone and antibiotic-free meats, line-caught fish, wild shrimp from sustainable fisheries, Viridian Farms produce, etc. They also use rice bran oil in their fryer, which is a healthier choice. Furthermore, waste oil is used as gas in their vehicle, and servers are actually given a living wage and offered medical/dental insurance. This commitment carries through in the food and service, and you feel good about eating there. A second complaint I’ve heard is that the tacos are too small. Spend some time in ‘real’ Mexico, and you’ll find they are the traditional size.
On my visits the crowd is a melting pot of all kinds of people from the area, which makes good people watching. Even though there always seems to be a line when I go, the service is excellent and relaxed; the staff came out to the sidewalk several times to make sure we had everything we needed. Ask for the extra bottles of salsa as they can add a bit of kick when needed.
It is obvious they care about the food. Like many of the better Portland restaurants, Unlike many places, tortillas are made fresh by hand and are just the right thickness, though they can be a bit gummy at times. An email from the owner said they are addressing the issue.
I’ll start with the guacamole. It is very fresh and made the way I do it, with nice chunks of avocado, onions, and cilantro. The first time I thought it was good but needed a bit of acid. A week later the acid balance was better but it was a bit under-salted. The house-made chips are not that great; sometimes they can be soggy/oily, others a bit under-salted.
Tortillas are made fresh, all day long. I like all the tacos, especially the pescado. They are full of nice chunks of moist Alaskan cod, cabbage, and strips of ripe pineapple. Occasionally they are mostly smaller pieces of fish which don’t have as much flavor. The carnitas are just fine, though I think the smoky chipotle sauce could use a bit of work. The bright, fresh, green sauce on many items is quite good, and authentic.
Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 – 3pm. There is also a mid-day menu from 3:00-6:00 every day, and from 3:00 to close Tuesdays with $3.00 beers, and .50 off tacos, and .50 off beer. The beer choice is fair – Pacifico, Negra Modelo, Modelo Esp, etc. A rotating draft is also available. ¿Por Qué No? also offers margaritas and other Mexican cocktails for $6 and up.
Several non-alcohol drinks are available outside of the usual sodas and beer. They seem to change depending on the weather, but recent options included a very fresh refreshing watermelon drink and prickly pear juice ($3).
While the food here definitely satisfies, it can be inconsistent. I greatly prefer the Mississippi restaurant over the Hawthorne one, but part of the difference is just the overall vibe. Either way, ¿Por Qué No? will continue to be a lunch spot whenever I find myself in the area.
- Address: two locations: 3525 N. Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR. 97227 (Google Map) Second Location: 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland OR 97215. Google Map
- Phone: Mississippi – 503-467-4149 & Hawthorne - 503-954-3138
- Hours: Monday-Thursday from 11:00 to 9:00, Friday-Sat 11:00 to 10:00, *Brunch items 11-3pm. Mid-day menu 3-6pm daily & 3 to close on Taco Tuesdays.
- Happy Hour: see above.