Who Makes the best Mexican food in Portland? Everyone seems to have an opinion
I’ve eaten in several Mexican restaurants over the last few weeks, and have overheard the following comments: “If one doesn’t get me drunk, you are underpouring your margaritas”, “How can this be Mexican if there are no rice and beans”, and innumerable variances on “… I’m from California so I know good Mexican food and this is/is not it!” For the record, I grew up on California Mexican food, and a lot of it was awful, though I was fortunate enough to have parents who didn’t mind driving for an hour to go to a good restaurant.
All of this has reinforced to me how difficult it must be to be a waiter – by the end of the second night, my customer would be wearing their beans.
1011 votes cast:
1. Nuestra Cocina $$ – $$$
Other restaurants come and go, but Nuestra Cocina has been on every one of these lists since 2011. I like to eat at the chef’s counter to watch the staff; a well-oiled machine. One woman is in charge of house-made tortillas – she makes over 30 pounds of masa every day and turns out tortillas as needed. “The style of cuisine can often be considered old peasant style Mexican cooking. Recipes and flavors spanning far as the high desert state of Zacatecas to the coastlines of Vera Cruz and Tampico.” Amazingly, after all of these years, they still get lines during the dinner hour. I always seem to end up ordering the same dishes – Grilled Corn on the Cob with chile powder, lime, and cotija; Tacos De Puerco handmade tortillas with spiced pork, onion, and Arbol chile; Carne Asad Con Frijoles Borrachos – achiote marinated chuck eye steak with drunken beans. Truth be told, I’ve never had anything on the menu I didn’t like, though at times they tend to have a bit too heavy a hand with the salt. Nuestra Cocina used to be on the pricey side, but these days it seems quite reasonable. My review
- Open Tuesday – Saturday 5 pm – 10 pm.
- 2135 Southeast Division Street Portland, OR 97202 (503) 232-2135 Map
2. Xico – $$ – $$$
Xico calls their menu “aggressively modern Mexican” with a focus on Oaxacan food. “Xico is refreshing, creative food, made with love. Delicate, handmade tortillas, rich, fiery salsas, sublime moles and sauces, and smoky mezcal cocktails.”
The Rotisserie Chicken dinner with sides offered Monday nights has reached legendary status, feeding two people for $22, but I like their Barbacoa Crisp – slow-cooked Oregon lamb in peanut-chocolate adobo over crispy masa wrapped around fresh cheese. A second choice is the Pollo Asado and Mole Coloradito – a whole chicken smoked over mesquite, then rotisserie roasted and served with sweet corn and zucchini calabasitas, sauteed chard, jalapeno escabeche, red Oaxacan mole and fresh tortillas – serves 2. You had me at molé.
You find interesting items like a Mexican pot roast style beef tongue with parsnip purée, masa gravy & chipotle; trout pozole, and a good queso fundido. Great dog-friendly patio.
- Sun—Thurs 5 pm—9:30 pm, Fri—Sat 5 pm—11 pm
- Happy Hour at the bar Mon—Fri 5 pm—6:30 pm, Late Night Happy Hour 9 pm—close
- 3715 SE Division St., Portland 97202 (503)548-6363 Map
3. Mi Mero Mole $
Mi Mero Mole has gained a name for itself by a focus on “guisados”, homestyle meals, especially stews and stir-fries along with other traditional dishes from Mexico City. “Our tortillas are made fresh using ground nixtamal rather than commercial Maseca. Everything we serve, including our moles, salsas, rice, and beans, are made from scratch.” Owner Nick Zukin is passionate about authenticity and it shows – the restaurant has been written up by media ranging from The Food Network, the New York Times, Travel & Leisure Magazine, Eater, and Serious Eats. The Chicken Mole Poblano and the Mole Negro – smoked lamb shoulder in coastal Oaxacan dark mole both make me happy. Look for Taco Tuesday with all-day, all-you-can-eat tacos (current record 20), and the Wednesday $39 3-course meal for two – 2 plates with rice, beans, tortillas, and guisado, chips, salsa, guacamole, and plantains. Counter ordering. Full liquor license, with margaritas at bargain prices. Tables available under the trees out front.
- Mon-Thurs 7:30 am-9 pm, Fri 7:30 am-10 pm, Sat 12 pm-10 pm, Sun 12 pm-9 pm
- Happy Hour: 2 pm – 6 pm with $2.50 draft beers, $4 margaritas
- 32 NW 5th Ave, Portland OR. 97209 (971)266-8575 Map
4. Autentica Mexican Cuisine – $$$
Autentica is primarily focused on food from the Guerrero region of Mexico with a well-rounded menu of seafood, tacos, salads, soups and full-sized entrees. Chef Oswaldo Bibiano places an emphasis on using local ingredients and it shows in the food. It’s hard to go wrong with the Grilled Octopus in a dried chile marinade, grilled pear, and roasted tomato crema, any of the Ceviche, the Taco al Pastor (I’ve got to have 2), Pollo en Mole Guerrerense or the Chivo – Slow Roasted Goat with roasted potatoes, red onions and a spicy chile vinegar sauce, but explore the entire menu. Autentica has specials six nights a week – Thursday nights bring an excellent pozole and Sundays are all about $6 margaritas – say no more, say no more! Nudge nudge, wink wink. Many people don’t realize there is a patio for summer dining. My review
- Tu-Sun 5 pm–10 pm, Brunch Sat-Sun 10 am–2 pm
- 5507 Northeast 30th Ave., Portland, OR. 97211 (503) 287-7555 Map
These two restaurants are incredibly popular, most likely due to a no frills comfortable environment and good Mexican food at the low-end of the price scale.
Por Que No? is highly regarded because of its commitment to using local products, but even more to for supporting local organizations and schools “that focus on equity, education, health, immigration and social justice”. It’s one thing to say this, but PQN walks the talk.
Tacos are the specialty here; they currently have 12 varieties on their menu, including a Verduras with seasonal vegetables, two fish, and a wild shrimp version. Of course, they also have salads, ceviche, guacamole, etc., all made with fresh tortillas. Weekend brunch features Huevos Rancheros, Chilaquiles, Breakfast Tacos and a “Bloody Maria”.
Owner Bryan Steelman opened the Mississippi branch in homage to his experience in a town called Morelia and followed a few years later with the Hawthorne Blvd. location. Expect lines, but they will move quickly. The service is pay at the counter, then sit down. Bryan focuses on paying his employees a good wage, local hormone and antibiotic-free meats, and sustainable ingredients – all the way to recycling waste oil from the kitchen into their vehicles. Both of the restaurants have nice patios. Review
- Mon-Sat 11 pm to 10 pm, Sun 11 am to 9:30 pm
- Happy Hour: 3-6pm daily & 3 pm-close on Taco Tuesdays
- 3524 North Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR. 97227 (503) 467-4149 Map
- 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR. 97215 (503) 954-3138 Map
6. Angel Food & Fun $
I’m not sure what the “fun” part is about here, but if good food makes you happy, you won’t be disappointed. The food is from the Yucatecan region, but they serve dishes you will recognize like tacos and burritos. For me it is the more regional items that stand out – the Panuchos, a Mexican specialty is made with a refried tortilla which is stuffed with black beans and topped with chopped cabbage, chicken or beef, tomato, pickled red onion, avocado and whatever else the chef wants to throw in. Get the Asada burrito, it’s a perfect mashing of meat, cheese, rice, and guacamole, or the Cochinita Pibil – braised pork, achiote and bitter orange juice, wrapped and baked in banana leaves ($12). Try the Poc Chuc, grilled pork with pickled red onions, shredded cabbage, lettuce, avocado, radish, cilantro, tomato, onions and a side of black beans ($15). Prices are low; tacos and the like are $2 each and up, the larger dishes $12 – $15.
Angel Food & Fun is cash only, but they have an ATM on the premises.
This restaurant, tucked away in a strip mall, always seems to be busy with Intel employees. The menu is huge, and typically Mexican, with some nods to those looking to step out of their comfort zone, but mostly it is popularized food. Lots of salads, lots of molé, lots of enchiladas, lots of Antojitos (snacks), lots of specialties… you get the idea; something for every taste. Vegetarian dishes are separated in their own section. Prices are very reasonable, with large plates $13 – $14.00. Lunch can be very crowded – plan accordingly.
- Hours depending on location – see website for latest
- Happy Hour: 3 pm – 5:30 pm Mon – Fri. Discounted food menu, $2 beer, $5 wine, $5 margaritas
- 2130 NE Griffin Oaks St #200, Hillsboro, OR 97124 (503) 844-8844 Map
- 105 NE 4th Ave, Hillsboro OR 97124 (503) 615-0191 Map
8. Tamale Boy $
Tamale Boy started as a food truck, but after gathering a large following, they opened their first brick and mortar location in 2014. From the website, “Tamale Boy is a delicious, healthy, and affordable alternative to the usual Mexican fare in Portland. We cook using traditional techniques and authentic ingredients and offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.” Options include traditional salad, a vegetarian mole with artichokes, fennel, and pineapple, yet another version of Cochinita Pibil (seemingly hot in PDX these days), a Ceviche Bar with four to choose from, and the typical burrito, quesadilla and tacos selections. However, it is the tamales that they built their name on, and it shows. They have two types, an Oaxaqueno tamale with creamy twice cooked white corn masa, filled and steamed in a banana leaf – Cochinita Pibil, Mole Negro, Vegetales, and Northern Tamales made with yellow corn masa steamed in a corn husk – Chile Verde, Tinga de Pollo and Rajas. The patios are great places to relax after a long day.
- Hours vary by location – see website for details.
- Happy Hour: Mon – Fri 3 pm – 6 pm, $2 off cocktails, $1 off beers.
- 1764 NE Dekum St, Portland, OR 97211 (503) 206-8022 Map
- 668 N Russell St, Portland, OR 97227 (503) 477-6706 Map
9. Verde Cocina $ – $$
This chain has expanded dramatically in the last few years, going from one brick and mortar location to four. Committed to using locally sourced food where possible with a huge focus on fresh produce. All ingredients are gluten free, and many items are available in a vegan, carnivore or paleo versions. Scratch tortillas are made while you wait. The Pearl District location is a bit of a secret, but worth tracking down. New takes on some old standards such as the use of quinoa in the Chile Relleno, the use of sauteed Ota tofu to replace pork skin normally used in Chicharrones, and Ota tofu as an option over chicken in the Molé. If you are looking for healthy Mexican food, this is probably as close as you will find. Patio information.
- Hours vary by location but Verde Cocina is open for lunch and dinner. Check website for details.
- Happy Hour: 3 pm – 5 pm weekdays.
- 3746 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR 97227 (503) 206-7586 Map
- 524 NW 14th Ave, Portland, OR 97209 (503) 894-9321 Map
- 5515 SW Canyon Ct, Portland, OR 97221 (503) 297-5568 Map
- 6446 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97239 (503) 384-2327 Map
10. Taqueria Nueve $$
Yes, this is the reincarnation of the very popular NE 28th Avenue location which closed in 2008. The focus here is “authentic Mexican food” including a molé of the day, seafood, grilled chicken, buffalo brisket and much more. Full liquor license, so you can get your margarita fix. Prices are higher than many taquerias – tacos start at $4, larger plates are $14 and up. You may remember this review of the old location, and they still have a passionate following, though my ardor has cooled for the venture. Not only has the food been a bit underwhelming during my last few visits, but so has the service, and TN is one of those restaurants that adds a 4% charge to the bill for “happy kitchen” or some stupid thing. Though I haven’t verified it for myself, a reader tells me this is not on the menu, only on the bill (is this legal?)
I no longer recommend any restaurant that tries to sneak in extra charges.
- Tues – Sat 5 pm – 10 pm, 5 pm – 9 pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
- Happy Hour Tues – Sun 5 pm – 6 pm with a discounted food and drink menu.
- 727 SE Washington Street, Portland OR 97214 (503)954-1987 Map
Results from previous surveys:
- 2015: Nuestra Cocina, Xico, Por Que No?, Mi Mero Mole, Autentica, Taqueria Nueve, Cha Cha Cha!, Verde Cocina, Los Gorditos
- 2013: Por Que No?, Mi Mero Mole, Nuestra Cocina, Mextiza, Autentica, Xico, Verde Cocina.
- 2012: Nuestra Cocina, Autentica, ¿Por Que No?, Mi Mero Mole, Mextiza, La Bonita.
- 2011: Autentica, ¿Por Que No?, Nuestra Cocina.