If you use a search engine to find the best ethnic foods in any given US city, chances are the results will yield a slew of hip, tasty places that happen to be owned by white people. Though the Pacific Northwest isn’t known for its Mexican food, some good spots do exist in Portland. Below are my picks for favorite Mexican eateries in Portland.
Angel Food & Fun
5135 NE 60th Ave
When Manuel Lopez ditched his cushy sous chef post at a posh Pearl District restaurant, he traded in the foie gras for frijoles to open an eatery all his own. Specializing in the staples of his childhood, Angel Food & Fun is a cozy neighborhood joint serving fare from the Yucatan Peninsula in a bright building painted with Aztec imagery. Holding true to unofficial hole-in-the-wall ethos, the food is delicious, affordable, and cash-only. Try the traditional panuchos, which are crisp, black bean–stuffed tortillas with toppings, or salbutes, a chewy treat of deep-fried tortillas, similar to tostadas.
1764 NE Dekum St
668 N Russell St
If I don’t run into the couple that sells tamales in bulk from a cooler in Southeast and can’t live another second without one, I make the trek up to Tamale Boy for wrapped delicacies the size of my face. After the original catering outfit, Mayahuel, rose to popularity and the public demanded more, Jaime Soltero adopted the nickname given by his customers, and Tamale Boy was born. Tender meats and veggies are stuffed into the typical corn-husk tamales of Northern Mexico as well as the moist banana-leaf tamales of southern-state Oaxaca. Be sure to eat your choice with a hefty coating of their house-made salsa.
Tienda y Taqueria Santa Cruz
8630 N Lombard St
24 SE 82nd Ave
When it comes to Mexican food, a surefire sign of authenticity is when the taqueria is tucked in a grocery store’s back corner. Located on the sleepy Lombard strip in North Portland’s St. John’s neighborhood, Taqueria Santa Cruz makes the best burritos in town, hands down. Mastering the tricky combination of juicy, seasoned meats and melty cheese with chilled pico de gallo and guacamole, the burritos are big in flavor and size. Stock up on all of your favorite Latin American staples, like warm pan dulce and pickled nopales, when you’re done chowing down.
Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon’s
16223 NE Glisan St
Members of the de Leon family are the poster children for the American Dream (if it even exists.) Mere blocks from the Portland/Gresham border, you’ll find that the journey is well worth the reward of silky, freshly pressed tortillas, piping-hot posole, and perfectly fried chile rellenos. The cafeteria-style eatery displays their offerings, so you can catch a glimpse of what’s available and, for the adventurous, pick something that catches your eye. Señora de Leon still serves patrons daily, so be sure to say hello on your visit.
1212 SE Division
922 NW Davis
902 N Killingsworth St
A family-owned outfit with a cult following, Los Gorditos does home-cooked Mexican food, with three locations and three menus to boot. Each menu—vegan, vegetarian, or meat–boasts staples like huaraches and gorditas alongside their signature colossal burritos. Refried beans are made without lard, and rice is made without chicken broth, but neither are lacking in flavor. And for the skeptics, you can trust me when I say their soy chorizo tastes like the real thing.
7238 SE Foster Rd
A patchwork of colorful food carts lines the outside eating area at the Portland Mercado, an entirely Latinx-owned community of businesses. A range of fare from several countries will ensure there’s something for every craving, but the blue-corn tortilla tlayudas (incredibly large, folded dishes similar to quesadillas but with thinner, crisp shells) from Tierra del Sol’s Oaxacan cuisine and tamales drowned in mole from Mixteca PDX are guaranteed to satisfy your appetite. If you’re craving something sweet, pick up some churros to nosh on from Don Churro.