We’ve teamed up with Travel Portland to share a few of Portland’s must-visit Mexican restaurants.
The vast range of Mexican food in Portland, Ore. is a celebration of the country’s diverse regionality. “There’s more to the cuisine than just tacos and burritos,” explains Rick Martínez, Food52 Resident and author of the new cookbook Mi Cocina, which explores several regions in Mexico through 100 unique recipes. “A lot of people in America recognize iconic foods like enchiladas as these wraps that are totally covered in cheese, when in places like Yucatán, there’s a lot more emphasis on the tortillas and the sauce, which are typically made with ingredients that people have lying around at home,” he explains. On a recent trip to Portland, Martínez visited four restaurants that honor centuries of tradition across Mexico, as well as the creativity and innovation that each emerging chef brings to the nation’s cuisine.
1. Tierra del Sol
Tierra del Sol is a cornerstone of the Portland Mercado, a cultural hub for the city’s Hispanic community, including food carts, a neighborhood grocery, a meat shop, and more. As one of the many Latinx-owned businesses in the pod, Tierra del Sol focuses on Oaxacan cuisine with organic native ingredients, serving iconic staples unique to the Mexican state like the tlayuda—a 14-inch crispy corn tortilla topped with fresh vegetables, queso fresco, and Oaxacan cheese, along with black beans, chicharron bits, and sliced avocados—a specialty of chef Amalia Sierra.
She’s also known for her moles, a type of stewed sauce and marinade that she serves in several variations, including the mole amarillo. A personal favorite of Martínez’s, the mole amarillo simmers with Mexican pepperleaf and yellow chilhuacle pepper—an uncommon dish in Portland that makes it even more worth trying. Sierra serves this unique anise-forward mole with chayote, green beans, masa dumplings, and chicken. “It’s almost like you’re sipping a cream sauce; it completely coats the tongue,” says Martínez. “It’s like the most intense chicken soup, cooked with chiles and amor.” Another crowd favorite is the comforting Mole Coloradito, which consists of chicken topped with rich red mole that’s served with red rice, stewed black beans, and blue corn tortillas.
2. Príncipe Maya
Among the range of choices within the Portland Mercado is Príncipe Maya, a cart that introduces patrons to food of the Yucatán Peninsula. As guisados (braised stews) become more popular in Portland, it’s no surprise that the classic Yucatecan cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted sweet and tangy shredded pork topped with zingy pickled onions is among them. Utilizing local ingredients with imported spices, owner Edilberto “Eddie” Puch’s version of this beloved dish is a hit at Príncipe Maya, cooked with pork loin and leg that’s marinated in orange achiote powder.
Regulars also love Puch’s salbutes, a dish that consists of puffed, deep-fried tortillas topped with achiote-seasoned chicken and freshly chopped vegetables. Patrons will find similar comfort in the labor-intensive panuchos, a favorite of Martínez’s consisting of fried tortillas stuffed with refried beans. “The thing I love so much [about it] is the texture,” he says. “It’s crispy on the outside, but soft and pillowy inside.”
Güero is known for its Mexican sandwiches, serving tortas from a handful of regions across Mexico. “I’ve heard this is the best place in all of Portland to get tortas,” says Martínez. Whether you’re planning to grab a bite on the go or to stay and graze for a while, the fast-casual eatery provides flavorful experiences for all occasions. Treats like their ahi tostadas and esquites (street corn salad) are presented with flair, served on brightly colored trays alongside drinks like their signature Café Patito (cold brew that’s shaken with horchata and bitters). Stacked tortas, filled with toppings like achiote-marinated chicken and roasted tamarind tomatoes, can be easily packed into deli wrappers, making Güero a popular takeaway lunch destination—especially for the Masa Y Papa, a local vegetarian favorite for its pillowy masa and potato pancake filling.
Like all of their sandwiches, Martínez’s favorite, the Ahogada, gets its crunch from the perfectly baked bread made at Veracruz Bay Bakery in Vancouver, Wash. This torta is a Jaliscan sandwich that’s soaked in rich achiote tomato sauce and stuffed with pork and habañero slaw. Dishes like the stuffed hamburguesas—co-owner and chef Megan Sanchez says this is a must-try—pay homage to late-night street food in Mexico City, filled with jamón, cheese, smash patties, and more.
República is an elevated dining destination, as well as a history lesson told through the ancestral foods of Mexico’s ancient civilizations. The restaurant has garnered heavy traffic in Portland for its attention to detail and symbolism behind every ingredient they source, which can come from local farmer’s markets or directly from Mexico, like the blue corn they process. “They’re taking so much history and putting everything together in a way that’s respectful, with a beautiful presentation,” says Martínez, as co-owner Angel Medina walks him through the República philosophy.
Throughout a five-course tasting menu, patrons are taken on a journey through the stories behind each plate that detail not only the chefs’ creative thought process, but also the etymology of ingredients like maíz, squash blossoms, and nopalito cacti. Examples of previous dishes showcase items with deep historical context, served with innovative presentations, including beet cocoa butter atole with candied walnuts, roasted peaches, sourdough, sourdough ice cream, and lime zest. Expect each experience to be unique, as the menus change frequently to reflect the ingredients available to the team that day, as well as opportunities to pair dishes with rare agave spirits, or wines made by Mexican, Mexican-American, BIPOC, and female makers.