WHEN RESTAURANTS CLOSE, it's usually for a reason. Yet those Voldemorty-years-that-shall-not-be-named from the not-so-distant past worked a dark magic on some clutch establishments. Taqueria Nueve was among them, a longtime favorite that was forced to hang up its masa tortilla presses in 2008.
Almost six years, a Kickstarter campaign, and a whole new neighborhood later, Taqueria Nueve reopened in the former Beaker and Flask space on SE Washington. Nueve's old and beloved standbys—wild boar carnitas and octopus cocktail among them—aren't the wildly adventurous fare they represented when chef Billy Schumaker had his first go-round at the dawn of the 21st century, but they're still well worth queuing up for.
Portlanders not fresh off the fixie from Williamsburg, Wicker Park, or Bumblefuck, Ohio (or wherever the hell y'all are coming from these days) who remember the seminal NE 28th spot will immediately notice that Schumaker and his partner, Brent Richford, definitely invested some of the $31,000 they pulled in from Kickstarter to buy several buckets of fuchsia paint: that original pink wall is lovingly recreated here. Post up on a metal chair or in a tightly packed booth, and abandon the idea of even trying to order chips and salsa; they're not available here. If you absolutely need something salty with a dip-like substance, opt for the tostada de guacamole ($3.75). But really, do this:
Uno: Order the El Fenix ($12), a margarita-meets-smoky-martini concoction with Gran Centenario Añejo tequila, Pierre Ferrand dry orange curaçao, Oregon's Imbue vermouth, and mezcal. I waited for this puppy for well over 10 minutes. At first I was annoyed, until I learned my waiter had to make it himself—the bartender in training was too intimidated to tackle it solo. Or, just enjoy sweet, smoky mezcal alone, as Nueve's bar offers two varieties.
Dos: Start with the coctel de pulpo ($9.50) and the Caesar con ceviche ($10.25). Impress your neighbors when a tall drink of tentacles in spicy cocktail sauce pulls up at your table. Impress yourself when the tender bites slide down easy and you sop up the cocktail sauce with the saltine crackers accompanying it. The Caesar dressing—made in-house daily—quickly vaults itself to the top of my shortlist for best garlicky dressing in town. Add the lime-marinated seafood, 'cause you know you wanted the ceviche anyways.
Tres: Get a lengua taco ($4). It's described on the menu as "roasted beef tongue—YUM!" I couldn't agree more. Add a crispy wild boar carnitas taco ($4) and enjoy the greasy meat bites. Top the tongue with the smoky red salsa that's delivered when you sit down. To the carnitas, add the tangy green salsa.
Cuatro: Split the enchiladas verdes with the pescado catch of the day ($10.75)—selections rotate often and usually different fishes are used for different dishes. Note that the enchilada is deconstructed: The tortillas are on the bottom, and the stuff that's usually the filling comes on top. Skip the tamales oaxaqueños, no matter how good masa steamed in banana leaves with mole negro, crispy duck confit, and crema sounds. At $13, it's a lot to ask of the humble tamale, which somehow remained dry and largely flavorless despite its highfalutin ingredients.
Cinco: Go for the tres leches cake ($7), a layered slice of good. Tip the cake on its side and let it soak up the leches. Steal the chocolate frosted end for yourself. Then lean back as best you can without hitting your neighbor, who is undoubtedly less than five inches from your ear. Hope that person is not a three-year-old who is far too stoked about animal noises. Pray even harder it's not a couple having an intensely public argument regarding health care. (Confidential to that blonde girl: YOU CAN DO BETTER!) Try to avoid slipping into a sweet food-induced siesta on your way home.
Tues–Sun 5–10 pm. Planned patio and lunch service expansions. Reservations for eight or more. And heck, bring the kids.