517 NE Killingsworth St
We're lucky here in Portland. When it comes to south-of-the-border fare, we don't do too badly for a city that's so far north. We've got taquerias out the ass. Lucky, yes, but sometimes you want to go to an actual Mexican restaurant--a place that offers table service, without forcing you to go corporate; where they serve chips and salsa, margaritas, and those huge monolithic platters that haunt the dreams of dishwashers and keep them busy in their waking hours. Add a little mariachi music and some papier-mâché parrots and you've got an ersatz paradise.
Catalina's is a place you can count on for such sopa de pollo para el alma.
Its outward appearance provides a little help with the vacation fantasy, being housed in a stucco villa-type building. Who doesn't want to dine at the freakin' Alamo? As you stroll past the mechanical burro--that's right, a mechanical burro (but it's for kids--dammit!) you have your choice of seating from a spacious smattering of tables that allow for intimate dining.
The real reason to visit here, however, isn't the ambiance. It's the food. While Catalina's offers the usual standby platters, such as chile verde ($8.75), carne asada ($8.75), and the Melville-esque NoPo burritos ($7.95), which have paralyzing effects, the real standout here is the mariscos, or seafood.
While being at first a little intimidated by the prospect of ordering seafood anywhere in North Portland, I've since been won over. I recently sampled the ostiones, or oysters on the half shell ($11 a dozen), and found them to be very fresh and without a hint of the refrigerator taste I feared. Another bold selection was the crab enchiladas ($9). Frankly, I expected them to be stuffed with Krab (you know what I'm talking about), but they were instead filled with tender, delicious real crab. I even encountered a bit of shell, which one might expect to be alarming. Instead, it was affirming, not unlike a spanking during sex; a sort of pleasant discomfort, which says, "Consume me entirely."
In addition, the tacos de pescado ($8) include fresh slices of mango, which practically makes the dish, and the ceviche' tostadas ($6.50) feature a refreshing dose of cucumber and avocado. They were all I wanted for my birthday.
Honorable mention should also be made to the vegetarian options, which have proven to be excellent time and time again. With such choices as spinach enchiladas ($7), delightfully seasoned with oregano, or the starchy-but-satisfying potato flautas ($7), no one will walk away dissatisfied.
Combine any of the above with a cold cerveza de Pacifico or a relatively affordable house margarita ($4) and you could very well forget that you're sitting on the corner of MLK and Killingsworth, at least for an hour or so.