THERE IS SOMETHING almost holy about ordering a taco from a truck over the sizzling sounds of grilling meat. You look upward through a high window into the dim interior and pronounce the words as best you can—almost apologetically. Then you step aside and wait, listening to the sound of cars passing on the nearby street, the rapid-fire staccato of Spanish, a radio turned up full volume. Eventually it comes down from on high, wrapped in foil or splayed out on a plate, everything you craved. Hallelujah.
My ideal taco has no less than three ingredients on top of the tortilla: meat, onions, and cilantro. A lime wedge should accompany it. There should be at least two salsas available. And more than that, it must come from a truck. Luckily, Portlanders are blessed with a rich taco truck culture. Everyone has their favorite. But can we all be right?
From now until fall I will be roaming Portland, stopping at every taco truck I can find. Each month I'll publish my favorite four. This is not about burritos, tortas, or sopes. This is about tacos, one of the best summer foods in the world, and one of the most divine.
Cora y Huichol
SE 82nd & Holgate
Open 11 am-10 pm
Across from a graveyard and beside a U-Haul rental shop, when you're eating at Cora y Huichol you may be suddenly struck by the existential realization that the only place we're really moving toward is the grave. But this truck has soothing words to make everything better: Tortillas hechas a mano. And though handmade tortillas are a good start, it all depends on what you put into them. The asada (steak) was so-so, moist enough, but no big flavor. Cabeza (head or cheeks) was much better, fatty and moist with subtle roast beef tones. But the pastor (spicy pork) at Cora y Huichol is excellent, combining good fire with soft rich pork and just a hint of sweetness. Here, the handmade tortilla shines and is just thick and spongy enough to accept some of the bright red pastor sauce. Unique and craveable. Cilantro and onion standard; try the amazing house-made green salsa.
SE 7th & Sherman
Open 11 am-3 pm
Taco truck minimalism. Taqueria Pardos has three types of meat: chicken, pork, and beef. You want other meat? Keep walking, buddy. The truck is nearly unadorned and the inside looks clean and bright. Having such limited selection means the tacos come quickly and you'll soon be rolling up your first taco. The tortillas are average and so is the pork and beef. However, the chicken taco is quite good with a substantial serving of chicken cut into rough squares before grilling. It has good poultry flavor and a hit of smokiness. If you're biking by SE 7th around lunchtime, stop in and order three to fuel you up. Cilantro and onion standard; cheese offered at no extra cost.
Taqueria Lindo Michoacan
SE 34th & Division
Open Mon-Fri 11 am-7 pm, Sat 11 am-3 pm
As close to an actual restaurant as a taco truck can get without digging a foundation, Taqueria Lindo Michoacan is one of the taco truck darlings of Southeast Portland and a perennial favorite—but I don't think it has much to do with their tacos. The tortillas are hand made and the tacos are better for it, but the standard meats (pollo, asada, etc.) have a tendency to be bland. It's better to stick with the exotics here. The birria (goat) is juicy and tender and has a wonderful full flavor. The chorizo (pork sausage) is relatively mild on spice but still deeply smoky. But my favorite is the cabeza (beef cheeks)—soft and tender with intense roast beef flavor. Cilantro and onion standard.
Torres de Morelos
SE 31st Pl & Powell
Open 11 am-9 pm
Tucked between an auto repair shop and a Motel 6, Torres de Morelos is an easy truck to miss, but so worth the stop. It easily bests all the carts I stopped at this round. The tacos are substantial for the price and the meat is well prepared. The lengua (tongue) is one of my favorites—tender, a bit fatty, and incredibly juicy—while the pescado (fish) trails a close second with its enormous serving of fish on a thin bed of beans and rice. Torres de Morelos also offers tripe and stomach for those of hearty disposition. At the top of my list. Cilantro and onion standard; may also include beans and rice.